Building the Perfect Cheese Board

I LOVE to entertain! And one tip I share quite often when asked about how I make entertaining look so effortless is the importance of prepping ahead. When I’m entertaining, the last thing I want is to be stuck in the kitchen all night. Prepping ahead can mean anything from slicing, dicing and chopping to cooking an entire dish before your guests arrive to my personal favorite – the cheese and charcuterie tray!

I love to make a big cheese and charcuterie tray when I’m hosting simply because it can sit out all evening long. And why is that so important? Because let’s face it, how often do your guests arrive at the same time? Cheese trays are also pretty filling on their own which allows me to keep dinner relatively simple while still impressing my guests with an awesome spread. I get more compliments on my cheese and charcuterie trays than literally anything else I make and I barely have to put in any effort!

When starting to plan out my tray, I typically select three different cheeses to highlight. I then supplement with nuts, cured meats, preserves, dried/fresh fruit and olives. The key is picking out a range of cheeses so that you have something that suits everyone’s palate, so serving a blue, a soft, a hard and an aged covers most everyone’s preferences. I also like to choose a cow, a sheep and a goat milk where possible. {Need guidance getting started? Download our free cheese by number template.}

Some of my favorite cheeses and combinations include:

Goat Gouda, St. Agur and Fromage Daffinois

Rogue Creamery, Capriole and Pave Du Nord

Boucheron, Manchego and Double Gloucester

Jasper Hills Cellars Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Isigny Ste-Mere Double Creme French Brie and Persille du Beaujolais

When it comes to selecting cheeses, I love to head to my local Whole Foods and chat with the cheesemonger there. I typically tell them what I enjoy and how I plan to use the cheeses. I let them take the lead – but help steer them in the right direction for my needs and preferences. I also ask to taste each cheese before I buy so I know exactly what I am working with and can pick out my accompaniments.

A good rule of thumb is to plan on approximately 2 ounces (just under 1/4 lb) of cheese per person. Dessert cheese boards can have a little less but if you’re just serving cheeses and charcuterie for dinner, I’d recommend a little more.

Once I have the cheeses sorted, it’s time to pick out some olives. My favorites include Lucques, Nicoise and Castelvetrano, but you can put together whatever combination you like. The key is to use unpitted olives as their flavor and texture is far superior to pitted olives. I’m also a huge fan of including peppadews or sweety drops (if you can find them) for added color and a pop of bright flavor.

Lastly, I grab some dried fruits (such as apricots, figs or dates), fresh fruit (like grapes) or seasonal fruit including berries and apples. I then find a great jam chutney, spread or local honey and I add some nuts – marcona almonds, pecans or walnuts being my favorites. I pick out my charcuterie and on occasion, I’ll grab some smoked salmon or some other seafood element. And to complete the tray, I grab a selection of crackers (I love Raincoast Crisps) and a baguette.

To begin my assembly, I start with a medium or large flat surface such as a slate or cutting board. I usually choose one cheese to be the star of the show and place it slightly off-center. Building yourself a cheese tray is just like creating a healthy lifestyle – one step at a time.

Once my first cheese is laid down I choose spots for the other two, making sure to spread them out so they’re easy to get to. I always cut into some of the cheeses to let guests know that it’s ok to eat them! I tend to make pieces small enough for a bite but leave some of the cheese in blocks for presentation because as soon as people start cutting into it, you can kiss your pretty arrangement goodbye! I usually leave the softer cheeses whole and cut up the harder ones, keeping them in their original shape.

Once my cheeses are placed on the board, I begin to fill in the blanks. I start by placing accompaniments near the cheeses with which I feel they pair best. I also fill in with plenty of color. I like to place a few small decorative bowls on the platter to hold some of my olives and spreads. Remember to make sure everything on the board is edible! Guests will try to eat anything that isn’t a bowl, knife or spoon.

To add a final flourish to my tray, I fill any remaining spaces with garnishes such as fresh herbs and greens. I also drizzle a little honey or add a dollop of jam to my cheeses if they need it. If I have room on my board, I’ll squeeze in my sliced warm bread but otherwise I serve it in a bowl on the side with a little  Olive Oil and herbs for dipping.

For my guests, I lay out small appetizer plates and plenty of napkins so they can dive right in. I love to serve a good table wine, maybe something from Italy with my platter to give the whole experience the perfect finish.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than everyone gathered around a big cheese board enjoying the variety of flavors and textures. In my opinion, it’s the absolute best way to start a meal and totally removes the stress of hosting so that you can get to what entertaining is truly about – slowing down and savoring the moment with family, friends and a good glass of wine!

ps. Looking for cheese board inspiration? Check out our free Cheese by Number template!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *