We all see those drool-worthy photos of other people’s cheese boards and wonder how to create masterpieces of our own. The good news is that good ingredients speak for themselves, and anyone can be an artist when it comes to creating delicious cheese boards. It’s all about selection, quantity, plating, and pairings. What follows is a step-by-step guide on how to create the cheese board of your dreams - whether plating for a Party of 1 or for many. Just keep it light and fun. Remember, life has too many rules. Obsessing over the “dos and don’ts” of your cheese board shouldn’t be one of them. And if building a DIY Cheese Board seems like more work than just ordering one, we’re happy to help you out with one of our Cheese Trays. Life is Gouda!
Step 1: Answer these guiding questions
Portions & Quantity: How many people do you want to serve? For apps? Or a full meal?
- For apps, we generally recommend 1.5-3 ounces of cheese per person.
- For a full meal, compare your needed protein quantities to a burger. Are you a quarter pounder or double patty kind of person? If you’re including bread or crackers and assorted veggies on the board, then you really only need between 4 and 8 total ounces of meat (i.e. equivalent to a quarter to half pound).
Presentation & Serving:
How will you serve it? Otherwise stated, how will guests eat it? All standing around a kitchen island or individually seated?
- Your answers will determine how you portion and what you serve on.
- If you’re all standing around, you can build one large cheese board, tray, platter, or grazing table. Make sure to have lots of mini tongs and serving ware available.
- Pros: Droolworthy and Instagram-worthy! It’s a striking presentation - a huge, bountiful pile of meats and pairings! Creates a fun DIY mix and match pairing chatter between friends. Casual and low maintenance. Everyone dives in just for what they want, leaving ideally less waste.
- Cons: Everyone is touching the same utensils over and over. Maybe consider a strategically placed hand sanitizer if you’re worried. And there’s always one person who will stand over the platter, talking animatedly, and voraciously gobbling up a whole corner.
- If you want to elevate the experience and serve a cheese course as a meal, you can serve on individually composed plates or boards.
- Pros: For your less aggressive and assertive guests, there’s no stress about whether they’ll get fed. Hah! Everyone gets their own portioned tasting, which also helps keep everything more sanitary. You can also get away with less food and do more of a composed tasting plate.
- Cons: You have to supply a lot of vessels to serve on (which may mean more dishes)! It’s more formal (which can be a pro or con). Due to allergies and food preferences, some folks may not want to eat certain parts while others want more, leaving some food waste.
Step 2: Selecting Cheese to Feature
First, determine your ideal presentation.
- For a grazing board presentation for 6+ people, choose 5-7 cheeses. (Just note: the more cheeses you choose to feature, the harder it is for folks to remember what they tasted. Often, less is more. So we prefer to stick to 5 cheeses. But we get cha. Sometimes you’re just in the mood to go for it.)
- For a traditional cheese board, you’ve got two great options:
- Choose 3-5 cheeses
- Showcase one excellent cheese
- For individually composed cheese plates:
- Highlight 3 cheeses
- Showcase one excellent cheese
Second, choose your cheese.
- Of course, we’re partial to visiting your locally-owned cheese shop. Specialty grocers will also have a good selection of artisan cheeses. If neither of those is accessible, don’t fret; you can make a great cheese board from offerings at your regular grocery store. Pro Tip: Don’t just go for your well-known European cheeses. American is making great, award-winning cheese that gets international recognition!
- Any cheesemonger can help you out and make great suggestions. If the selection is up to you alone, we recommend variety - in styles, milk types, and states/countries represented. Not sure what different styles are? (Take our Cheese 101: Seven Styles of Cheese Class!) Just look for different textures. In other words, unless you’re specifically going for it, don’t end up with 5 hard wedges of cheese that all look similar. Here’s an example:
- Cheese 1: Feta or Fresh Chevre (goat / fresh)
- Cheese 2: Brie (cow / bloomy rind)
- Cheese 3: Cheddar or Gouda (cow / firm)
- Cheese 4: Manchego (sheep / hard)
- Cheese 5: Gorgonzola (cow / blue)
- Instead of multiple wedges of cheese and to keep things simple, showcase one showstopper cheese. Think of:
- A whole wheel of Camembert with classic and unconventional pairings: crusty baguette, dried fruits, candied nuts, and fig jam.
- A big chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano will transport you right to Italy. Just chunk some small bite-sized pieces and put a knife out. Consider a small cup of aged balsamic alongside it for dipping, maybe some dried pineapple to bring out the tropical fruit flavor, and Prosciutto di Parma as well.
Step 3: Serving
Select your vessel
- A cheese tray, platter, and board are all basically the same thing, using different serving vessels (slate, wood, ceramic, etc). Stuck at what to use? You can always use a fun cutting board or a regular ole dinner plate (or even numerous differently sized and shaped plates all in a family together). We’ve even rolled out some freezer butcher paper or wax paper on a table and just plated straight onto it! Don’t let the vessel hold you back from your cheese spread dreams.
Plate your cheese
- If you have multiple different cheese offerings, we prefer to keep each type in its own area. That way, you can clearly mark it with a label if you want. Other folks prefer to mix and match and put different cheeses together and all around the board. This has a pretty, photogenic quality if you want.
- How to Plate Each Specific Cheese Style:
- For fresh cheeses like chevre, ricotta, or burrata, put them in a little cup with a spoon or spreader nearby. This will keep them contained in one space - and not juicing on everything else.
- For surface-ripened cheeses like bloomy-rinds (think white fuzzy rinds on Brie and Camembert) or washed rinds (think sunset-hued, damp rinds like Epoisses or Red Hawk), consider the ripeness. If you cut into it and it’s going to ooze everywhere, just put it whole on the board with a spreader next to it.
- For semi-soft and firm cheeses, I like the visual presentation of putting the big wedge on the board and letting folks cut it for themselves. Always cut 1-3 small wedges and leave them plated, setting the example for how the rest should be cut. (The goal is to cut and all share the rind; don’t cut around it.)
- For hard cheeses like Pecorino-Romano, Mimolette, or Parm, you can’t expect your guests to gracefully cut these on the board. Precut them into single serve wedges, matchsticks, or chunks in advance, and plate them in a pile.
- For blue cheese, put the whole piece on the board with a knife next to it.
- Make sure to include multiple knives and spreaders to avoid cross-contamination of flavors.
- Traditional pairings include charcuterie (or cured meats), fresh fruit like grapes and apples, olives and pickled vegetables, nuts, preserves or honey, and crackers or baguette. Cheese is often rich, decadent, and palate-coating. The acidity from fruits and pickled vegetables cuts through that richness and balances the fats.
- Other fun pairing ideas? Fruit in all forms - dried, pastes (like membrillo or quince paste), and even candied fruits. Chocolate is also an excellent pairing for cheese. (We often skip the bread and smear that cheese bite right onto a square of chocolate!) Lastly, include a savory preserve or jam, like Sweet & Tangy Mustard Seeds.
- For picture perfect platings, select pairings based on color. Stick to a color theme board (like greens and purples, for example) or go for the rainbow. If you take the rainbow approach, you can color block (ie like colors with like) or go for the Jackson Pollock meets Rainbow Brite approach of color bombing the platter. All three are fun!
Step 4: Eat & Enjoy
Make sure to serve your cheese plate at room temperature. Each cheese will be more aromatic and tasty. So keep it refrigerated until about 30 minutes to an hour before enjoying. And…. voila! Time to enjoy!
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