How to Build a Cheese Board—the Secret Weapon for Your Next Party
Wine and cheese night just got a major upgrade. Follow along as our Test Kitchen experts share their best tips for how to craft a cheese board that'll make your guests say "wow."
Love having guests over, but don’t have time to make one of our easy potluck dishes? We’ve discovered your secret weapon: the cheese board. Before you conjure images of your mother’s plain Jane sliced cheddar cheese on a plastic plate—what we’re going to show you is almost the opposite of that. With a few tips from our experts, you’ll be steps away from crafting a cheese board masterpiece that’s filled with big, bold flavors.
How to Build a Cheese Board
Step 1: Scan the Guest List
Before we get to the good stuff, it’s best to confirm your guest list first. Why? Cheese can be expensive. You’ll want to serve about 3-4 ounces of cheese per guest (2 pounds for eight guests).
Pro Tip: For most hard cheeses, a single ounce is roughly the size of a pair of dice.
Step 2: Choose Your Cheese
With so many varieties of cheese, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Most grocery stores have a cheesemonger (yes, that’s a real title!) who is an expert on cheese varieties, colors, textures and tastes. Don’t be shy! They’ll probably be delighted to answer your questions.
For variety, choose at least one cheese from each the following categories: soft, semi-soft, firm, blue and aged. Don’t be afraid to include some of your personal favorites (I myself love a good triple creme Brie) because after all, you’re buying.
Pro tip: Always include a familiar cheese for those non-adventurous guests. (Cheddar, anyone?)
Our recommendation: Goat cheese
Few people will pass up a good one. It’s creamy, tart and mild in flavor. You can roll it in chopped herbs for color or nuts for texture. Camembert or Brie are good focal points for your board because they come in small wheels. They have earthy notes and you can eat the rind.
Our recommendation: Mozzarella
It’s a crowd-pleasing Italian cheese that’s mild in flavor. What’s more, it comes in many shapes and sizes to help you add visual interest to your board (mozzarella balls, braids and sticks). If you love mozz, try burrata cheese. It’s essentially mozzarella formed into a pouch, so you get a good combination of textures.
Our recommendation: Asiago or Manchego
Asiago is mild in flavor and gets harder and crumbly as it ages. It tastes similar to Parmesan. If Asiago isn’t your thing, Manchego might be a good option. It’s a nutty, buttery, aged sheep’s milk cheese. It also has a distinctive herringbone pattern pressed into the rind (which, btw, is not edible).
Our recommendation: Stilton or Gorgonzola
Most people either love it or hate it. In all honesty, it took me some time to come around to this one! Blue cheese is pungent and tastes sharp and salty, with blue veins. You’ll know it when you see it—or smell it!
Our recommendation: Sharp Cheddar
For the most part, cheese gets tangier and more intense as it ages. Over time, cheddar develops an irresistible flaky texture, which is why I tend to keep it on my cheese board. Aged white Cheddar and Gouda are good options, too. Psst! Did you know cheese is aged in caves? Learn why, here.
Step 3: Add the Accoutrements
Or layman’s terms: all that extra tasty stuff that’ll accompany your cheese. Get creative with it. Include a variety of colors, shapes, textures and sweet and savory flavors. Here are a few options to consider:
- Cured meat: Spring for options like prosciutto or soppressata for your spread.
- Fruit: Grapes on the stem are standard, but fresh figs, plums and stemmed cherries add extra flavor and color. Dried fruits like apricots or cranberries are good options, too.
- Nuts: Try popular choices like almonds, cashews and pistachios.
- Other easy adds: Storebought (or homemade) biscotti, granola bar pieces and olives are quick bites you can pick up at the store.
Have a little extra time on your hands?
I’m currently loving this Gentleman’s Whiskey Bacon Jam. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory. Other smart homemade items include caramelized onions and roasted red peppers.
You’ll need some cheese “vehicles” too. Crackers, baguette slices, pretzel chips, cookies, breadsticks or veggie sticks all aid in the goal—getting the cheese into your mouth.
Step 5: Put it all together!
You’re wondering: How do I put it all together? There’s really no wrong way, but are a few tricks will make arranging easier. Follow my best tips:
- Find a nice big board to work with. Make sure you have room for all your tasty ingredients. Cutting boards or large platters work well.
- You can cut cheese into cubes, slice fruit or make jam ahead of time—just make sure they are stored in airtight containers or bags until serving. Don’t assemble the day before or your cheese will dry out.
- Remove cheese from the refrigerator an hour before arranging. Cheese is best at room temperature.
- Place the cheese first, then arrange the rest according to size (largest to smallest).
- I know it’s tempting, but don’t top your cheeses with anything. Let your guests taste the cheese on its own, and with accompaniments, to find out what combinations they like best.
- Create height and visual interest. Jams, biscotti and some cheeses fit nicely in teacups or bowls.
- Play around with it! Move things around until it looks right. Go for a random arrangement, nothing symmetrical.
- Don’t forget cheese spreaders, cutters and display tags.
Step 6: Enjoy
After all the research and preparation, the hard work is over…eat some cheese! And what goes well with cheese? A relaxing glass of wine. Or follow our expert guide for pairing.