'Tis the Cheeson!
With entertaining season in full swing, there’s no denying that we’re all knee-deep in cheese boards. Let’s face it—an appetizer spread just doesn’t feel complete unless a gorgeous cutting board piled high with hard and soft cheeses, nuts, fruits, and crackers is present. If creating a showstopper such as this feels overwhelming, just breathe. You are the hostess with the most-ess, and you can totally do this. We talked to Cheesemonger Jessica Lawrenz from Venissimo Cheese in San Diego, California, to better understand all the ins-and-outs of a perfect, party-ready cheeseboard.
If you could only pick 3 types of cheese to make up your cheese board, what would they be and why?
I recommend selecting cheeses that offer a mixture of milk types and textures. For example, a hard alpine-style cheese with umami flavor like Emmi’s cave-aged Kaltbach™ Le Gruyére® AOP, a soft, mellow French goat cheese from Pascal Beillevaire, and an aged gouda with butterscotch notes and pockets of crunchy texture like Roth® Vintage Van Gough Gouda.
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For a more adventurous crowd, what kind of cheeses would you recommend?
For more adventurous cheese lovers, I’d add an earthy washed-rind cheese like Emmi Der scharfe Maxx or Tulip Tree Creamery’s Foxglove Double Cream. A creamy blue cheese like Roth® Buttermilk Blue or funky sheep and cow mixed-milk blue cheese like 1924 Bleu, would also make for a step up in the flavor department.
How do you select which types of fruits/nuts/jams to pair with your cheeses?
I tend to think about two things when picking accompaniments. First, I always consider what’s ripe or in season. Depending on the time of year, I’ll look for fresh fruits like figs or persimmons, both of which are in season right now and great for cheese boards. If certain fruits and vegetables aren’t available fresh, dried fruits and pickled vegetables also make great accoutrements.
Second, I think about what will make for the best pairings with the cheeses I’ve selected. Apples, pears, and grapes are what I like to call “trifecta fruits” because they pair well with pretty much any cheese. Blue cheese and gingerbread is another one of my favorite pairings on a cheese board, especially during the holiday season.
Do you have any tips for styling/arranging the board?
Start with the cheese first. Cut your cheese into serving-sized portions, then, as a guide for your guests, place accompaniments that you want to pair with each cheese next to one another on the board. Play with shapes, depth and color as you lay everything out so that each of the elements pop.
Are there any absolute no-nos when it comes to shopping and preparing a cheese board? Common mistakes to avoid?
Be mindful of keeping the natural rind intact when slicing your cheese. Try to make sure each serving has an equal proportion of the rind as you slice it.
Don’t serve cheese cold. Take your cheese out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. This will allow time for the cheese to come to room temperature and the flavors to blossom.
What can you do ahead of time so that the cheese board can be put together right before company arrives?
You can always slice and arrange your board ahead of time - up to two hours before serving. Just remember to take everything out of the fridge and allow the cheese to come to room temperature before enjoying it.
What about equipment? Is it necessary to specifically buy a cheese board, cheese knives, etc?
Cheese knives and wire cutters can help make precision cuts and reduce waste, but they aren’t an absolute necessity. It is helpful to have at least one knife with holes in the blade to help prevent the cheese from sticking as you slice.
If there is leftover cheese (unlikely, I know), do you have any recommendations when it comes to saving and storing?
Cheese paper is ideal, but if you don’t have any on hand, wax or parchment paper is a great alternative. The trick to storing cheese is making sure the cheese still has room to breathe, so make sure to wrap and store it in the warmest part of the fridge, like the vegetable drawer. And whatever you do…. don’t freeze your leftovers.