The Proverbial Cheese Board.
There is a lot of conventional wisdom out there from experts and otherwise on the topic of creating a great cheese board. I confess, I am an otherwise. But I love a beautiful array of cheeses, meats, and all the amazing accoutrements... like Bacon Jam, or a Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto. How about a beautiful Triple Creme Brie topped with an easy to make Balsamic Blackberry Compote and Spiced Pecans. If that sounds good, read on. I'll share my simple method for building a cheese board for just a few, working all the way up to an entire cheese and charcuterie table for the masses.
We created this beautiful table for a crowd of about 40. We received rave reviews and had very culinarily satisfied guests!
MY EASY METHOD FOR BUILDING A CHEESE BOARD FOR FEW OR MANY.
To create a small but impressive cheese board, start with one of the top four types of cheese from Category 1, then add one thing from each of the four following categories to accompany it. For a larger crowd, add another cheese or two. Every time you add a cheese, also add something from one of the other categories. Plan on 3-4 oz per guest of cheese and meat combined. In this way you will keep a varied and well proportioned lay-out no matter the size of your gathering.
CATEGORY 1 - CHEESES.
Photos by Leah Wilkins @ The Table.
Smoked Gouda is a great pick. "Gouda, or "How-da" as the locals say, is a cheese that originated in the Netherlands, and is named after the city where it was originally traded. Gouda is one of the most popular cheeses in the world, accounting for 50 to 60 percent of the world's cheese consumption. Smoked Gouda is a variant of this famous cheese. Smoked in brick ovens over hickory chips, this semi-hard to hard cheese has an edible, brown rind and a creamy, yellow interior.
SOMETHING PARM OR PARM-ISH.
Merlot Bellavitano. "The Bellavitano style, unique to Wisconsin, features a rich and creamy texture with a great, cravable taste reminiscent of an aged premium Wisconsin Cheddar balanced by a full flavored Parmesan. This Bellavitano is then soaked in Merlot to give it extra tang and a delicious Merlot flavor. The combination of Cheddar and Parmesan give this Cheese a terrific texture, somewhere between creamy and rich, and crunchy and granular. Created by the master cheese makers at Sartori in Plymouth, Wisconsin, who use time-honored techniques and the highest quality milk," - Wisconsin Cheese Mart.
Gorgonzola. I am a serious blue cheese lover of all sorts... Stilton, Roquefort, Danish Blue, Shropshire, and so many more! I can't wait to taste Rogue River Blue, the first American- made cheese to win the "World's Best Cheese" at the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy. For a cheese board, however, I usually choose something mild, like a Gorgonzola. It's a less pungent blue than most of the others, and pairs well with both sweet and savory accompaniments.
SOMETHING SOFT & CREAMY.
A Double or Triple Creme. What's the dif? The folks at PhCheese can explain it all. I love both, and either ooey, gooey, silky, creamy one will be an excellent addition to your amazing spread! "When it comes to happiness on a cheeseboard, the closer one gets to a state of butter, the closer one gets to the gates of cheese heaven... And just because they’re buttery doesn’t mean these cheeses are all one-note — they have complexity and depth of flavour, be it aromas of fresh mushrooms, sour cream or full tangy, salty finishes with a sweetness that lingers long after the last bite." - Sue Riedl.
OTHER CHEESE CHOICES TO ADD AS YOU BUILD.
SHEEP'S MILK CHEESE.
Lamb Chopper. Aged Sheep Milk Cheese Made Exclusively For Cypress Grove in Holland.
I was introduced to this wonderful cheese by my stepdaughter Kaitlyn. It is one of her faves, and has become one of mine. "Lamb Chopper® has a buttery color, smooth texture, and is mild on the palate, but don’t equate mild with lack of complexity — this is a nutty, subtly sweet cheese that’s semi-firm and meltable, thanks to the higher fat in sheep milk." - Cypress Grove.
GOAT'S MILK CHEESE.
