Simple to prepare but high on wow factor, a cheese board is unquestionably an ideal way to do appetizers. But with hundreds of cheeses and accompaniments to choose from, how do you decide what to serve (and make it all look Instagram-worthy, of course!)? Follow these simple steps and you can't go wrong.
Choose cheeses from different milk sources—cow, goat and sheep—and with a variety of textures—soft, semisoft, hard. Start with at least two selections for small get-togethers and up to six or more for big parties. If you're serving three cheeses or fewer, plan on about 1½ to 2 ounces of each cheese per person. If you're serving more than three cheeses, allot about 1 ounce of each per person. Mix and match your cheeses using this texture guide:
Gruyère, Comté, Cheddar, Manchego, aged Gouda
(This is the largest category of cheeses, so consider selecting more than one cheese from it for a larger board.)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, aged Manchego
Brie, Camembert, Cambazola
Young Gouda, Havarti, Fontina
Goat cheese (chèvre), ricotta, fromage blanc
Limburger, Taleggio, Epoisses de Bourgogne
Face Rock Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (semihard cheese)
Gorgonzola Cremificato (blue cheese)
Roth Grand Cru Surchoix (semihard cheese)
Brillat-Savarin (soft-ripened cheese)
Cypress Grove PsycheDillic (fresh cheese)
Aged Spanish Manchego (hard cheese)
Once you've made your cheese selections, place them on a board (try wood, marble or slate for beautiful presentation) an equal distance apart (don't worry about the empty space, it will fill up quickly in the steps to come). For three cheeses, set one in each third of the board; for four, use quarters; and so on. Don't forget to set the cheese out first, so it can come to the perfect temperature before serving—too cold and the flavors will be muted. Too warm and they'll be muddled or melt off your board. For that just-right temperature, take the cheeses out of the fridge about a half hour before serving them. Harder cheeses take longer to warm up because they're denser, so give them about an hour to temper.
Related: The Right Way to Store Cheese
While stand-alone cheese can be the best way to enjoy it, it's always nice to have some vehicles for eating cheese—especially for soft cheese. Add some neutral-flavored crackers to your board near hard, semihard and semisoft cheeses. Then add slices of plain country-style bread or baguette near soft and fresh, creamy cheeses. If you want your cheese to really shine, skip flavored crackers or bread (you don't want them to interfere with the flavors in the cheese).
Fill in bigger holes on the board with fruit (try grapes, apple slices, fresh figs and dried fruit, such as apricots), jam, olive tapenade, olives and/or dried/cured meats (such as salami, prosciutto, pepperoni). Now fill in whatever space is left with crunchy extras like nuts and seeds (start with Marcona almonds, pistachios, spiced walnuts or pecans).
Don't leave your guests hanging! Make sure each element has a serving utensil where needed. Add small spoons or spreaders to bowls of jam, place toothpicks out for snatching up fruit and olives, and of course don't forget the cheese knives! Serve each cheese with its own knife to keep flavors separate from one another. You don't want your Brie tasting like blue cheese!