Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” I couldn’t agree more! Ending a meal with cheese is a lovely substitution (or addition) to the dessert course.
I’ll discuss some general guidelines, but first, know that the “rules” of assembling a cheese board are so subjective. You gotta do what you feel! My favorite boards highlight the different kinds of milk used to make cheese. Assembling any type of cheese board, however, is a great opportunity to introduce something new to family and friends—especially the unadventurous eaters.
A cheese plate should be diverse, but you don’t need more than a few options. When formulating your cheese board, consider factors like the style of cheese, milk source, appearance and flavor profile. There are a bajillion ways you can go about this. One suggestion: I often stick to the triumvirate of offering a blue cheese, a hard cheese and a soft cheese. On the other hand, I also like to offer three cheeses of the same type; for example, three bloomy rind cheeses from different cheesemakers. Either way allows for a wide variety and you’ll be sure to please everyone with one of your selections.
Another approach is to stick with cheeses from a particular country. If you are having a tapas party, showcase Spanish cheeses like San Simon, manchego and Idiazabal. All three are from Spain and range from light to full-bodied. France, America, Spain and the UK all have crazy-good cheeses to choose from. The diversity within each country is broad and can make for a delicious cheese board. On the other hand, you could be a total rebel and choose different cheeses from different countries—kind of like the United Nations on a plate!
One thing is for sure: you must try the cheese you are going to serve. Any reputable cheesemonger will be more than happy to serve you up a taste. If he or she doesn’t offer you samples or refuses your request, turn on your heel and march out the door. And vow never to return.
Another big question is how much cheese to buy. I go with the general rule of buying two ounces per person. Some folks eat more, some eat less, but it should even out in the end. If you are going to serve other nibbles (e.g, olives, dried fruit or chocolate) with the cheese, you might not need as much. But remember, with the leftover cheese you can always make Fromage Fort!
Here are the nuts and bolts of a fancy-schmancy cheese board. To get started:
1. Use a wooden cutting board or a marble cheese platter. Both make a good cutting surface and are pleasing to the eye.
2. Use separate cheese knives for each cheese. You don’t want to mix the flavors.
3. Allow the cheese to come to room temperature before serving your guests. Cold temperatures mute the flavors of the cheese. You spent good money on this stuff; you want to do it right.
4. Keep the board limited to three to five cheeses. Unless you are feeding 50 people, three cheeses is enough to enjoy. More than five and your guests may lose track of what’s what.
5. If you don’t have the time to discuss each cheese to each guest, label them. A simple white card with the cheese’s name, milk source and country of origin will do. You can also tuck the cheese label next to the cheese if you happen to have it. Very clever.
6. Serve cheese with water crackers, sliced baguette or any type of plain cracker. It allows the flavor of the cheeses to be in the forefront. You don’t want a garlic-and-herb cracker overshadowing your delicate triple crème brie.
7. Dried fruit, olives, chutneys, berries, almonds and sliced apples or pears accompany cheese very well. They work as a palate cleanser between cheeses, and also taste really good with cheese. It’s a win-win.
When in doubt, call upon your cheesemonger. He or she can always suggest cheeses for your board. It’s what they love to do! Just remember to eat what you like, don’t be afraid to try new things and share your love of cheese with your family and friends!
Annie Lehrer is a nurse practitioner who will soon be a farm girl and cheesemaker. Born and raised in St. Louis, she’s been in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother since she can remember. Having a house full of family, friends and delicious food is her idea of the perfect way to spend an evening. A former travel nurse, Annie has lived in various cities across the U.S. exploring diverse culinary scenes. Food—and everything associated with it, from earth to belly—is her passion. She dwells in downtown St. Louis with her cheesemonger husband, Simon. When not caring for patients at the hospital, Annie is swillin’ craft beer with her beer nerd crew, researching livestock, writing recipes, planning chicken coop designs, keeping up with the St. Louis art scene and spending time with her big Lebanese family. She loves cheese. She writes about all things cheese on her blog The Cheesemonger’s Wife. She’s funny as hell. You can try and keep up with her crazy life on Twitter.