There are two things I can make perfectly in under 3 minutes with flawless presentation and all flavor combinations on point—a daiquiri, and a cheeseboard, and this skillset has served me quite well in life thus far. Now, you might be thinking “OH, so you threw some CHEESE on a board. Big whoop! That’s not really making anything” and then made a big wrinkly frowny face and threw some side-eye. But I contest that while even the most slapdash emergency cheeseboard might not have anything homemade on it, that doesn’t mean that skill and thought and effort doesn’t go into making a fantastically killer flavor pairing machine, which is essentially what all cheeseboards are (or at the very least should be, in my opinion!)
I love making cheeseboards because 1) they’re a crowd pleaser for every gathering (including if there’s vegans amongst it, since there’s some pretty decent vegan nut-based cheeses out there now) 2) even the most meager cheeseboard tastes great because CHEESE, and 3) it’s really hard to make them look ugly. Since it’s the holidays and most folks are looking to put some easy snack-y stuff out for guests to munch on, I wanted to share my cheeseboard tips as I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur on the subject. Not to be braggy or anything, I’ve just straight-up made an excessive amount of cheeseboards in various countries for all the gatherings and events I’ve hosted over the years, and have developed a very specific skillset when it comes to putting them together with an ever-changing assortment of ingredients and snacks to include. And out of all the things I’ve assembled and tried together in a cheese-covered fashion, I have my absolute favorites below! I also have a recipe for super easy roasted chickpeas, I like including these in a bowl on or near the cheeseboard as an additional salty snack with some crunch to it.
And one more word of note, make sure to let your cheeses sit out on the board for 30 minutes before serving. They are meant to be served at room temperature, not cold and hard from the fridge.
My Favorite Cheeses
- Coupole — This aged goat’s cheese hails from Vermont Creamery in the lovely cheese-filled land of Vermont, and it has the prettiest perfectly domed top with a wonderful assortment of wrinkles on top. Flavor-wise, it’s a dense cheese but still soft and has a bright and very lightly tangy flavor to it. This pairs really well with a slice of ripe apple or pear.
- Aged Gouda — My favorite cheese of all time, this guy has the nuttiest, most caramelized flavor and little crunchy bits of salt in it. I like the 5-year aged gouda, which is very firm cheese so you’ll need a strong knife for cutting this one. I like eating this one with a bit of a date on it.
- Bonne Bouche — Another VC fave, this is an aged and ash-riped goat’s cheese. It has the single most incredible gooey and nutty center, as if the cheese was pre-melted for you. This one pairs especially well with some apricot jam on a cracker.
- Stilton — For a long time I thought I didn’t like blue cheese, but then I had stilton and my whole world view changed. You see, blue cheeses that are young are very bright and tangy and have that intense flavor we usually think of when we think of blue cheese. Aged blue cheeses like stilton, however, are allowed to develop deeper, nuttier flavors as they age and it results in an incredibly creamy, mild, and delicious blue. This pairs perfectly with a drizzle of honey.
- Cremont — This cheese has the gooey nuttiness of the Bonne Bouche, but with a more mild flavor that’s more in line with the Bijou (below). I love having this one with some seedy mustard!
- Manchego — As my friend Maggie once said, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a sweaty slice of manchego. This is an aged Spanish semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese with a wonderfully mild creamy and lightly earthy flavor. The best way to eat manchego is with a slice of quince paste (FOR REALS.)
- Bijou — This little gem of a cheese is an aged crottin made from goat’s milk. It has a lightly sweet yeasty flavor, gooey interior, is my favorite of all of the Vermont Creamery cheeses, and makes a killer grilled cheese. The flavor is so, SO, sooOOOoo good, and I love that it comes in a pack of two so I always get to eat a second one! (Not that I eat a container of this cheese all by myself…AHEM.) I love pairing this one with blackberry jam.
- Fresh goat cheese — Tangy, bright, and lightly funky, this soft crumbly fresh goat’s cheese melts in your mouth. I love eating this with either a bit of pesto, or some fig jam. Vermont Creamery also makes some specialty ones that are coated in either an herb mixture or a candied orange and cranberry one. They are both EXCELLENT little logs of cheesy goodness and definitely need to be tried.
Flavor Families to Include
Since cheese pretty much has the creamy/salty flavor areas covered, I like to round out the cheeseboard by adding in some of the other flavor families that pair super well with the rich umami taste of cheese!
- Sweet — dates, honey, fresh fruits, quince paste, jams/chutneys/jellies
- Fresh — pesto, hummus, raw almonds or walnuts
- Sour — pickled veggies, mustard seeds and/or super seedy mustard, sour cherries
- Bitter — chocolate
Dressing that Cheeseboard Up
Here are my tips for making an attractive cheeseboard. Like I said earlier, it’s super easy to make these guys look appealing (thanks cheese!), so you’ll be a pro in no time flat!
- Pre-cut/fan out some of the cheeses — I like to have some parts of the cheeses cut so that people aren’t afraid to be the first to dive in, and it actually looks really nice to have little slices taken out. I also like cutting slices off of the firm or semi-firm cheeses and laying them out in a fan-shape on the board.
- Add fresh fruit — Fresh seasonal fruits like grapes or pomegranates or pears really brighten up a board and bring more color to what’s usually a very beige mix of cheeses.
- Seedy crackers — I love seedy crackers for the crunch, but also for the beautiful texture they have and colors the seeds bring to the board. Crackers with poppy seeds and pumpkin seeds are my favorite ones! And don’t forget to nab some rice crackers in case any gluten-free folks want some cheeseboard action.
- Rustic bread — I always slice up some pretty baguette slices to include, and I try to get the bread from a good local bakery so that it tastes super fresh and is nice and crusty on the outside and moist on the inside the way a baguette is meant to be.
- Charcuterie — Cured meats are delicious, and also a very attractive addition to the board! Just make sure to get quality stuff…slim jims are not meant for cheeseboard inclusion.
- (1) 13-ounce jar of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon flake sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili (for spicy) or smoked paprika (for mild)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a medium bowl, toss together the chickpeas, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and chipotle chili or paprika until the chickpeas are coated in the mixture.
- Spread the chickpeas out evenly on a baking sheet and place it in the oven.
- Roast until the chickpeas are deeply golden and some have split, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring them on the pan halfway through.
This post was made in partnership with Vermont Creamery, but all opinions and thoughts are my own, per usual!