Assembling the Cheeseboard
Cheese is a versatile and imaginative entertainer that can be paired with many different beverages, flavors and foods. Successful cheeseboards can be as varied as the thousands of delicious cheeses available in the world. Keeping a few simple guidelines in mind may help in your selection process but no cheese that you enjoy can ever be wrong!
- If possible, purchase your cheese the same day as your gathering
- 2 – 5 cheeses in total
- Select cheeses that showcase a variety – either in style, flavor, appearance or all three (see below for several suggestions)
- Bring cheeses to room temperature (30–60 min.) before serving
- Consider your drink selections; bolder flavors pair best with stronger more robust beverages, milder flavors would work best with lighter options. (see pairing guide)
The key to any cheese plate is assembling a nice range of style, flavor and appearance. There are a number of exciting ways to accomplish this. Consider having your flavors and textures cover a broad expanse, for example offer a crumbling blue, a medium-hard cheese such as WindsorDale, and a soft-ripened Coulommiers-style like our Lillé. Or you may prefer to showcase different milks such as a simple goat’s milk cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese like a Manchego, and a cow’s milk cheese like our flavorful BrickHaus Tilsit.
|Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. Pairing Guide|
|AleHouse Cheddar||Beaujolais, Merlot||Harpoon® IPA||Hearty crackers, beer nuts, honey mustard|
|Spiced Edam||Dry Rosé||India Pale Ale||Quince, sugared dates, walnuts, rye flatbread, dark chocolate|
|Lillé Coulommiers||Champagne, Prosecco, Sweet Sherry||Bière de Champagne / Bière Brut pale hard cider||Strawberries, figs, black grapes, honeycomb, baguette|
|BrickHaus Tilsit||Cabernet, Red Zinfandel||Dark Beer, English Stout||Dark breads, chutney, charcuterie, pickles|
|Farmstead Cheddar||Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot||American Lager||Red or white grapes, stone wheat crackers|
|WindsorDale||Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay||Granny Smith Hard Cider||Apples (or applie pie!), pears, unsalted wafers|
Another popular cheese plate option is to explore various regions or countries. Vermont alone has fantastic cheese selections to choose from, with many small artisanal producers offering diverse and intriguing options. Alternatively, you could choose different cheeses from different countries and span the gastronomic globe.
Other assemblages may showcase several cheeses of the same family such as three soft-ripened cheeses where the key differentiator comes through in the flavor. Our Angeline and Lillé, for example, may have similar textures but the tastes are distinctly different.
Depending on the sophistication of your guests, you may want to anchor your cheeseboard with a standard or two like Farmstead Cheddar or a simple Swiss style but then push your guests beyond their normal palate to experience more intriguing flavors such as our Spiced Edam or AleHouse Cheddar.
If children are attending your party, consider slicing a few mild selections on a separate platter with buttery crackers and cut grapes to keep little fingers away from fancier presentations.
Be sure to set the cheese out early to allow it to come to room temperature for flavors and aromas to peak. Cheeses should be displayed with enough room around them on the board so one type of cheese is not touching another. Hard cheeses should be sliced in advance so guests aren’t struggling to hack pieces by themselves. A small fork or toothpicks can help guests with their selection. Soft-ripened cheeses should be served with a serving knife or even a spoon for sampling as they go. Cheese boards come in a variety of materials from wood, marble or even plastic – the choice is yours depending on the formality of your gathering. Chilled slate is often used to display cut cheeses and is not only attractive but keeps cheeses cool and looking perky during longer events. I wouldn’t recommend cutting on slate however, since small pieces of this brittle stone can easily chip off during cutting.
A good cheese plate often has a few accompaniments to best complement and enhance the taste of the cheese. Sliced breads, baguettes, crackers, flatbreads and wafers are used for their simple flavors and make for portable carriers. Various seasonal fresh or dried fruits such as grapes, pears, figs, dates, plums, apricots and apples are always welcome. Sweet, ripe berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries explode with sweetness to contrast with the salt and cream of the cheese. Spreadable fruit pastes like quince, fig or cherry are another easy way to add a refreshing fruit complement to the cheeseboard in a convenient, attractive and concentrated form. The toasted and woody flavors of nuts echo the textures and aromas of hard and blue cheeses. Drizzles of balsamic vinegar and honey add tang and mellow accent to the board. All natural honeycomb cut into small syrupy cubes gets my vote as the accompaniment with the most visual panache.
Wine and beer pairings are never absolute and any guidelines are always made to be broken. So much is dependent upon personal preference that I would never recommend choking down a wine you don’t enjoy because according to a chart, it will be the perfect companion to your cheese. Similarly, many cheeses pair wonderfully with artisan brews but if you don’t appreciate beer, the effect will be lost on you. Still, in a broad sense, bold pairs with bold and mellow pairs with mellow. As loose and unregimented as that principle is, so are your choices for enjoying any style, texture and flavor of cheese. If you’re open to more exact direction, there are many books, guides and wheels that can lead you in the right direction. We have also assembled a pairing guide for that purpose. The only hard and fast rule is to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, from your first sip and nibble to your last.
Ideally, it’s best to use cheese on the day you buy it but for many of us who don’t live next door to a trusted fromagerie that may be asking too much. The rest of us must purchase as we can and store for future use. Ideal storage should attempt to replicate conditions in a cheese cave: dark, cool and humid. Since there is more moisture in the vegetable bin of your fridge, if possible, store your cheese there.
Hard and semi-hard cheeses should be wrapped in waxed or butcher paper or plastic wrap to keep fresh. Storage in plastic wrap can lead to suffocation and spoilage if left too long though, so if plastic is what you’re using, change the wrapping occasionally. For cheeses with hard rinds, like a Parmigiano-Reggiano, you can cover the exposed areas with plastic wrap, leaving the rind open so that the cheese can breath. Semi-soft cheese like BrickHaus Tilsit should be wrapped in butcher or wax paper, and then wrapped in plastic wrap. Soft cheese should be kept in an airtight container.
Blue cheese is different. The more exposure to air it gets the bluer it gets and thus the more flavor from the mold. This may sound good but eventually the mold will overpower the cheese and make the taste too harsh. Wrap it tightly in foil and then plastic wrap and keep it away from other cheeses or the mold will spread. Better yet, store blue cheese and other “stinky” cheeses in a separate container.