Do you want to be that person at every dinner party, family lunch and gourmet picnic who is known for putting together the most mouthwatering, beautiful and straight up perfect cheeseboards? While plenty of articles on the subject will have you shelling out for $200 cheeses, we'd rather teach you how to put together a board on any budget that will make you the envy of your cheese-loving friends.
Pick Your Cheeses Carefully
Cheeseboards are, of course, all about the cheese. They should be the centrepiece that everything else revolves around and compliments. While you don't have to go searching for the most gourmet, boutique, expensive aged cheeses, it does help to be a little selective when you're choosing them. First off, resist the temptation to go the easy route and buy one of those preselected instant cheeseboard boxes. The cheese is almost always average, especially for the price you're paying. Also you should definitely avoid that three-colour cheese that you can get in the supermarket. So many people buy it, and no one ever eats it.
Do try and pick a selection of different cheeses, however. If you're catering for a larger group, make sure to include a wide range of varieties even if you're not fond of them yourself. When putting together a cheeseboard I usually like to include a sharp cheddar, a brie or camembert, a blue cheese and a soft goats cheese or 'chèvre'. If you're catering to people who are likely to have milder tastes, you should include a more buttery cheese like Jarlsberg, maasdam or gouda. If you're looking for something a little more impressive, try hunting down a smoked cheddar or an aged French cheese from a specialty retailer.
Don't Forget The Crackers
There's no point having cheese if you don't have crackers. Lots of crackers. No greater tragedy can befall a good cheeseboard than running out of crackers, which is why it's always good to have a packet or two in reserve. I also like to offer a little variety, considering that each cheese has its own specific requirements. Try a selection of salted rice crackers (great for complimenting creamy bries), water crackers (for strong-tasting cheeses like blues or chèvre) and a buttery cracker like Jatz or Ritz (which goes nicely with sharp cheddars).
Make sure to remove any crackers from your platter that may be cracked or crumbled -- no one likes losing half their cheese thanks to poor cracker integrity. Arranging them nicely could be accomplished either in straight lines or curves around other features of the platter, but a messy cracker pile is one of the things that can really stand out on a substandard cheeseboard. Now that you know all this, don't just rely on crackers to pair with your cheese.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
A cheeseboard is so much more than cheese. Wine is not the only thing that can be successfully paired with our favourite dairy product, and you should consider this when putting together your platter. Fruit is always a good choice to include. Grapes look great, can be used to fill gaps on your board and are perfect to nibble on in between bites of cheese. Apple or pear slices are seldom used, but make a great alternative to crackers when paired with strong-tasting cheeses like goat's cheese or blue cheese.
Deli meats contribute to a platter with more substance -- prosciutto and salami are particular favourites, and the former can even be wrapped around treats like marscapone cheese or slices of fresh fig for a gourmet addition to any cheeseboard. Tomato -- both fresh cherry tomatoes and sun-dried -- can also be a great accompaniment, along with a selection of olives. Slices of avocado are great for adding vibrant colour to any platter, and as a bonus they're even quite tasty when eaten in a whole mouthful with a piece of cheese and a cracker (I recommend the cheddar for this one).
Knives Are Important Too
The second worst thing that could happen to a cheeseboard, after running out of crackers of course, is only having a single knife. The ideal would be to provide a different knife for each type of cheese you're serving, but it's also unlikely that everyone would have that many cheese knives. Provide at least two at the minimum, but the more people you are serving, the more knives you should provide. There's nothing worse than having to wait for everyone else in the room before you can cut yourself a slice of cheese.
Putting It All Together
Once you've got all your ingredients together, presentation is key. The cheeseboard is a traditional symbol of luxury and good old-fashioned pastoral plenty, and so your cheeseboard should always look to be bursting with fresh produce. Well, when it first comes out, at least.
Place your cheeses on the board first, then your crackers, then your meats, and then use your 'filler' ingredients like bunches of grapes or handfuls of cherry tomatoes to make sure that no part of your board looks empty. This isn't a restaurant, where you've just paid $35 for the three smallest pieces of cheese you've ever seen. Don't lay your ingredients out in straight lines, as the mixtures of natural shapes will only add to the look of your cheeseboard.
All that's left to do is to present it to your admiring guests -- and keep an eye out for when you may need to replenish your crackers. Enjoy!