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How to Create a Perfect Cheese Board

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Could This Be the Perfect Dessert?

I recently had a conversation with a friend. Of course, it didn't take long before we were talking about food. And then the question arose, "What is your favorite dessert?" For me, that's an easy one—warm apple pie, scented with cinnamon and cloves, a pinch of nutmeg, and a slice of aged Cheddar cheese on top.

Some people say that everything's better with bacon. My motto is that everything—breakfast, lunch, dinner (and even bacon?)—is better with cheese.

What about dessert? Is dessert better with cheese? Or, what if cheese is the dessert?

In the United States, we often serve cheese as an appetizer, but in France, it is common for cheese to be the ultimate course, the ending signature for a perfect evening. Did the French invent the cheese course? I don't know, but I'll give them credit for doing so (and assume that they won't be offended).

A country producing almost 360 different types of cheese cannot die.

— Sir Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister (1874-1965), speaking of France

There is no down-side to creating a cheese board:

  • It presents your guests with a stunning wow presentation
  • Adjustable for every budget
  • Most components can be prepared ahead of time
  • No cooking!

It's Not Just Something to Eat

A cheese board (otherwise known as a cheese course) is more than one of several courses in a splendid meal. It isn't merely "something to eat." The cheese course should invite conversation, exploration, and even curiosity. It is not something to be rushed. This is when we linger over that bottle of wine, nibbling slowly, thoughtfully.

There is not a singular recipe for the perfect cheese board. Here are a few methodologies for your consideration:

  1. Single centerpiece - Select one outstanding cheese and pair it with a few complimentary nuts and fruits.
  2. Source - Select cheeses from one type of milk (all cow, all sheep, or all goat).
  3. Geography - What is the country of origin—France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, USA? Each one creates distinctive cheeses.
  4. Texture - Use all soft, all semi-soft, firm (slicing), or all extra-hard cheeses. Or, begin with soft cheese, then progress through all of the possibilities from soft to extra-hard.

My personal cheese course could be likened to the old adage about what a bride should wear on her wedding day, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."

How do we begin? First, I will briefly introduce you to each of the components, and then I will give you some tables that will help you to assemble your own perfect cheese course.

Cheese boards are the perfect entertaining dish for the busy party host.

— The Kitchen Professor

There are hundreds of cheeses in the world, but all of them can be categorized as blue, soft rind, fresh, slicing (firm), or grating (hard). I cannot list all of them here but am providing a sampling of the most common.

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Blue Cheese

Although all blue cheeses have the same basic flavor (from the Penicillium roqueforti) they still have their own unique qualities from different milk sources (cow, sheep, goat) and aging.

  • American (including but not limited to Maytag, Oregon, Treasure Cave, Kendall Chevreblue, and Blue Moon New World) - These vary in tang and texture. The Kendall Chevreblue is made of goat's milk and so it unquestionably the sharpest of the group.
  • Danish - Pungent and perfect for crumbling over salads or stirring into creamy salad dressings. This is a double-cream (high butterfat) cheese which makes it rich and creamy.
  • Gorgonzola - This Northern Italy cheese comes in two forms, the bold long-aged traditional cow's milk Gorgonzola, and Dolce (sweet) its younger cousin. Both are moist enough to spread easily on bread or a cracker.
  • Roquefort - A true Roquefort must come from sheep's milk in a specific region of France, aged in particular caves. It is quite salty in taste and somewhat crumbly.
  • Stilton - This great British cheese is made of whole cow's milk, and is produced in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire. It is cheddar-like and marbled with blue veining.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Soft Rind Cheese

Soft rind cheeses are also known as "bloomy" cheeses. Each is flavored with a mold that creates a powdery coat on the surface. They are soft and oozy, perfectly spreadable even when chilled. At room temperature, they are delightfully runny and when baked (in puff pastry shells?) are luxuriously molten. Here are a few of the most common soft-rind types:

