Assembling a scrumptious cheese board to complement your chosen wines is as much about aesthetics as it is taste. And by taste we mean flavor. (We already think you have great taste. If not, don't let your cheese platter give you away!) An artful arrangement, an array of colors, and a variety of textures and shapes are just a few strategies involved. Do it right and your artistry will result in an impressive cheese board boasting not only an eclectic assortment of cheeses, but also the requisite accompaniments and garnishes. Guests will whip out their phones and start snapping, duly impressed! Ready to learn the art?
First things first
Size matters. Select a board small enough to fill yet large enough that guests can navigate around the delectables. It actually looks more appealing to see some wood in the background than something resembling a mosh pit.
How much is enough? For an hors d'oeuvre experience, plan on 1 to 2 ounces of each cheese per person. If cheese is going to be the main event, plan for more. In that case, go with the ratio of 3 pounds for 8 people. (You may have to do some math.) Remember, you can always refresh the board in lieu of having a bigger one. Too much cheese can be overwhelming. Four or five types is truly enough.
The Shopping List
Here's a fun prompt for selecting a tempting assortment. Repeat after me: nutty, funky, fresh, sharp and creamy. Again! So in that order, you could go with aged Gouda, Danish blue, chevre, aged white cheddar and Brie. Feeling fancy? Try Gruyere, Cotija, Gorgonzola, Port du Salut, and Fromage Frais, (Tip: Google the pronunciations!) A cheesemonger can help (yes, that's an actual profession).
Keep It Easy
If you are not sure where to start, keep it east and simply go with the tried and true: aged, soft, firm and blue. Be sure to serve at least one familiar cheese, and by all means, cross borders. Don't discriminate. France, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Mexico. You get the idea.
Of course, you do want to consider the wines you’ll be serving. Pairing is an art, but as a general rule, bold reds pair best with intense cheeses, while lighter reds complement delicate cheeses. Whites, such as a chardonnay, match with just about anything, so no worries there. If you are not sure which direction to go, Pinot Noirs pair with a wide range of cheeses and will serve as the perfect starting point.
Now, should you cut the cheese? Depends on the company. Seriously, assess your crowd. Visually, a wedge or round looks much lovelier than slices...but mayhem can ensue. If you don't mind your artistry getting whacked, keep them whole and hope for the best. Otherwise, design the experience for ease and make the first few cuts on a couple of the bricks. (Not too thin or they'll sweat. And no cubes allowed.) Some varieties lend themselves to pre-cutting (cheddar) while others do not (Brie). Take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour before the party to allow the flavors to reach their peak.
Provide an appropriately sized knife for each cheese, and a fork, mini tongs or spoon for accompaniments. Layer and group for visual appeal, but also be a matchmaker. You don't want the Camembert getting cozy with a cornichon! Unless you're into that sort of thing....
Offer crackers, bread and breadsticks, scattering a few around the board. The rest should be served in their own baskets. Vary the shape, taste and texture of these as well, but stick to fairly "plain" options to avoid competing flavors.
Round out the experience with sweet and savory companions, such as a fig jam, chutney, mustard, nuts, fresh and dried fruit, olives and gherkins. Again, don't go crazy, keep it simple.
Consider labeling the cheeses so you don't have to man the platter all night. Guests can help themselves and know what they're eating.
That's it! Epic cheese board complete.
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