Humboldt Fog. Goat cheese is often called “Chèvre” (pronounced: shev), which is French for goat. The name originally referred to French-made goat cheeses only, but today is used to describe goat cheese from anywhere. For an interesting and flavorful choice in your spread, try Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove Chevre in McKinleyville, California. "Conceived in a dream (yes, really!) by founder Mary Keehn, this masterpiece paved the way for soft-ripened goat cheese in America. Each handcrafted wheel features a distinctive ribbon of edible vegetable ash. You'll enjoy buttermilk and fresh cream, complemented with floral notes, herbaceous overtones, and a clean citrus finish. As Humboldt Fog matures, the creamline develops and the flavor intensifies." - Cypress Grove.
CATEGORY 2 - BREAD & CRACKERS.
Baguette. I am partial to a freshly baked baguette simply sliced on a diagonal and added to the table. I also love it crostini style. Drizzle with a great olive oil, (a kitchen must-have), sprinkle with salt, and toast it in the oven.
Bruschetta is also an excellent choice. Much like a crostini, but with a few differences. Bruschetta is generally grilled over fire. It's made with a more rustic Italian bread, and rubbed with raw garlic before sprinkling with olive oil and salt. In the absence of fire, grill it on your stove. It's still a perfect carrier for your cheeses, etc.
Flatbread. A thin, crispy flatbed is also a great bread choice. Drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, pepper & smoked paprika, and bake it in the oven until edges are crisp. Break or tear into pieces for a provincial addition to the party.
Leslie Stowe Raincoast Crisps. My absolute favorites. Beautiful sturdy artisan crackers that have wonderful tastes and textures, and look amazing on a charcuterie board or table. They come in a variety of original flavors, including seasonal and gluten-free options. Here is a list of some of the unique taste profiles of Raincoast Crisps and pairing recommendations, most from the Leslie Stowe Website.
Original - Boursin, Brie, Swiss, Gruyere, Bruschetta, Smoked Salmon
Cranberry & Hazelnut - Cheddar, Brie, Swiss, Triple Creme, Smoked Turkey, Salami
Apricot & Ginger - Cheddars, Triple Cremes, Proscuitto, Salami
Fig & Olive - Camembert, Chevre, Triple Creme, Capicola, Tapenade
Rosemary Raisin Pecan - Brie, Chevre, Mild Blues, Capicola, Salami
Salty Date & Almond - Applewood Smoke Cheddar, Havarti, Proscuitto
Apricot, Fig & Lemon - Ricotta, Proscuitto
La Panzanella Croccantini® Crackers with their golden bubbles and artisan edges are reminiscent of a homemade cracker. The full-size are meant to be broken by hand for a rustic, inviting look, while the mini's are laid out as is. They come in 4 flavors, Original, Rosemary, Cracked Pepper, Roasted Garlic. A lovely, mild flavored cracker that enhances the other components on the board, without stealing the show.
CATEGORY 3 - CURED MEATS, SAUSAGES & SMOKED FISH.
There are many excellent charcuterie choices, some more available than others. I have listed just a few here that are delicious and generally accessible, along with some Smoked Fish options. I also included links to some very good paté recipes.
Salted Cured Meats. Sausages. Smoked Fish. Pate.
Prosciutto, Italy Salami, Italy Salmon Chicken Liver Paté
Jamón Serrano, Spain Pepperoni, Italy Trout Duck Liver Paté
Jamón Iberico, Spain Capicola, Italy Whitefish Salmon Paté
CATEGORY 4 - FRUITS, COMPOTES, JAMS, CHUTNEYS, ETC.
This is where you can really bring in the special! The possibilities to impress your guests and express your culinary self with accompaniments are many! But wait, maybe you're looking at this list and asking yourself what the heck is the difference between a jam, chutney, compote, etc.? No worries. You can check out this blog from Eater if you'd like, but don't get too hung up on it.
I often us some of my own recipes, (which I will add soon), but if you'd prefer to keep it simple use a good quality store-bought Olive Tapenade or Fig Jam, or just choose fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or condiments.
Compotes. Fresh Fruit.
Blackberry Compote w/Balsamic Glaze Pears
& Spiced Pecans Apples
Cranberry Orange Compote Grapes