Learn how to build the perfect cheese board with this guide that goes over each component, product recommendations, tips and more!
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One of the best way to impress your friends and family during the holidays, at dinner parties, ladies night and more, is to create a beautiful and abundant cheese and charcuterie board.
I once heard that the reason millennials love cheese boards so much is because we grew up on cheese and cracker Lunchables; and cheese boards are just the grown up versions of them.
While I can’t really argue with that, I will say that cheese boards are just as much fun to create as they are to devour.
They are my favorite thing to make and bring to functions, especially during the holidays.
I’ve made dozens of boards over the years and I am going to give you all the information, recommendations and tips you need to create an incredible and delicious board to wow your friends and family.
What This Guide Will Contain:
- Board recommendations
- How to determine how much cheese, meat and accompaniments you need
- What types of cheeses to include
- What types of meats to include
- What type of accompaniments to include
- How to assemble a cheese board
- Product recommendations
- Serving and storing recommendations
The first thing you want to think about is what you will serve your cheese board on. Any round, rectangle or square tray or board will work.
If you don’t want to spend money on a board, look around your house for something that will work. The most popular options are:
- Wooden cutting boards
- Slate slabs
- Serving trays and platters
- Large plates
- Even a baking sheet will work!
Keep in mind, you do not need to fit everything all on one board. You can use 2-3 smaller boards and have an equally appealing presentation.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider the size of the board(s). You will want to fill every inch of the board for a full and abundant presentation, so choose one that is big enough to hold all your cheeses, meats and accompaniments but not too big where there will be open spaces.
But how much cheese and meat do I need? Check out the next section for recommended amounts based on party size.
Pro tip: If you are transporting your cheese board, consider a board with sides or a lip to prevent items from rolling or falling off the sides.
How to determine how much cheese, meat and accompaniments you need
There are a few things to consider when determining how much cheese, meat and accompaniments to purchase:
- How many people will be at the gathering
- Will this be served as an appetizer before a larger meal or part of the main meal (such as a cocktail party, happy hour or appetizer party)
- If this is an appetizer, will this be the only appetizer served, or will there be many others?
For events where the cheese board is one of many appetizers being served before a larger meal, plan on serving 1-2 ounces of meat and cheese per person.
For events where the cheese board is the only appetizer being served before a larger meal, plan 2-3 ounces of meat and cheese per person.
For events where the cheese board is the main meal, plan between 3-4 ounces of meat and cheese per person.
Regardless of party size, I recommend at least three kinds of cheese and two kinds of meat to provide a variety of options and something that everyone will enjoy.
Pro tip: Consider your crowd. Some groups are bigger cheese and meat lovers and some are not; some have more vegetarians or vegans and some do not. These considerations may impact the amounts listed above and you’ll want to plan accordingly.
What types of cheeses to include
To appeal to many different palates and for maximum variety on your cheese board, select at least one cheese from most or all of the categories below:
Semi-hard cheeses: Such as cheddar, gruyere and havarti.
Stand out semi-hard cheese picks: Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar and Garlic Bread Cheese
Soft cheeses: Such as goat cheese, brie, camembert, Boursin, fresh mozzarella and burrata.
Stand out soft cheese picks: cranberry goat cheese, Boursin caramelized onion and herbs
Aged or smoked cheeses: Such as aged gouda, smoked cheddar and truffle parmesan.
Stand out aged cheese picks: Aldi’s Emporium Selection Aged Reserve White Cheddar
Stand out smoked cheese picks: smoked mozzarella
Funky or spicy cheeses: Such as bleu cheese, gorgonzola, pepper jack or other unique cheeses.
Stand out funky cheese: Trader Joe’s Baked Lemon Ricotta Cheese
Stand out spicy cheese: Trader Joe’s Red Chili Pepper Brie
What types of meats to include
There are a variety of deli meats that are typically found on charcuterie boards. They include:
Prosciutto: Perhaps the most popular option for cheese boards, prosciutto is a salty cured pork that is sliced super thin. You really can’t go wrong with any cheese pairing with prosciutto; however, prosciutto pairs great with fresh mozzarella, burrata and parmesan.
Genoa Salami: Genoa salami can be made with pork and veal and is seasoned with red or white wine, garlic, salt and peppercorns. Try pairing this with provolone or gouda.
Capicola: Capicola is a dry-cured pork made spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and sliced thin. Capicola pairs well with aged cheeses, such as sharp cheddar.
Sopressata: Sopressata is a type of salami that is fattier and made with garlic and black pepper. It can be made sweet or hot, the latter being made with chilies. Pair sopressata with havarti, pepper jack and goat cheese.
Mortadella: Mortadella consists of cooked and cured pork that has been pureed and combined with cubed fat, spices and pistachios and sliced extra thin. Paired perfectly with asiago and other hard cheeses.
