Noshing on snack foods like cheese and crackers or dips like hummus with veggies is one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m a grazer at heart – guilty as charged. I could live off of cheese and crackers! I love it. So it’s our go-to appetizer spread for a get together with friends or family or the last minute dinner party. It’s just an added bonus that it’s the easiest thing to pull together too!
Grab a large platter or wood cutting board. You will need something spacious enough to spread out loads of noshing goodness and a bamboo cutting board works great so you can cut the cheese (har har) directly on your serving dish.
Lay out at least two cheeses of really fine quality – one hard or semi-firm cheese and one soft, ripened cheese. This isn’t going to be the block of store brand cheddar vacuum sealed. While I am a sucker for those rectangles of orange goodness, what you want here is going to require a cheese monger and hunks of cheese cut from a finely crafted wheel of cheese. Shown here we had port salut and a wine soaked goat cheese. If you add a third cheese, go for either a hard cheese like a Parmesan or the opposite end of the spectrum with a soft cheese such as blue, chevre or brie. Some of our other favorites are Smoked Gouda (the Maple Leaf Smoked is nommy), Aged Cheddar (Dubliner Kerrygold is excellent), the flavored Goat logs at Trader Joe’s, and Manchego. Grocers like EarthFare, Whole Foods and Fresh Market stock a wide selection of assorted, quality cheeses and have trained staff who can help you find the perfect selection. They will also usually give you samples of anything before you purchase it. Trader Joe’s is another great store to pick up quality cheeses. Thanks to their business model they are able to rotate in unique kinds of cheeses and different seasonal flavors throughout the year. Their model also allows them to stock some of those same fine, quality cheeses you’d expect at Whole Foods for a slightly lower price. If you are on a budget (or just looking to save where you can with the spike in food expenses over the holidays – hey we all need to save our pennies where we can, amiright?), check them out first. 🙂
Cheese should be served at room temperature, so set it out on the counter for 15 minutes before serving while you prep the remaining ingredients.
Next you want an assortment of good quality crackers. I love a buttery Ritz cracker just like the next guy, but what we prefer for this are Carr water crackers, stone ground crackers, or some thick whole wheat crackers. You need something you can easily break in half and that won’t crumble all in your hand when trying to stack on some cheese. We try to have at least two different kinds of crackers for variety. This time we had four – two flavors of water crackers, a vegetable cracker and whole wheat cracker. The latter two are part of Earthfare’s cracker assortment package, which is an awesome mix.
You’ll need something sweet and acidic to balance all of the savory with a bite of sugar and citrus in one, which is why almost every cheese board has grapes on display. They are the perfect combination of sweet and tart to offset a bite of rich cheese with crunchy cracker. Strawberries or blackberries are another solid choice.
To add a bit of fat, we toss on a handful or two of nuts. Roasted almonds and pecans or walnuts or cashews are all great additions. Again, Trader Joe’s seems to have the best prices on assorted nuts (well, next to Costco). To bring it up a notch and really make this feel fancy, set out a jar of pickled walnuts. So, so good.
For an additional sweet bite, you can set out a container of fig jam or honey for drizzling. Both are fantastic with cheese and play off the pungency of some cheeses really well.
Lastly, I like to include another flavor profile – brininess for that extra salty and tangy taste bud. You want a cheese board that captures all of your taste buds from sweet and savory to bitter and sour. Briny olives are a bit savory and bitter to round out everything. They have an earthy quality that pairs so well with the creaminess of cheese. I like to find a good quality olive like a green Spanish Manzanilla stuffed with pimentos or almonds. Kalamatas are another commonly found olive that would be a nice addition. Here is a great article all about olives and some of the best varieties available including flavor profiles for each.
Pile everything or arrange it nice and pretty on your cutting board, add a small cheese knife and let everyone go to town. This is great as a spread while everyone gathers in your kitchen waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven for the main course at Thanksgiving or it’s great for serving at a wine tasting to cleanse your palette in between drinks and to bring out new flavors in the wine. Or it just makes a great lazy night dinner for you and hubby. Shhh…I won’t tell anyone. 😉
What do you like to throw on your cheeseboard? What’s your favorite cheese to serve?