Cheeseboards are the star of any gathering—a stunning display of cheese, fruits, nuts and crackers that can be a meal on its own or keep hunger at bay while your guests are arriving.
From Super Bowl watch parties to Shabbat dinners with friends, a cheeseboard is food’s version of an icebreaker as it brings everyone together in the room. Playing host is fun, but can be exhausting. That’s where the cheeseboard comes in: it can be made in advance, comes together in minutes and doesn’t require any cooking (unless you want to heat up the brie with some jam or herbs).
Below are some general guidelines for building a game-winning cheeseboard. Note that if you are vegan there are several vegan cheeses available that are just as good as the gouda.
Play with textures: You need a variety of cheeses on your board. Go for something soft and spreadable, like brie or goat cheese, as well as a semi-firm classic like cheddar and a hard-aged cheese like Parmesan. It’s always fun to mix up the type of milk—cow, sheep or goat—in the cheeses. Play not only with texture, but also flavors, and try out a new cheese you haven’t heard of before—it might just become your new favorite.
Vary up the display: Serve the cheese in different forms. Cut some—like the cheddar—up into cubes, others—like the brie—into wedges and perhaps keep the log of goat cheese whole and serve with a knife. That way guests can choose just how much they want.
Go beyond the cheese: Cheese pairs well with the sweet flavors of fruit so be sure to have some fresh and dried varieties on your board. Grapes are a staple that add a pop of color and height and help fill in the gaps between the cheeses. Dried figs and apricots are a nice chewy component and give guests something to nibble on if they aren’t big fans of cheese. Just like the cheese, it’s important to have variety of texture and forms for your fruit. Keep the grapes on the vine, but slice some apples and/or pears to lay out alongside the cheese (they make a great cracker substitute for your gluten-free guests, too!).
Don’t forget the salt: You’ve got the cheese, you’ve got the sweet fruit… Now it’s time to add the salty crunch. Go for traditional, salted, roasted nuts or a spiced variety to add a savory punch to your mix, like some rosemary almonds or honey-roasted peanuts. Unusual snacks (think plantain chips, crostini, bagel chips and popcorn) are another way to round out the salty side.
The final steps to building a cheeseboard are the easiest: lay it all down and assemble. First, find a tray large enough to hold all of your cheeses. You’ll want room on the tray for the fruit, crackers, nuts and anything else you want to include (jams, olives, knives, cut-up vegetables and so on). (You can even roll out a big piece of brown paper directly on the table if you don’t have anything big enough!) Start by laying out the cheese (don’t forget to remove the plastic!), making sure there is plenty of space between each type for the rest of your items. Once the cheese is spread out begin adding in the fruits. Cut the grapes into grab-able segments and disperse evenly around the board. Add in the nuts and any other smaller items. Lastly, fill up the rest of the empty spaces with the crackers. You can spread them out so they line up against the cheese, have them piled up around a bowl of jam or tucked in corners that often get forgotten.
Once you have the board filled, stick some knives or toothpicks into the cheeses and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before serving to come to room temperature—plenty of time to get the rest of your game-day spread or Shabbat table set up before your guests arrive. Cheeseboards are where food becomes art, so get creative and have fun with it, and don’t stress—even the perfect board ends up looking more abstract once people start digging in! With practice, you’ll be the next cheese monger in your group of friends.