Since today celebrates all of us who consider cheese a staple in our daily diet, I thought I would take a moment and let you guys in on what I consider a perfect cheese board.
It can be very daunting to go into a cheese shop or peruse the gourmet cheeses at your local grocer. There are so many varieties and different types within those varieties. Many are turned off by the Blues and Stiltons, because they are often nicknamed the “Stinky Cheeses”. While they do have a more pungent smell than others, they should not be avoided all together. In these situations, it helps greatly to ask the person behind the counter. Let them know what your preferences are and more than likely they can steer you in the right direction, because they have probably tasted everything in the case! They can be your best friend when trying to make a cheese board. They will also give you some samples, if you ask nicely 🙂
Next, you need to know your crowd. If you are hosting a business dinner and the feel is a little stuffy, you may want to stay safe with some predictable choices like Cheddars, Provolones, Americans and maybe a Swiss. Mostly soft cheese that can be easily cut and absent mindedly eaten. If you are having some friends over for a wine night, go a little more wild in your selections. Try some of your stinky Blues and some triple cream goats milk cheeses. If you are buying from a local cheese shop, they more than likely sell wine as well and can point you in the right direction for pairings.
After you get comfortable with cows milks cheeses, you can spread your wings into the sheep and goats milk choices. I personally like both sheep and goats milk cheeses a lot! Often times they are fairly mild and are great vessels for homemade jams or candied nuts. If you are curious, but don’t want to dive all the way in, most places will cut you very small blocks to take home and experiment with. I also recommend going to a cheese class if you ever have the opportunity to. You can try so many varieties and learn more about our favorite dairy product!
As far as variety goes, I like to have at least one Blue or Stilton on the tray, mostly because I really like them! After that, I try to have a Brie of some sort (I really like a sheep’s milk Brie!), a Cheddar and one hard cheese, like a Parmesan or something similar. Unless you are serving an incredibly large crowd, you are probably ok with about four choices. Always remember, you should keep a few safe choices on your board, because many people won’t want to be incredibly adventurous with cheese at a dinner party! If you know your guests, and know that several like the Blues and Stiltons, put an extra one out. If you are serving a large crowd, and have a lot of cheese, put some out and keep some back for later. Some cheeses sweat after being at room temperature and can become unappetizing looking (even though they are still delicious!) Just replenish every so often to keep your guests happy and enjoying your selections!
This brings us to amount! This is where you are going to want to make friends with the guy behind the counter! They can help you figure out about how much you will need for the amount of people you are having and what type of party you are hosting. If this is a dinner party and the cheese course is just for a little nosh before dinner, you won’t need much at all. If this is a cocktail party and the cheese will be out all night, you will want a little more. In my experiences, you will need less than you think and the seller is probably more than happy to cut you a quarter of a pound of several choices, because they don’t want to waste either! While many of these make great grilled cheeses the next day, I really pride myself on reading my crowd and trying not to have too much excess. Besides, I want fresh cheese for my sandwiches!
Now for the accompaniments….I like a variety if this is for a cocktail party. Not so much if you are just putting cheese out for guests to have as they arrive before everyone sits down to dinner. In that case, I would have the cheese, a little fruit, and maybe some nuts, if I had candied some and wanted to impress my guests! For a cocktail party, I go all out. I like candied nuts, jams, honey, dried fruit, as well as fresh fruit. Most of this is pretty reasonably priced and looks great on a tray! I like to have my jams and honey in small dishes with small spoons for serving and small tongs for the fruit. I never want my guests to have to touch the food on the tray with their hands. If you have apples and pears, slice them so that they can act as a vessel for the cheese. Strawberries can go on whole or sliced, it’s your choice. Candied nuts and dried fruits are always great, because they are easy to eat and pair well with most cheeses. Crostinis are also a great choice, but not necessary. Some people like cheese and bread, but don’t fret if you don’t include them, if you have everything else. However, you can usually get them cut at your local grocer and they are filling and cost effective!
Your harder cheese will need a knife stuck in them to keep them stable while your guests cut off what they want with another knife. Softer cheeses are usually pretty easily cut and only require one knife. I like each choice to have their own knife, because some people are very opposed to certain varieties of cheeses and cross contamination may deter them from enjoying your beautiful cheese board!
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered most of the high points of making show stopping cheese board, but if you have any questions, please let me know!!