Editor’s note: We swoon over CCP Cheesemonger Carol Penn-Romine’s Instagram feed @hungrypassport which is filled with drop-dead gorgeous cheeseboards. Lucky for us, she’s sharing some of her best advice for creating your own.
You want to create a superstar cheese board for your next gathering, but you’ve made the mistake of looking at too many cheeseboards on the Internet, hoping to find inspiration. Now you’re standing in front of an empty board, overwhelmed.
The first and most important thing to do is to chuck the word “superstar.” It’ll slow you down and maybe even stop you altogether. It’s not about the size of the spread. It’s not about impressing with the amount of money you spend or with an array of cheeses no one has heard of or can pronounce. You’re feeding your friends and family, an act of generosity and caring. They don’t want you to stress, so focus on generosity and caring. A few basics will help get you past any obstacles you’ve set in your own way.
Depending on how many guests you’re feeding, aim for variety, say three cheeses or five (odd numbers work best), of different types. Perhaps a brie, a blue and a hard cheese or a semi-soft/semi-hard one. If you’re going for five, consider including cheeses made from different milks, the most common ones being cow, goat and sheep. Cheeses made from a blend of all three milks show off the strengths of all three, so if you can get your hands on some Caseificio Dell’ Alta Langa’s La Tur from Italy or Campo de Montalban from Spain, include one of these for sure.
If it’s for a larger gathering, go with seven, and include a cheese or two for those with more adventurous taste buds. Think washed rind, a.k.a. stinky cheese. It doesn’t even have to be the strongest one to make it a bold choice that may put off some guests but absolutely delight others. Taleggio, Robiola and Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery all fit the bill. While Jasper Hill Farm’s Harbison is technically a brie, its complexity makes it an honorary member of this club, so it’s a good choice as well.
How to present your cheeses? Double cream brie either can be left whole or cut into wedges. Triple cream brie and other super-soft cheeses will want to be spread, so present these cheeses whole, each with its own spreader. Like bries, softer blues like Gorgonzola Dolce will require their own spreaders. Crumble firm blues like Stilton into bite-sized pieces. Slice firmer cheeses and fan them out. Wedges of Manchego or any of its Spanish cousins can be sliced in triangles and alternated to look like a ladder. Don’t trim away the rind, as it adds visual appeal and makes a nice little handle for nibbling. Use a ruffle cutter to make fun ruffled slices of block cheeses like cheddar and overlap them to create a border between items on your board.
Bowl Them Over
Your cheeses will want accompaniments like nuts, olives and fruit, either fresh or dried. Scatter the nuts, berries and dried fruit on the board, and put olives in their own little bowls. And include something sweet to go with the salty, perhaps a jam, honey or quince paste. Select at least a couple of types of crackers that will go well with your cheese selections, and perhaps some thin baguette slices as well.
If it doesn’t all fit on one board, no worries! Truly, there’s no cheese board police out there, roaming the neighborhoods and peeking in windows on a Saturday night! You may opt to include a basket with crackers and baguette slices alongside your board.
I like to keep some items on hand for building cheese boards, particularly wee, mismatched bowls. Whenever I find tiny decorative but functional bowls on sale, I pick up two or three in different sizes, colors and designs. Thrift shops are a goldmine for these. They’re just the thing for olives and especially for accompaniments like jam, honey and quince paste. These sweets may come in cute little jars, but your board will look much more thoughtfully put together if you take a moment to select the right bowl or dish for the job. Added bonus: you won’t have the issues of cross contamination and waste if you’ve doled out enough of that special jam or honey for the party and left the rest in the pantry for the next gathering.
Make it approachable
While you want it to be lovely, your cheese board should also be approachable. Make it too pretty and you’ll hear your guests say things like, “This is too pretty to eat. I don’t want to mess it up!” So mess it up FOR them! Before guests arrive, cut a bite or two from cheeses they’ll want to cut for themselves and position the knife next to them. Stick a spreader into the blue cheese, angling it to the side to encourage guests to break off a bite for themselves. Shave off the top of washed rind or other pudding-like cheeses and plunge a spreader into it to invite guests to partake. Maybe even scoop out a bit and enjoy the first bite yourself. If you want to call it “quality control”—wink wink!—I promise I won’t tattle on you!
Be sure to set your cheeses out an hour before the party, so they have time to come up to room temperature. A chilled cheese has neither fragrance nor flavor, and you want your offerings to be at their absolute best and most enticing.
Don’t forget to garnish
Speaking of enticing, don’t forget to garnish! Sprigs of fresh herbs are a quick and easy addition to complete the look of your cheese board. Consider fresh flowers as well. Visit the fresh herb section of your grocery’s produce department and see if they carry little packets of edible flowers. A single blossom can complete the board like a boutonnière on a lapel. You can select flowers from your garden as long as you’re sure your choices are edible, even if no one actually eats them. Appropriate choices include pansies, nasturtiums (they’re delightfully peppery!), chive blossoms and roses. If the party is a particularly festive and celebratory event, pick the petals off sunflowers, marigolds or roses and scatter them like confetti. Keep in mind that not all flowers that are safe for humans are also safe for pets, so do a little research before garnishing. You and I can munch on tulips and marigolds, but Bowzer and Mr. Clawz should not.
Assemble your cheese board with heart and set it out with confidence. You’ve made it for your friends and family. They love you, so chances are they’ll love what you have to offer. Then congratulate yourself. You’ve created a superstar cheese board!
This article originally appeared on Cheese Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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