Cheese boards can be so many things: a feast for the eyes, a treat for the senses, an exciting learning experience, and a delicious meal all in one. They’re one of the unique joys of serving and eating fine cheese.
Why is charcuterie so popular?
Cheese and charcuterie boards have become a viral phenomenon on social media because they look pretty and taste amazing—and seeing so many gorgeous cheese plates, platters, and boards on our feeds is bound to inspire us to create our own cheese boards at home. This makes us happy, because spreading the gospel of good cheese and supporting American artisan cheesemakers is sort of our thing here at Cheese Grotto.
Over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two about cheese boards: how to entertain with cheese, making mini cheese boards, and even building a board inside your Grotto. Now, we’re excited to share our cheese expertise with you!
In this post, you’ll learn how to assemble gorgeous cheese and charcuterie boards fit for a feast—or at least your Instagram feed. But first, you need to gather the necessary goodies—cheeses, accompaniments, and beverages—and cheese board essentials like serving surfaces, bowls, and utensils.
But building those beautiful, bountiful boards we’ve grown accustomed to must be hard, right? Well, they’re actually pretty simple—all you need to make them yourself is a little expert guidance. Here’s how to build a cheese board like a pro.
What Equipment Do I Need for a Cheese Board?
This can be a wooden cheese board specifically for serving cheese. It can be a budget-friendly bamboo board—just no stains or cut marks, please! It can be a cheese board set, a beautiful plate, a vintage silver tray, a reclaimed slate, or even one of the shelves of your Cheese Grotto.
Whatever it is, it should roughly fit the number of people you’re serving and the number of cheeses you want to feature. More mouths and more cheeses need a bigger board.
If you have a cheese board with knives included, that’s great. Specialized cheese gear like olive forks, wooden or ceramic tasting spoons, and offset or cutout knives for neatly cutting soft cheeses all come in handy when it comes to staging and serving. But you can make do with what you have if need be: a paring knife, a butter spreader, a teaspoon, and a regular old dinner fork should cover you.
You can buy gorgeous sets of cheese utensils, from contemporary gold sets to fancy French knives by Opinel and Laguiole—but shopping for cheese knives doesn’t have to be expensive. Keep your eye out for cheese-appropriate tools at thrift stores and vintage shops for an eclectic, affordable look that adds character. We even sell beautiful hand-carved wooden cheese knives to get you started.
Depending on the cheeses and accompaniments you’re serving, you may want to keep some serving vessels around: pinch bowls, big spoons, small jars, and even the little wooden baskets used to package certain soft cheeses come in handy for holding different accompaniments, from jam to seeds to crackers.
We like to have a few tiny pinch bowls handy for things like honey (or to keep on hand for guests to deposit their olive pits!), plus a few slightly larger ones that can hold fresh cheeses or items like small berries, dips, or olive oil. Keep in mind that you’ll need an appropriate-sized serving utensil for some accompaniments.
What Kind of Cheese Do You Put on a Charcuterie Board?
Now that you’ve got your hardware in place, it’s time to talk software—er, cheese. You can use these tips wherever you source your wedges—your local farmers’ market, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, or our online cheese shop, for instance.
It’s a good rule of thumb to choose contrasting styles. Pick a variety of cheeses in terms of milk type (cow, goat, or sheep), texture (soft, medium, firm), flavor profile (mild to pungent), and age. This ensures that there’s something for everyone while giving you lots of different profiles to pair with.
Another way to think about that contrast is to choose one common trait—style, milk type, maker, place of origin—and work within that scope to find contrasting styles. Maybe you pick a chevre, a bloomy, and an aged goat cheese from one local maker, or you choose Cheddars from different regions at different ages, or a selection of different ash-rubbed wheels.
As for how many cheeses to put on your board, that depends on how many people you’re serving. A single cheese is enough for one person, while three cheeses might make sense for two to four people. For a larger crowd, you can go up to five cheeses, but overall, quality is more important than quantity.
If possible, sample cheeses before you buy. If you’re feeling stuck, ask your friendly area cheesemonger for advice and recommendations. You can also purchase one of our curated single-maker cheese bundles. Or, to make things easy for you, we’ve put together a cheese tasting in a box that lets you mix and match accompaniments around three luscious American artisan cheeses.
How to Choose Cheese Board Accompaniments like Charcuterie, Nuts, Fruit, and Crackers
So you’ve got the cheese sorted. Now it’s time to choose the supporting players that will help its flavors and textures shine and turn your cheese plate into a well-rounded meal.
You can get really creative with accompaniments—one of our favorite examples of this is dipping crisp, salty potato chips into luscious, creamy, ripe Epoisses. But in general, we recommend skipping the candy canes and chocolate-covered pretzels in favor of classic bites that complement the flavors and textures of a wide variety of cheeses.
How do you pair cheese and charcuterie?
While not strictly necessary, a few slices of prosciutto, salami, or heritage country ham make an excellent complement to savory, umami-rich cheeses.
How do you pair cheese with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit?
Use toasted almonds, candied pecans, roasted pepitas, or crunchy hazelnuts to bring out the nutty flavors of long-aged styles like Alpines and Goudas while adding textural contrast. Dried fruits like apricots, cherries, and cranberries add brightness, while figs and dates emphasize the caramel-y qualities of long-aged cheeses. Dried pineapple and papaya can bring out tropical notes in aged varieties, too.
How do you pair cheese with pickles and olives?
Balance that rich, creamy cheese with briny acidity. Go for little cornichons or robust garlic dills, savory kalamata olives, grassy Castelvetranos, or a mix of Spanish olives.