  • Brie - Originally, Brie was made in the village of Brie, south and east of Paris, France. Now they are created in many areas, including the United States, but the true Brie is made from unpasteurized milk and cured for less than 60 days so it cannot, by law, be imported to the U.S.
  • Camembert - This one originates from a village of the same name near Normandy, France. It looks and tastes very much like Brie, but with a more assertive flavor.
  • Double-cream or (dare we suggest?) triple-cream - As one might expect, these are even more decadent, however, they are not as aromatic, nor are they as flavorful. If you are new to soft-rind cheeses either of these might be a good introduction.
  • Taleggio - An Italian cows milk cheese aged 6 to 10 weeks. Folklore of this cheese tells us that it was invented by monks over 1,000 years ago. They would wash the rounds of cheese to remove the mold growing on the surface, but in doing so actually encouraged the growth of mold inside the cheese, creating a host of pungent flavors.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Firm (Sliceable) Cheese

This large category includes some of the best-known cheeses. This is where you will find your Cheddars, Swiss, Gouda, Edam, and more. But that's just the beginning. Each of those can be either delicately mild or possess bold, sharp tastes. Aging makes the difference between a so-so cheese and an assertive cheese. This is just a sampling of the favorites.

  • Cheddar - This one originated in England but is also produced in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Mild cheddar is aged 4 months and is loved for being extremely sliceable, shreddable, and meltable. Sharp cheddar can be aged for a year or more.
  • Edam - The "red ball" cheese comes in three forms—mild is creamy, pale, and almost bland. Aged Edam is darker in color and flavor. Very aged is darker still and has a pronounced sweet-nutty flavor.
  • Gouda - The other cheese enrobed with red wax, has a bit more zing, with a rich buttery flavor.
  • Havarti - This Danish cheese is mild, semi-soft and is often flavored with herbs such as dill, caraway, or chives.
  • Gjetost - This Norwegian goat cheese is unlike any other cheese you will ever encounter. It is brown in color, sweet, salty, has a fudge-like consistency and a flavor that can only be described as caramel-peanut butter with a twang.
  • Provolone - This Italian cheese is commonly used in cooking and can be aged anywhere between 2 months and up to 2 years; the longer it is allowed to age the more assertive the taste.
  • Swiss cheeses - There are several under this category. Emmenthaler is a true Swiss cheese with large eyes. Those exported to the United States are aged for as little as 4 months; the ones distributed throughout Europe enjoy a more leisurely stay on the curing rack. Gruyere is the sweetest of the Swiss and is often used for fondue. Jarlsberg is the Norwegian cousin to Swiss and tastes almost identical.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Fresh Cheese

Fresh cheeses do not have a rind and are not aged—they possess pure, clean flavors characteristic of the milk from which they are made. They can range in texture from soft and spreadable to slightly crumbly.

  • Cotija - Similar to feta, but drier and more crumbly.
  • Farmer's cheese - Cultured (soured) milk often flavored with fresh herbs.
  • Feta - Tangy, made of sheep or goat milk. Brining gives it the characteristic salty taste.
  • Fresh goat cheese (chevre) - Tangy, funky, and spreadable.
  • Halloumi - Similar to panela, but more rubbery in texture. Can be grilled or pan-fried.
  • Mascarpone - Cheese made from thickened cream.
  • Mozzarella - Stored in water, this cheese is creamy and mild-flavored.
  • Panela - Mild-flavored cheese that does not melt when heated.
  • Ricotta - Creamy, spreadable, fluffy, and slightly sweet.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Hard Cheese

If you love long-aged cheese that is bold, salty, hard and crumbly rather than creamy, this category is for you.

  • Grana Padano - This Italian cheese is made from cow's milk from the Po River Valley. One of the world's first hard cheeses, it was produced over 900 years ago by monks near Milan. Of all of the Italian grating hard cheeses, this one has the mildest flavor.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano - The story of Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) is long, spanning centuries, and slow, following the natural rhythm of the seasons. In fact, the minimum maturation time is twelve months, and only at this point can it be decided if each individual cheese is worthy of the name it was given at its birth.
  • Pecorino-Romano - Most Pecorino is produced on the island of Sardinia from sheep's milk. The flavor is rich, buttery, nutty, and decidedly salty.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Fresh Fruit

Which fruit or fruits should you consider for your cheese board? The easiest answer is to buy whatever is in season. Apples and pears are outstanding with cheese. Grapes and cheese are a perfect partnership. If fresh berries are in season you should certainly add them for taste and color.

