How to Build a Cheese Board

Inspired by my recent trip upstate to the Finger Lakes with the American Dairy Association North East, where I was able to give a demo on building a cheese board, I thought it best to write out a step-by-step break down on all the tips and tricks to building a holiday cheese board.

The trip itself was great, with time spent on multiple dairy farms, with cheese makers, and at the Finger Lakes Distillery (which has inspired an experiment I’ve had running in my fridge for 2 weeks–a blue cheese-washed gin to make a Waldorf salad inspired martini.) Sidebar: I say experiment that is running for 2 weeks: the truth? I just keep forgetting to strain the blue cheese out of the gin, so eventually when I do I will have either created something utterly delicious, or I have ruined 4 cups of perfectly good gin–and some yummy blue cheese.

The highlight for me was giving my demo about building a cheese board at the beautiful farm of the Muranda Cheese Company. Like straight out of a postcard (or Pinterest) of idyllic farmland, we all gathered in a beautiful barn sparkling with strands of fairy lights.

A cheese board is best built by following a number of rules and guidelines

Guidelines (not set in stone but can be taken into consideration):

  • Consider having a mix of milks (cow, sheep, goat, or mixed milk cheeses)
  • Play with textures: have cheeses that range from soft to hard on the board
  • Similarly, have a mix of tastes and flavor profiles. Have a range of milder, more subtle flavored cheeses, all the way through to a punchy strong or matured cheese on the other side of the spectrum

Rules (Stick to these. It’s all about user experience, which these make better):

  • Take the cheeses out of the fridge 30-45mins before serving. Cheese is best enjoyed at room temperature, when all the flavors and characteristics can come out.
  • When building the board, face the cut side of the cheese outwards, towards the room/guest, and the rind or back of the cheese to the middle of the board. (see picture for reference.) It allows easier access for cutting and serving.
  • Have a knife for each cheese, or at least a knife that can be used by “like-minded” cheeses. For example: you don’t want to transfer flavors from a pungent blue cheese to a soft, mild cheese. Have a knife to be used only for that blue, and a separate one for the milder one. (Hard crumbly cheeses can often share serving knives as they rarely stick to the blade.)

The rest is up to you and the season. Have a mix of fresh and dried fruit, chutney or honey, nuts, crackers, bread, and salami (or other meats–optional, you can always keep a cheese board vegetarian) to enjoy as accompaniment to the cheeses.

This leads me to the final rule/guideline (while remembering that all final choices are up to you, and any way you build it, the board will turn out great.)

  • As you build the board, and after “anchoring” it with the placement of the cheeses, start to fill in the empty space with your mix of “supporting characters.” Think about the visual appeal (colors, textures) but also, this is your opportunity as a host to subtly suggest great flavor combinations to your guests. For example: if you know a bite of blue cheese on a walnut would be delicious, add a pile of walnuts next to the blue cheese.

Otherwise, just remember to have fun, and don’t stress. In the end you’ll have a gorgeous cheese board to tuck into and enjoy.

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