I have a lot of entertaining coming up this season. I am hosting Thanksgiving, having a book club cocktail party, bringing appetizers to a cookie party, and co-hosting a Christmas Eve celebration for our Swedish Christmas Eve crew. With all the entertaining I decided to brush up on my cheese board skills. Kurt restored a family cheese board for me last year by finding a beautiful new bamboo insert for it. In the past, I usually put a board out with three different kinds of cheese and some crackers which is fine but I decided to amp up my cheese board style this year.
Here are some tips to make a delicious holiday cheeseboard:
Pick Your Board:
The best type of cheese boards are ones that hold meaning for you and make easy work to amplify their beauty. Beautiful slabs of wood, cutting boards, pizza peels, marble slabs, or even grandma’s antique platter can make beautiful cutting boards. You want to plan on 3-5 oz of food per person on your board. If it’s an appetizer before a multi-course meal, go lighter if it’s the star of the show at your cocktail party; plan a little heavier.
Start with the anchors of the board:
All boards should have some height which you can get by picking small bowls and ramekins for things like nuts, fruit, and olives or jars for honey or jam spreads. These items will serve as the anchors of the board so think about how many bowls or jars you want on your board and size them accordingly. Consider marinated olives, cornichons, honeycomb, fig spreads, jams or pestos, and chimichurri or red pepper romesco sauce or hummus. Jars of duck pate or pots of pork rillettes are the stars of the show when on a cheese and meat board. Place your items in the jars or bowls you want to use and add them to the board spaced throughout.
Pick your cheese:
Depending on the size of your actual board and the number of guests you are having, you generally want three to five main cheeses if you have a large board pick two or three blocks or wedges of cheese and balance out the rest with slices or logs or balls.
Generally, I start with a soft cheese like Brie or Tallegio. Then I add a creamy cheese log like The Humble Goat goat cheese (I particularly like their seasonal favorites like their chevre rolled in Cranberry or their infused Cranberry log) or a port wine cheese ball. From there, I select a block of hard cheese like manchego or parmesan and a stinky cheese like Blue or Gorgonzola. Lastly, I pick an easy, recognizable cheese that everyone will like. I choose a cheese that I can slice or cube like Cheddar, Swiss, or Mozzarella. You start by placing your cheese blocks around the jars and anchor dishes on the board. Then you fan your slices of cheese around the crocks and jars. Mound any square blocks of cheese last after the meats have been placed. These will be placed in piles to fill in small spaces.
Add the meats:
Meats add richness to the board and can make it a more filling proposition if it’s the star of the show. Add smoked and cured meats like salami, prosciutto, and even deli meats or meat sticks. Think about shapes when selecting your meat. Can the meat be cut in circles, rolled into cigars, or placed in a neat pile. Build the meats around the cheese, layering and fanning them as you go. Consider whether to lay circular salami flat or roll them like a row of wagon wheels on the board. Have flat meats? Consider rolling them up into cigars shapes for added dimension and texture.
Add the breads:
The breads are an area where you can get creative. Crackers come in all shapes and sizes; you can use toasts or baguette slices. You can use breadsticks standing up in a jar or glass to give height to your board. Use the bread and crackers to fill in around the cheese and meats.
Add the fruits, veggies, nuts, and candies:
These are the last thing you will add to your board, and they will fill in the cracks and smaller spaces on the board. Do you like dried apricots and pistachios, or are you more of a salted almond gal? Whatever you pick here will fill in the spaces between the cheese, meats, and bread and add color and texture. Red pepper slices, Whole or sliced figs, grapes, chocolate-covered almonds, or graham crackers can add a sweet element to your board, making it a multi-course meal.
My final tip on making a cheese board is to make it your own. If you hate a particular type of cheese, don’t add it to your board. Do you love marshmallows? Throw them in with the chocolate-covered almonds. Each cheese and meat board is unique to the owner assembling it. Have fun and make it the signature item on your appetizer table. Also – have to-go containers handy for folks to help you finish up the board at the end of the night. You can assemble “to-go” containers for each guest to re-create the memories of your gathering at home.