Are there fruits to avoid? Any fruit that is highly acidic will definitely not work with cheese, therefore avoid all citrus fruits, rhubarb, pineapple, and kumquats.

If there is a fruit that you dearly love, but it is not available fresh, consider adding it as a dry fruit (see the next topic for ideas).

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Dried Fruit

When fruits are dried their flavors intensify, they become sweeter and even more succulent. I love apricots when they are fresh but would much rather enjoy a slice of Swiss cheese with a dried apricot. What are the best dried fruits for your board?

  • apricots
  • dates
  • figs
  • mango
  • papaya
  • pears
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Nuts

Nuts not only provide an interesting textural crunch, but each variety also offers its own distinct flavors.

  • Almonds - Have a slightly sweet flavor and pair well with Swiss cheese.
  • Cashews - Their mild taste and buttery texture go hand-in-hand with salty, tangy blue cheeses.
  • Pecans - These are sweet and creamy, a perfect foil for the salty flavors of almost any cheese.
  • Walnuts - These are high in tannins which give them an umami, verging on a bitter flavor. Drizzle them with honey for a stunning marriage with goat or sheep milk cheese.
how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Honey

Honey is not a mandatory ingredient in a cheese board, but if you are creating an especially amazing board, an over-the-top presentation (which could be an assembly of cheeses or just one stunning cheese) you might want to consider how a drizzle of honey might provide that high-note to your display.

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Bread and Crackers

This is not the place for an herby artisanal bread, nor is it fitting to present a cheese- or onion-flavored cracker. This is where the bread takes a back seat and serves as a quiet (yet important) understudy, the foodstuff which helps to support and elevate the other players in the drama.

A small baguette slice or a water cracker will be admired and thanked for its service.

And, of Course, the Board

This is another place where you can let your imagination shine through. Here are a few suggestions:

  • large flat platter
  • one (or more) cutting boards. If using small boards, arrange one cheese on each.
  • slate (that online retail behemoth) sells slate for this specific purpose. You can write the name of each cheese directly on the board if you wish
  • serving trays
  • colorful plastic cutting board(s) from the Dollar Store

The "Single Centerpiece"

This would work well for a small group or if you are operating on a tight budget. Buy one stunning piece of cheese and present it with a few of the suggested go-withs. You don't have to use all of the suggested fruits and nuts. Select the ones that are easy to find, local, fresh, and in season.

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

Cheese Board by "Source" (Type of Milk), Geography, or Texture

Now that you have some guidelines for which fruits, dried fruits, and nuts pair well with the cheeses, let's work on sorting those cheeses by type.

how-to-create-a-winning-cheese-board

How to Use the Chart

Here are a few suggested combinations:

  • Source (Type of Milk) - For this selection we'll focus on cow's-milk cheeses. Serve a Danish blue, a camembert, and a sharp aged cheddar with pears, dried apricots, and pecans.
  • Geography - Let's focus on cheeses from Italy. Gorgonzola, provolone, and pecorino-romano.

A Few More Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Have a separate knife for each type of cheese.
  • Always serve cheese at room temperature.
  • Always present an odd number of cheeses (odd numbers are more visually appealing).
  • Try to present different shapes of cheese—rounds, wedges, pyramids (again, this create visual interest).
  • And, just as at a wine tasting you start with light fruity tastes and then move on to more assertive, oaky flavors, always begin with the mildest-tasting cheese and then progress to sharper/more distinct/funky cheeses.

