At almost every party I throw, I think about the block of time prior to when the main meal of the shindig is slated to be served. There typically is about an hour or so before the main food attraction makes its appearance. During that time, I’m always sure to have something for my guests to nosh on. And what I’ve found to be the most effective and enjoyed appetizer is none other than the cheeseboard.
Cheeseboards are my favorite go-to party starter for a number of reasons. For one, there typically is no cooking involved, which allows you to focus more on the main meal without any added stress. There is also the joy eating good cheese brings to people. Like with wine lovers trying uncharted vino, there is a unique excitement when the non-vegan and lactose tolerant taste a new and delicious cheese for the first time.
While the making of some cheeses can be just as complex as the making of wine, the beauty of using a cheeseboard as an appetizer is that you get the quality inherent in the cheese you purchase without having to put forth a fraction of the effort it took to transform the cheese into the product we ultimately bring home from the grocery store. Like with a bottle of wine, all of the heavy lifting has been done for you (which I think is why the two pair so well with one another).
And so, in honor of Cheese Week here on the blog, I’m sharing with you a few Cheeseboard Essentials I’ve picked up along the way during my years of throwing parties large and small. While aesthetics are a component of every dish, these essentials focus on what I think is the most important aspect of any cheeseboard — the content.
4 Essential Tips for a Delectable Cheeseboard
Diversify the taste of your cheeseboard
There are an endless number of cheeses in existence today with new ones being created every week. This can leave you feeling somewhat overwhelmed when pondering what to purchase for your cheeseboard. A great start is to think about buying an assortment of cheeses that sit in various parts of the taste scale (mild to sharp and/or pungent). Purchasing nothing but one kind of cheese will not only make a boring cheeseboard. It can also alienate a number of guests who might not care for a particular kind of cheese. By diversifying the cheese that finds a home on your board, you increase the chances of all of your guests finding something that they adore, enhancing the enjoyment all around.
Purchase at least 3 cheeses with different textures
Making sure I buy at least 1 soft cheese (brie, goat, st. agur blue), 1 medium cheese (fresh mozzarella, smoked gouda) and 1 hard cheese (crumbly gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano, grana padana) instantly breaks the massive and complex dairy field into 3 defined and simplified categories. By doing this, with the help of your grocery store’s cheesemonger, you will now be able to more easily decide on what cheeses to bring home. Even if each cheese is a kind of goat or sheep’s cheese, the flavors are guaranteed to be different because of how each was made. Once you have your 3, you are now free to purchase whatever else you find to be tasty.
Don’t forget the carbs!
While I can take a block of aged cheddar and eat it by itself like it was some candy bar, having slices of a nice crusty baguette and/or an assortment of crackers is what every basic cheeseboard needs to be complete. Your soft cheeses will scream for something to be spread across while your harder cheeses will expect a companion with which to lay. You are giving the cheese you purchase the company it deserves while giving yourself a chance to inject another layer of flavor and texture to your appetizer.
Balance the savory with the sweetness of preserves and nuts
To this day, it is shocking to me how well even the tangiest and sharpest of cheeses go with a touch of something sweet. Flavors are amplified across the board (no pun intended) when you pair a bit of brie or gorgonzola with a fruity preserve or a candied nut. Adding items like these to your cheeseboard increases the amount of flavors and textures offered to your guest. It also will give the lactose intolerant and vegan populations something to nosh on, broadening the audience to which your cheeseboard can cater. (Note: other sources of sweetness that work great with cheeseboards are honey, balsamic glazes and fruit, to name a few).
Cheeseboards are quite possibly the most customizable kind of appetizer, which is the very reason why putting one together can be overwhelming at times. These 4 tips will help make your experience in putting your next cheeseboard together a pleasurable one. By following these, you’ll stay on your path in picking the right cheeses. And remember this: a cheeseboard isn’t only for parties. When you don’t feel like cooking, one of these along with a nice bottle of your favorite wine make for a delicious meal!