How do you pair cheese and fruit?
Incorporating fresh, seasonal produce gives our cheese pairings delicious variety. Pair cucumber slices and sweet snap peas with tangy chevre, fresh berries with bloomy rinds like Brie and Camembert, zippy radishes with rich fromage blanc, or crisp apple slices with robust aged cheeses like Cheddar, Gruyere, and Gouda.
How do you pair cheese and chocolate?
How do you pair cheese with honey and preserves?
We love incorporating these pantry staples because we almost always have them on hand—and their flavor profiles enhance cheeses so well. Sweet, floral honeys play well with almost any cheese. We love truffle honey especially with fresh varieties, bloomies, and salty blues. The bright sweetness of jam, jelly, chutney, and marmalade cuts through umami-rich cheese while providing a foil for its savory qualities.
Which crackers go best with cheese?
While not strictly necessary, we believe great cheese deserves great carbs to go with it. Bring home a fresh baguette or artisan loaf and slice it up, or raid your pantry for your favorite crackers. A variety with lots of crunch and subtle flavor will pair with a wide range of styles and let the cheese take center stage.
How to Choose Wine and Cheese Pairings
Last but not least, what are you going to drink along with all these goodies? While wine is classic, beer, cider, spirits, cocktails, and non-alcoholic sips like fine teas, kombucha, lemonade, and even craft sodas can all make excellent cheese companions.
Of course, you can consult our wide variety of wine and cheese pairing guides for ideas before you shop for bottles. But when it comes to cheese boards with a range of flavor profiles and textures, we like to keep a few styles in mind that can go well with most types of cheese, from citrusy chevres to pungent blues.
How do you pair cheese with white wine?
Versatile, cheese-friendly white wines include crisp, bright varieties like Gewürtztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, dry Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.
How do you pair cheese with red wine?
Pair a wide-ranging selection of wedges with red wines like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah.
How do you pair cheese with rosé wine?
We love pink wine around here, but it’s best to stick to dry styles when pairing with cheese.
How do you pair cheese with sparkling wine?
If your cheese selection is on the creamier, denser side, bubbles are your best friend! The carbonation in Champagne, prosecco, Lambrusco, and other sparkling wines help sweep your palate clean, readying it for another bite of luscious cheese.
How to Assemble a Cheese Board
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: putting all these delicious puzzle pieces together into a fantastic cheese board that looks as good as it tastes.
The key to assembling an Instagram-worthy board is taking the process step by step—and we’ve broken down each phase of construction for you.
Step 1: Place your wheels and wedges
Cheese is the star of the show, so it’s only natural that we build our board around it. Arrange your cheeses around the board in a way that’s pleasing to your eye, with enough space around them that you can place the appropriate accompaniments.
If you want to get really fancy, you can use the Golden Ratio: imagine the gridlines through the viewfinder of a camera and place your cheeses at the intersections of the gridlines. Or think about the Fibonacci Spiral when placing your cheeses, arranging them to draw the eye to a certain point on the board.
Step 2: Place any bowls, jars, or other vessels
This is where your pickles, jams, mustard, honey, sauces, or dips come in. Situate accompaniments that go with certain cheeses near those cheeses. If an accompaniment can be enjoyed with multiple varieties of cheese on your board, place it between those two cheeses.
Step 3: Add your carbs
If you’re working with crackers, crostini, or baguette rounds, place them in stacks, piles, or “waterfalls” around the board. If possible, put them in a couple of different places around the landscape. And yes, you can use multiple varieties on the board, as long as it’s big enough!
Step 4: Add your charcuterie
If you’re including cured meats like prosciutto, speck, soppressata, or other charcuterie or salumi, now’s the time to place it on your board. As in step 4, choose a few different spots to put each meat.
While you can create “rivers” of sliced rounds or shape them into salami roses, we find that those strategies take up a little more space on the board than necessary. Freeform piles or stacks work just as well. When it comes to long, flexible strips like prosciutto or country ham, we find that folding slices in half a couple of times and standing them on their ends looks just as pretty—and takes less time—as twisting them into perfect rosette shapes.
Step 5: Fill in gaps with handfuls of fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and seeds
Our board is already bursting with mouthwatering goodies, but we’re going to make sure it looks vibrant and abundant by filling in gaps with the little things—fresh blueberries, snap peas, dried cranberries, roasted pepitas, candied walnuts, corn nuts. Place small handfuls throughout the board, keeping accompaniments meant for specific cheeses near those cheeses when possible.
Step 6: Add the finishing touches
Finally, we’re almost done finishing this beautiful board—meaning we’re almost ready to eat it!
The last things you’ll put on your board are drizzles—like honey, caramel, olive oil, or balsamic vinegar—that go on top of other items, so they look as fresh and pretty as possible when you’re ready to take photos (and then dig in). You’ll also add relevant utensils—a little fork in a dish of pickles, for example, or a knife sticking artfully out of a wedge of cheese.
Lastly, a good cheese board offers identifying information about each cheese. We like a simple kraft paper or black construction paper sign applied to each board with a pin-style holder, but there are lots of versions available. You can even use a black slate-finish board and incorporate cheese names into your design from the start—all you need is a piece of chalk.
(Note: We know this doesn’t really work with the beautiful overhead photo style popular on Instagram, so feel free to label after you’ve taken pics. Just include that identifying info on the caption and be sure to tag the hardworking makers to promote their delicious products!)
Now you know how to build a gorgeous cheese board fit for a feast! Got any questions? Let us know and tag us in your pics @cheesegrotto!