The world's largest cheese board was created on August 1, 2018, in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. A forklift positioned the crowning jewel of the array onto a custom-designed board—a 2,064-pound wheel of Henning's Mammoth Cheddar. Once securely in place, other lesser-proportioned wedges and wheels of cheese were artfully arranged on the 35-foot by 7-foot board. Mike Marcotte, a representative of the Guinness World Records, was present for the weighing in. He pronounced the display of 4,437 pounds and 63 ounces of Wisconsin cheese as a new world record.

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 18, 2019:

Lawrence, you are showing an amazing amount of restraint. I make the same sacrifice for my husband with regard to sauerkraut.

Yes, there are cheesemakers here who also incorporate fruit in the cheese--cranberry and apricot are the ones I like.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 18, 2019:

Linda

Really enjoyed this. Over here some of the specialty cheesemakers have started making the cheese with the fruit already in the cheese! And they are delicious!!

For Christmas, I treated myself to a Danish blue, and even though I loved it, the aroma was so strong my wife and daughter made me promise only to buy it when they are away and to make sure I eat it before they get back!!

Oh the things we do for love

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 03, 2019:

Brian, I think an after-church cheese board would certainly be do-able. The only suggestion I might offer (and you probably already figured this out) is that you would not want to do apples or pears because they are unforgiving when it comes to time being left out (they turn brown rather quickly). But grapes or dried fruits would be wonderful.

Also, if you are serving people who might be newbies to cheeses, you stick with the ones that are more well known.

And, sliceable (firm) cheeses, other than the runny or fresh cheeses would be easier to handle and easier to portion in advance (I'm thinking toothpicks). If you want any more ideas please comment back.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on January 03, 2019:

The church I attend has an after Sunday service coffee, tea, and goodies table. Usually only cookies are offered. I would welcome also having a cheese board. People rush to the coffee and goodies table, crowd around, grab what they want, and retreat to mingle and converse with fellow churchgoers. The cheese board would need to be set up for grab and go service.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 29, 2018:

Well, I created the charts Eric. I hope you enjoy the other articles. I don't know if you have commented on them previously or not. See you Monday my friend at the Mailbox.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 29, 2018:

I will be looking for those articles. Just great stuff here.

I was not commenting on you but to that chart.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 28, 2018:

Eric, there are so MANY cheeses, I couldn't list them all (sorry I didn't include your Mexican goat cheese, but hopefully others will see your comment).

I've not done an article on fondue, but perhaps I should (stay tuned).

I don't think of cheese as processed unless you are talking about American Cheese/Velveta (but I don't think that stuff qualifies as cheese).

I've done a few articles on specific cheeses--Exploring Brie, Exploring Blue Cheese, Exploring Parmesan, Ooey-Gooey Cheesy, Casseroles, The Cheeses of Italy.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 28, 2018:

Wow! Talk about mouth watering. I was thinking I don't care for cheese on my sauerkraut or cold cereal but that maybe I should rethink it. On the side, maybe a Parmesan or Sharp White Cheddar.

I was surprised to see no mention on our famous Mexican goat cheese on the chart. (funny story about smuggling that across the border.)

Did I miss a Fondue sitting next to it with super sourdough?

I love to count my calories and cut back on "processed foods; so I can have cheese. (yes I know 99% of food is processed, other wise why do the sell 'food' processors?')

Here is a fun one. Tradition in Vietnam required you eat shell on for calcium, but after the poor man could afford French Cheese it is now mainly shell off.

You need another on cheese in cooking or send us a link.

Does cooking/melting cheese change what it is? I mean at home. And can I put my cheddar in the sun to melt - A Native Mexican concept on top of a tortilla.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 26, 2018:

Shauna, thank you for your kind words. We had a wonderful time. No drama, no excess unless there's such a thing as too much love. I pray you had a blessed day as well.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 26, 2018:

I love cheese too, Linda.

Many moons ago I'd throw Christmas Eve parties for a few friends and neighbors. I always had what you're calling a cheese board on the table. It would consist of a couple types of cheese (usually cheddar and swiss), Triscuits and/or Wheat Thins, black olives, and kielbasa sliced into rounds with chopped red onions, soaked in red wine vinegar. It was always a hit and had to be refilled several times throughout the night.

