An impressive cheese board covers a multitude of dinner party disasters—be it well-done chicken (it’s not undercooked, thank God, but it is a bit…charred) or the fact that the torte looks like it may serve only two, sparingly. Our pal Tenaya Darlington, author of Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese and all-around cheese expert, hung out with us recently, giving us the lowdown on creating a memorable, totally gorgeous cheese board. Warning: Upon reading, you may feel an unshakable urge to hop in the car and head to your nearest cheese shop…
Hi Tenaya! We’re new to this, so let’s start with the basics: How does one begin composing a cheese board?
Start with a “conversation piece.” A great cheese board, like a great dinner party, needs balance but also a little wildness. You want people to keep talking about it long after the night is over. So, when you shop for a cheese board, start by picking one spectacular cheese that will create intrigue. For me, this is usually a cheese wrapped in leaves, or ringed with a strip of bark, or rolled in herbs or ash.
Next, choose one or two familiar cheeses – like Cheddar, Gouda, or Manchego. I call these “safety cheeses.” They’re wonderful go-tos, and they always appeal to guests who get a little nervous around bloomy surfaces (like Brie!).
Finally, think about a balance of milk types and textures. If you’ve selected mostly mild cheeses, choose a bold baby – like a blue or a funky cheese washed in beer. Or, if your basket is full of cow’s milk cheeses, choose a different milk type, like goat, sheep, or buffalo.
And quantity? How to ensure everyone gets their fill?
Aim for 3 to 7 different cheeses depending on the size of your gathering, and plan on about 2 ounces of each cheese per person; that’s a good way to calculate how much you’ll need. There are 8 different styles of cheese, ranging from soft to hard. Choose a variety of textures, and you’ll have an interesting mix.
Let’s talk accouterments! What are your mainstays?
You can never go wrong with honey, nuts, and fresh or dried fruit. Don’t sweat the pairings – it’s completely acceptable to set out a variety of accompaniments and let people discover favorite combinations.
When I was writing my book, I tasted my way through hundreds of pairings. Here are some of my own personal observations:
– Fresh cheeses love berries and honey
– Triple cremes love berry jams and an oaty cracker
– Cheddars love walnuts and chutney
– Gouda loves candied nuts and green apple
– Sheep’s milk cheese loves olives and charcuterie
– Blue cheeses love pears and honey
Okay, so now that we’ve got the basics down, what are some ways to make it all your own (i.e.: specific to a couple)?
You can personalize the board through pairings or through a theme. A few years ago, I created a cheese tasting for a wedding and we worked with the groom’s favorite local beers. We served his 3 favorite suds, and each one had a specially selected cheese to match. We made sure to include at least one Italian cheese to represent the bride’s side of the family! Guests sampled the pairings when they arrived at the venue, and it was a fun way to get everyone talking and tasting.
Here are a few ideas for cheese-themed wedding boards or engagement parties:
– Choose cheeses from the couple’s home states
– Build a board around a honeymoon destination
– Create an Around-the-World cheese board for a pair of travelers
– Start with the couple’s favorite wine, beer, or spirit to create pairings
Your perfect cheese board – what would it include?!
I love a rustic cheese board, one that looks like it could be served at a farmhouse table before a roaring fire. Here’s what I’d include (pictured in photos):
– Bark-wrapped cheese: Harbison
– A couple of adorable goat cheeses: Stawley and Bonne Bouche
– Rustic, clothbound British cheese: Appleby’s Cheshire
– Extra Aged Gouda or firm sheep’s milk cheese: Danascara
– Leaf-wrapped blue: Valdeon
Tell us a cheese tip we didn’t know to ask…
Make friends with the person behind the cheese counter! If you’re planning a party, let the cheesemonger know what kind of wine or beer you’re planning to serve so they can help with pairings. If you shop at a high-quality cheese counter, you’ll find the best cheeses and the best service. I always like to begin by asking the cheesemonger: “So, which cheese did you take home last night?” It’s a good ice breaker, and you’ll find out what’s coveted.