Cheese is synonymous with comfort food, and during the winter months nothing is more comforting than rich, creamy flavors when the air becomes crisp and cool.
Note how the varying colors of the fruits, cheeses, and crackers all combine for a supremely appealing board. Photo courtesy Emmi Roth
The beauty of a cheese board is that it offers guests the opportunity to taste and sample cheeses they are not familiar with. When selecting cheese for a board, choose three to five different options with a mix of bold, spicy, comforting and mild flavors. An alpine-style cheese like Gruyere is a perfect start because it is complex, yet mild enough to be a crowd-pleaser. Next, choose a cheese with a bold flavor or spice, like Gouda. Brie and blue cheeses are also a nice addition to winter boards because they are bold, creamy, and comforting.
A gourmet cheese board from The Wild Thyme Company includes imported and domestic cheeses with accompaniments such as candied walnuts, curry roasted cauliflower, nectarine jam, marinated olives, cornichons and more. Photo courtesy The Wild Thyme Company
Slice cheese professionally
Equally-portioned, cleanly cut pieces of cheese give a professional look to a cheese board. Select cheeses that you cut into congruent shapes like triangles and tiles to create striking patterns. For cheeses that cannot be uniformly cut, hollow out the center and leave the rind intact to create a “dish” which can be used to hold chunks or crumbles of the cheese.
Serve blue and other soft cheeses as a whole with a cheese knife for guests to cut or scoop their own pieces.
Cranberry flecks within Wensleydale cheese are complemented by the color of figs. Photo courtesy Rosy Usmani
Pick the perfect pairings
While the star of any cheese board is the cheese, perfectly selected pairings are critical. Choose an assortment of sweet and savory. Crowd pleasing favorite winter pairings are rustic bread and crackers, honey, cherry and pear preserves, figs, fresh pomegranate and pear, dried apricots, steamed brussels sprouts, pickled vegetables, nuts, and holiday candies and chocolates. In the winter, it’s also interesting to add a pot of cheese fondue or raclette to accompany the board.
Raclette can be served via traditional heated dish or by heating a wedge of the wheel and scraping off the melted area. Photo courtesy Emmi Roth
A more casual raclette served at the Hotel Boulderado during the IFEC conference.
Arrange with purpose
Styling a cheese board is easiest when all the cheeses and pairings are first prepped and ready to work with. Before building the board, cut all cheeses, prepare accouterments and place condiments into small bowls.
When prepping large cheese boards, it is also nice to keep a few large wedges of cheese uncut for display purposes, making the board even more intruguing.
Once cheeses are arranged, add items according to the amount of space they will take up – largest to smallest. When arranging items, consider their shapes and colors. Place contrasting colors next to one another to make the board pop. Add items like nuts, olives, and cornichons last to help fill any open spaces, as well as add texture and color.
Intriguing accompaniments to a cheese board: pop corn, dehydrated orange slices, dried apricots, and fresh fruit. Photo courtesy Emmi Roth
Make it perfect for guests
To make event day easy, cheese boards can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Approximately 30 minutes before the event begins, remove the board from the refrigerator and allow the cheese to come to room temperature.
While hands can pick most items on cheese boards, be sure to offer guests tongs and utensils to build their own personal plates.