Spanish Chorizo: This is a hard course-ground, fatty pork sausage seasoned with hot paprika, garlic and salt. It is great paired with hard cheeses and Spanish cheeses such as Manchego.
What type of accompaniments to include
Crackers: While I’d absolutely condone eating cheese straight, it’s generally better atop a crunchy vessel like a cracker. Try a few different varieties, perhaps one plain and one with a bit more flavor.
Another option you can serve along side crackers is sliced and toasted baguette. Baguette is great for layering soft creamy cheese, meat and a spread (think goat cheese, prosciutto and honey).
Spreads: Go for one savory and one sweet spread to go with everything. Popular savory spreads include grainy mustard, olive tapenade, hummus and basil pesto. Popular sweet spreads include fruit jams and butters, as well as honey.
Something Salty/Briny: So there are a variety of flavors on the board, include one or two salty and/or briny items such as cornichons (mini pickles), olives, artichoke hearts and roasted or pickled peppers, such as pepperoncini or sweet cherry peppers.
Something Sweet: Fruit is the best way to incorporate something sweet on the board that also compliments cheese perfectly. Grapes, apple slices, pear slices, berries, pomegranate arils and fresh figs are all great options. Dried fruits, such as dried apricots, dried cherries and dates can be incorporated as well.
Something Crunchy: Aside from crackers, I also like to include crunchy snacking items such as marcona almonds, cashews, pistachios, snack mixes and sesame sticks. Fresh veggies, such as carrots, cucumber and mini bell peppers can also add crunch along with a pop of color.
How to assemble a cheese board
Step 1: Cheeses
Start with the stars of the show. Place your unwrapped cheeses evenly around the board.
Slice a few pieces of each cheese to get it going and cue to your guests how each cheese should be cut. This is a great guide by Murray’s Cheese on how to properly cut various types and shapes of cheese.
Step 2: Meats
Next, add your meats. Space them evenly about the board around your cheeses.
For prosciutto, I like to make a few pretty piles of it. Alternatively, you can wrap the prosciutto around itself to make a rose shape and place them around the board.
For salami and other round meats, I like to fold them in half, then in half again and line them up around a ramekin or along the side of a cheese wedge (see picture below for an example).
Step 3: Spreads and items in ramekins
I like to add my ramekins to the board first, so I can see exactly where I’d like to place them, then fill them with the spreads I’m using. Typically, at least one sweet and one savory spread.
I also like to put briny items, such as cornichons and olives in ramekins, to avoid the briny juices from running onto other items on the board, so I add these items during this step as well.
Step 4: Fruit
Next, add fruit, such as small bundles of grapes and fanned out slices of apples around the cheeses, meat and ramekins. Since fruit is on the more colorful side, I like to add the fruit in areas where the board needs a bit more color.
Step 5: Crackers
The last big item I like to add to the board are the crackers. Add a few piles in areas of the board where there are large gaps or in a line along the edge of the board.
Step 6: Fill in any gaps
Fill in any remaining open spaces with small items such as nuts, seeds and berries.
Step 7: Garnish
This doesn’t need to be anything crazy. A few sprigs of rosemary usually does the trick. If it’s Christmas time, try adding some cranberries for a cheerful pop of color.
Step 8: Utensils
Don’t forget the utensils! Appropriate cheese knives for each cheese, spreading knives for dips and spreads, small honey dipper for honey, toothpicks for cubes of cheese, hard meats and olives.
Ramekins and small bowls
- Cheese tastes best at room temperature. Take cheeses/cheese board out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Think about your crowd. Are there any vegetarians, allergies or dietary restrictions to keep in mind? Is it a crowd of adventurous eaters that will like funky cheeses? Consider these factors when purchasing items and arranging your board. Accommodating your guest’s needs will be greatly appreciated!
- Not sure what cheeses to get? Ask the person at the cheese counter for recommendations. They should be able to help and may even give you samples to help you pick.
- Go to Trader Joe’s for an excellent selection of cheeses, meats and accompaniments at affordable prices. Aldi is also a great option to keep costs down.
- Use items you already have in your pantry, such as nuts, crackers, honey and spreads.
- Have a stash of accompaniments readily available to replenish the board as needed.
- You will likely need more crackers than what can fit on the board. Fill a basket or plate with additional crackers and serve alongside the cheese board.
Serving and storing recommendations
I do not recommend making your cheese board more than a couple hours before serving it. Wrap cheese board in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Remove your cheese board at least 30 minutes before serving. Don’t forget to add utensils to the cheeseboard before serving.
Do not keep the cheese board out for more than 2 hours. After 2 hours, the cheese and meat are at higher risk of bacteria growth.
Store all leftover cheeses and meats separately in air tight containers or plastic bags.