Building the perfect cheese board is my go to entertaining trick. It’s
so simple and elegant to pull off even if you aren’t a cook!
Entertaining is something that my husband and I absolutely love doing. A lot of times we will cook something new and exciting, but sometimes it is nice to just lay out a spread and focus on the company entirely. In those cases, putting together a gorgeous cheese board is my essential tool. I especially love this style of entertaining when we have new friends over for the first time or business meetings where a lot of focused talking needs to happen.
After putting these boards together all the time, here are my tips for a great spread!
1. A Variety of Cheeses
It’s important to have a range of cheese flavors on your plate. My go to cheeses are brie, gouda, cheddar and bleu cheese. Each one of these offers a different experience and pairs well together. If you are feeling intimidated, don’t hesitate to ask the cheese monger (or whoever you can find who is in charge of the cheese section) for help pairing your cheeses.
2. A Good Baguette and/or Gluten-Free Crackers
I always recommend checking for allergies from your guests
ahead of time. But in case you forget, it’s a good idea to grab a package of
gluten-free crackers since so many people are avoiding gluten these days. A
good bakery baguette is essential for everyone else.
3. Salty Cured Meat
A good cured meat is a must have. It can be argued that a creamy cheese shouldn’t be paired with a very thin slice of meat due to the lack of contrast of textures, so if you have to choose just one, go with a medium thickness salami vs just prosciutto. If you can afford it, get a harder salami and a paper thin sliced prosciutto.
Pro tip: Often times, the full sticks of cured meats at the foot of the deli section are a better deal and are smaller in diameter. Pick up one of them and ask the deli to slice it thinly for you. The size is perfect to stretch it further and it’s cheaper per pound!
Just like your cheese and wines, there are endless possibilities here so if you are looking to mix it up, get your cheese handled first, then grab the deli manager and they can inspire you with tons of choices for pairing your meats.
Pick seasonally ripe fruit for best taste. Figs and peaches are great in mid-summer, apples and pears are usually a good bet in fall and winter, and strawberries are fantastic in spring and early summer. Grapes are usually good year round with our importation of the,m but be sure to taste one to make sure they are sweet. If you are unsure and need to put a board together that day, grab a produce associate and ask them to recommend and allow you to taste a few options so you know what is ripe that day (a hard pear that needs a week to ripen won’t help you!). Organic and local fruit often offers superior taste so be sure to select the best since you are only buying a few pieces.
Some nice dried fruit is also an option. Mango, apricots and apple slices are all great options, especially if you are packing up a cheese board for a picnic or hike.
5. Pickled Items
Head on over to the olive bar at your local market and pick out exactly what strikes your fancy! Because you pay by the pound you can pick out just a bit of several different flavors and save a ton of money this way. My favorites are the mixed olives, sweet peppers and roasted garlic.
Actual pickles or other small pickled veggies like asparagus tips are also a great choice!
6. Sweet + Savory Spreads
A sweet jam is my favorite topping. I default to Bonne Mamman’s blackberry preserves as an easy neutral flavor, but really any good quality jam is a good fit. Fig preserves are also a great choice if you can’t get figs in season yet.
Savory spreads are also fun! Pesto, red pepper chutney, and hummus are all awesome choices.
A good stone ground mustard is perfect for offsetting
flavors. You can get really fancy here but I prefer to keep it simple. If you
have a lot of savory options, a sweet honey mustard can also work well.
My favorite option for nuts is a good handful of marcona almonds. But they can be a little tricky to find in some markets. They are sweeter and plumper than a regular almond and I find them a bit softer to chew. But if you can’t track them down, I recommend tossing normal almonds in a bit of olive oil and topping with a nice finishing salt.
I like to offer a nice medium bodied red wine (my favorite is Syrah), a chilled sweet white wine and a nice medium hoppy microbrew beer. Each one pairs best with different elements of the boards, but rather than stress over it, I like to just lay it all out and let the guests choose what they prefer.
You can really go quite inexpensive here and go with a basic white and red table wine and a good microbrew, or as luxurious as you like! Pick your budget, and have your full spread put together in your cart and then head over to the wine steward at your store. They will be able to help you pick out some lovely pairings that match what you have selected!
If you can only afford one option, I prefer a nice medium white wine that is chilled down nicely. It seems to be most tolerated by the largest range of palates.