The Ultimate Holiday Cheese Board
Cheese: ain’t it grand? ~sigh~ The only thing better than cheese is MORE cheese.
Walking into a holiday party and finding a beautifully prepared and thoughtfully laid out Holiday Cheese Board creates a tingle of anticipation in most folks. We can’t wait to nibble this, and try that. We want to know the names of the varieties that lie before us. Because if we find something we adore, we want to be able to find it later, to share it with others.
Let’s face it: most of us have an ongoing love affair with cheese!
If you’re the designated host or Cheese Board Bringer for your next holiday event: have no fear! I have a few tips for you that will help you create a beautiful and memorable, yet easy and stress-free holiday cheese board.
Tips for Making a Holiday Cheese Board
1. Keep it simple:
Three varieties of cheese are sufficient. Four varieties are fine, if you have room on your board, and in your budget, but don’t overdo. If you love blue cheeses, and some folks do, a blue cheese might be a good choice for your 4th variety. If you don’t care for them, by all means, skip them.
2. Offer 3 different textures of cheese:
Consider offering three different textures as you choose your three varieties of cheeses. Cheeses are either hard, medium, or soft in texture.
Make your first choice a cheese that is more hard, or firm. For this cheese board, I chose an aged smoked gouda as my hard/firm cheese. I found it at Trader Joe’s, and was curious about it. An authentic Parmigiano Reggiano wedge would be another great choice.
Make your second choice a cheese that has a medium firmness. Many types of cheddar would be perfect for this. I chose a Cabot Alpine Cheddar, because it’s my favorite Cabot variety, and if you know me, I’m a total Cabot Cheese hound.
Make your third choice a softer cheese. I chose an artisanal cheese called Buttercup, that I purchased directly from the cheesemaker herself, on my last trip to Asheville, North Carolina, from English Farmstead Cheese.
But you don’t have to visit Asheville to find an artisanal cheese. Visit your local cheese shop and ask to sample a few soft cheeses or artisanal cheeses – if they happen to have some – that you’re curious about. Many goat cheeses, or bries are perfect choices for a softer variety as well.
3. Add In Some Accoutrements:
Feel free to make these uniquely your own, but in general, some nice items to serve on the side are these: fruits, breads/crackers, nuts, dried sausages, olives, and some type of flavored condiment. You do NOT need to use all of these! But you can, if you happen to have them.
Fruits can be fresh or dried: whatever you have. Sometimes I do fresh apples, pears and grapes, but for this board, I chose dried cherries. Yum!
I chose some slices of Tuscan Bread, which were soft, and toasted bagel slices, which were crisp. Mixing up textures with the breads or crackers is something to consider.
Sprinkle a few nuts around. I just used regular almonds, but if you have a toasted or spicy variety to offer a contrast of flavors, so much the better.
I used a peppered salami, but in hindsight, that pepper was a little over-powering. You want to be able to TASTE the cheese.
If you have a special jam (fig jam is lovely with cheese), honey (ever tried a hot honey? a rosemary honey?), or jelly (many folks like hot pepper jelly), find a small container with a small spoon for drizzling or spreading, and add a condiment to your board.
4. The tools:
Use a separate knife or tool for each variety of cheese you’re offering. As to whether or not to pre-slice the cheese before the party, my advice would be to consider the size of your party. If it’s an intimate gathering, there’s no need to pre-slice anything. For a larger gathering, you might want to go ahead and pre-slice some of the cheeses, to allow more people access to filling their plates more quickly. If you are pre-slicing it, please, avoid the “toothpick sticking out of the cheese bite” look, unless you enjoy weaving stories about the band of Lilliputian warriors that just attacked that wedge of cheddar with their spears.
In summary, the Ultimate Cheese Board:
Keep it simple, with three types of cheese: hard, medium and soft, throw in a few extras to to accompany your cheese selections, and you and your guests will BOTH enjoy the pleasures of a Holiday Cheese Board, together.