Start the New Year With the Minimalist Cheese Board Challenge

There’s nothing quite like a bountiful cheese board, beautifully plated and bursting with colorful accompaniments, especially over the holidays. But as we shift into deep winter and a new year, we’ve found ourselves wanting to take stock, declutter, and focus on what’s really important: the cheese. 

Our friend Madame Fromage, AKA cheese writer and educator Tenaya Darlington, had a similar mindset going into January when she launched the #minimalistcheeseboard hashtag on her Instagram account last week. 

Tenaya’s thoughtfully styled boards, often focusing on a single cheese with one or two accompaniments (or none at all), are some of our favorites on our feeds. Her reminder to let the cheese take center stage came at the perfect time. 

Why a Minimalist Cheese Board?

Sure, there’s a place for a few supporting players on a well-curated board. In our view, accompaniments ought to be chosen with intention—to amplify or contrast with what the cheese brings to the table.

A few great accessories can take a cheese from great to transcendent. Think quality chocolate, a glass of good wine or craft beer, or the subtly earthy black truffle-infused star thistle honey we include in our tasting boxes

The idea is to make sure we can enjoy the color, the aroma, the texture, and the flavor of our favorite cheeses without the sensory distractions that can come with a packed-to-the-edges grazing board. Ready to take the #minimalistcheeseboard challenge with us?

small cheese board tips
Photo by Grace Wilkey

How to Build a Minimalist Cheese Board

Start with a few high-quality wedges, like this trio of goat’s milk softies from Firefly Farms, these aged sheep’s milk stunners from Vermont Shepherd, or this contrasting suite of cheeses from Green Dirt Farm. You can also seek inspiration from a single great cheese, like Boxcarr’s lush, pillowy Cottonbell or Upland’s Cheese Company’s iconic Alpine style Pleasant Ridge Reserve.  

Be sure to take it out of the fridge an hour before you want to taste to let the cheese come to room temperature and reach its full flavor and texture potential. (Or just keep firm wedges in your Grotto on the counter and they’re always ready to go!) 

While you’re waiting, browse our cheese pairing guides to get your creative juices flowing, then raid your pantry or fridge for one or two thoughtfully chosen accompaniments. Remember: less is more, cheese plays the starring role, and negative space is a good thing. 

In fact, the Cheese Grotto’s removable shelves make a great canvas to start with—they’re on the small side, so you’ll be encouraged to build your board with care and intention. And isn’t that how we all want to start off the new year?

 

five cheese types for a cheese board

Photo by Grace Wilkey

Focus on the Cheese

Our favorite thing about these minimalist boards—aside from their uncluttered visual simplicity—is that they let you devote your attention to the wedges at hand. That’s exactly the mode we want to be in when we taste cheese: thoughtful, present, and open to delicious experiences. 

When you’re ready, start by observing the cheese with your senses. What does its appearance tell you? Pick it up. What’s the texture like—firm, bouncy, soft, sticky, crumbly? Next, give both the rind and the paste a deep sniff, and see what aromas you observe. 

Cut yourself a piece, placing it on your tongue and letting it sit there for a moment to warm up and begin to soften. Then chew, making a point to coat your palate with the cheese. What flavors are you experiencing? How does the cheese change through that first bite? 

Finally, swallow—then close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This final step blows those aroma molecules across your palate, giving you a final sense of the cheese you just enjoyed. 

Make some notes if you like, then try the same cheese with one of your accompaniments to see how the experience changes when new flavors, textures, and aromas are introduced—then focus on savoring every bite. We’re not saying that a clean, focused cheese board is like meditation...but the best ones just might be.


Have you tried making a #minimalistcheeseboard? Let us know and tag us in your posts on Instagram!

Alexandra Jones is a writer, cheesemonger, and food educator who has been working with farmers and artisans in Pennsylvania for the past eight years. She has written for publications like Food & Wine, USA Today, The Counter, Civil Eats, Thrillist, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and is one-third of the team behind Collective Creamery, a women-powered artisan cheese subscription based in southeast Pennsylvania. Alexandra leads cheese tastings and teaches cheesemaking classes in and around Philadelphia, and we are honored to have her on our team.

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