Nothing gets a party going like a cheeseboard: it breaks the ice, provides a place to congregate, and gets the people snacking. While no one will turn her nose up at a box of crackers and block of extra sharp cheddar, a truly next-level cheeseboard is both impressive and easy to put together — so long as you’ve got a game plan. Read on for our guidelines and a few pro tips.
Start with the star
The cheese is the reason we’re all here, but the best advice is to keep it simple. Odd numbers tend to look best on a board, so pick three delicious, interesting, eclectic cheeses. Age, texture, and origin are they key factors to consider: one creamy, one crumbly, and one funky cheese is a good place to start.
PRO TIP: Cut small pieces or slices into your cheese before you put the board out for guests; this is a great way to suggest a serving size, create motion in your presentation, and make people feel comfortable to dive right in. No “first person to cut into the cheese” jitters.
Get a little meaty
Balance is key when it comes to the carnivore-friendly part of your cheese board. Texture and flavor are the most important variables: try pairing delicate prosciutto (a fan favorite) with one hard, cured salame (such as chorizo) and one soft salame (like soppressata). Avoid overkill on salt or spice, but if you’ve loaded up on powerful flavors, add a slice of pâté or terrine to provide a mild foil for them.
PRO TIP: Lili Dagan, Culinary Manager, is the resident cheese board expert in the Test Kitchen after years perfecting the craft while working in events. Her signature move? A meat river. Fanning out delicately rumpled prosciutto or slices of salami into a ribbon that travels from one end of the board to the other makes the arrangement feel ample and deliberate.
Play with texture and tang
A cheeseboard goes from good to great with the addition of a few *extras* — some crunchy, tender, sweet, and pickly bits to cut through the salt and fat of the main event. Little bowls of one-biters like roasted nuts, olives, cornichons, or gherkins provide necessary textural contrast, while grainy mustard, honey, or jam adds a spreadable or drizzly pop of flavor.
PRO TIP: Don’t forget the carbs. Your cheeses and spreads will be SO lonely without something to put them on. Simple crackers or a sliced baguettes will do the trick, providing a dependable base without overpowering any exciting flavors.
Keep it seasonal
Fruit is your friend! Celebrate the time of year by adding some seasonal produce to your board. Concord grapes and stone fruit in the summer or citrus and pears in the winter add color, freshness, and a welcome respite from cheese.
PRO TIP: Temperature matters. Take your cheese out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you plan to serve it, to come to room temperature. A cheese’s flavor, smell, and texture changes in the cold (and not in a good way), and you want those wedges and wheels to shine!