I hope you had a nice Christmas, my friend.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 23, 2018:

Linda, I would love to see a photo.

Ann Carr from SW England on December 23, 2018:

Thanks, Linda. Merry Christmas to you too and a healthy & prosperous 2019.

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 23, 2018:

Ann, as I said to Louise Powles, my idea of Heaven is all the cheese I want to eat, and none of the guilt. I really like a sharp, aged Cheddar. That plus a crisp juicy apple is just sublime.

Yes, the soft cheeses are very rich (and fatty) indeed and so I haul them out only on special occasions.

I wish you a blessed Christmas.

Ann Carr from SW England on December 23, 2018:

Perfect!

I love cheese, apart from blue cheeses and goats' cheese. Spending much time in France gives us the opportunity to sample loads of cheese as every region has at least one or two - yummy!

A well-presented cheese board is hard to beat. I'm not allowed much soft cheese but I do love a good, matured Camembert.

I live just down the road from the village of Cheddar; a good strong mature Cheddar is wonderful - it has a hot tang that is delicious!

Love this hub and for once I can actually deliver on the subject!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 23, 2018:

Good morning Bill. Try something new, treat yourself to the unexpected. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Merry Christmas to you and Bev.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 23, 2018:

Flourish, your snack is a feast. Do yourself a favor during the holidays (if you are eating cheese). Buy a new one, something you've not tried before. Look at descriptions and select something that talks to you. Pair it with one or more of the accompaniments that are mentioned, and then get back to me. I want to know your thoughts on this "new taste sensation."

Merry Christmas to you my dear friend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 23, 2018:

I didn't even know what a cheese board was, but I could have eaten my way through this entire article. I love cheese!!!!! I'm going shopping in about an hour, and I think I needs me some cheese. :) Merry Christmas dear friend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 22, 2018:

Sounds like the perfect treat for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. Grapes, a mild cheese and crackers have always been a favorite snack of mine.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 22, 2018:

Pamela, if I can keep my wits about me on Christmas Day I'll take a photo of it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 22, 2018:

Linda, That simple board sounds fantastic. I have to do one of those soon!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 22, 2018:

Thank you, Pamela. We will be doing a simple board this year with just one cheese, but it's a good-quality brie that I will be topping with apricot jam and then a mix of dried fruits and nuts (apricots, figs, cherries, walnuts, pecans) and then drizzle with honey after it comes out of a 10-minute bake in the oven.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 22, 2018:

Your list of cheeses paired with fruits is very helpful. I don't think I have met many cheeses that I don't like. Roquefort, cheddar, swiss and provolone are among my favorites. I have never made a cheese platter with fruit as I have always usd just crackers. I have a new outlook now. I have marked this page for further reference.

manatita44 from london on December 22, 2018:

Well, it's Christmas. Bring it over. (Chuckle) I might not find it here ….

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 22, 2018:

Manatita, apricots are at the top of my list of favorite fruits. At this very moment, I am baking an apricot frangipane (I wrote an article about this a year ago). If I've piqued your curiosity, check it out.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 22, 2018:

Paul, I really like blue cheeses. I've had some good Stilton's but I think Gorgonzola is my first love. It's like children though--hard to pick a favorite. Thanks for stopping by and, if you happen to attempt a cheese board with my suggestions, I'd love to hear about it from you.

manatita44 from london on December 22, 2018:

Well, I like the pudding too, but cheese? Very interesting! You also seem to mix sweet and protein. I like cheese, though.

Some interesting pictures on your Hub. I like apricots and grapes.

Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on December 22, 2018:

Love the write up on the cheeses. Have to say, I’m a huge Stilton fan.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 22, 2018:

Louise my Heaven will be a place of endless cheese and no worries about cholesterol. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 22, 2018:

There are so many types of cheeses to choose from for a cheese board. I love cheese, so this was very interesting to read.