Ah, the cheese board. Star of the after-dinner hour. Hero of the wine-and-cheese party. (Oh, who am I kidding? Beer me some Pinot.) No, but really… the cheese board has its place. After dinner, served in place of dessert, it’s the height of sophistication. As much as I love to bake and serve people desserts, a cheese board can be a wonderful change of pace. When hubby and I were traveling in California this fall, we had some fantastic cheese boards that highlighted the best local cheeses, as well as some exotic choices. I came home itching to make my own cheese board. It’s actually very easy, if you follow a few simple guidelines…
First, you need cheese. Obviously. A cheese board without cheese would be… well… kind of a non-starter. (Nothing against my vegan friends. But it’s true.) I like to serve at least three cheeses on a cheese board, and I generally stick with the following ratio: one hard, one soft, one blue. If you have an extra-large cheese board, you can feel free to add on as you desire, but one hard, one soft, one blue is a good rule to follow for a fairly universally-pleasing cheese board. Above, I’ve chosen a Cabot cloth-aged cheddar (hard), a Hudson Valley camembert (soft), and a milder French blue (blue, duh). If I had the space or the crowd to feed, I might have added a creamy goat cheese (sans herbs, please – it’s dessert) or a cave-aged gruyere, or perhaps a smoked gouda. However, you need at least one hard, one soft, one blue.
With the blue cheese, I love to add honeycomb. I always keep some honeycomb in my pantry, for just this purpose. The sweetness of the honey counteracts the pungency of the cheese, which hubby really appreciates. Together, the two flavors are perfection.
I always add a few extras to fill out the cheese board. To this cheese board, I added half of a small date-and-walnut loaf, a handful of dried black mission figs, and a pile of fresh raspberries. When you’re shopping for your cheese board, pick out your cheeses first and then think about how the flavors will interact with each other. The dates and the figs both went equally well with the camembert and the cheddar. You need some extras for visual interest – to break up the cheeses – and for flavor complexity. For dessert cheese boards, I like to add dried fruits; for appetizer cheese boards, I pile up olives, a variety of crackers, and cherry tomatoes. Last but not least, whether this is dessert or hors d’ouvres, you’ll need of bread or crackers to serve with the cheeses.
Oh, and wine. You can’t forget the wine.