Master Holiday Entertaining with Tips from Cheesemongers
A well-appointed, picture-perfect cheese board is an exciting holiday appetizer. Creating professional-looking boards at home can be easy if you know insider tips. To help holiday hosts create impressive cheese boards, Emmi Roth, a leading producer of specialty cheese, has teamed up with cheesemongers from around the country to create five inspirational cheese boards and share tips and tricks for selecting and arranging cheeses and accoutrements like a pro.
Selecting and Cutting Cheese
The beauty of a cheese board is that it offers guests the opportunity to taste and sample cheeses they’re not familiar with. When selecting cheese for your board, choose three to five different options with a mix of bold, spicy and mild flavors. An alpine-style cheese, like Roth® Grand Cru®, is a perfect cheese to start with because it’s complex, yet mild enough to be a crowd-pleaser. Next, choose a cheese with a bold flavor or spice, like Roth® Sriracha Gouda, a spicy Dutch-style cheese made with Sriracha chili sauce and rubbed with crushed red peppers. Also, serving a mixture of domestic and international cheeses adds depth to boards and often leads to conversation about how the flavor can change depending on where the milk comes from and the region where the cheese is produced.
Equally-portioned, cleanly cut pieces of cheese give a professional look to any cheese board. Select cheeses that can be cut into congruent shapes like triangles and tiles to create striking patterns. For cheeses that can’t be uniformly cut, Lilith Spencer of Cheesemongers of Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico recommends hollowing out the center of the cheese and leaving the rind intact to create a “dish” which can be used to hold chunks or crumbles of the cheese.
Picking Perfect Pairings
While the star of your cheese board is the cheese, perfectly selected pairings are critical.
“Cheese boards should always feature an assortment of sweet and savory pairing options,” said Jessica Lawrenz, cheesemonger at Venissimo Cheese – Mission Hills in San Diego, California. “Seasonal fruits, jams, local honeys, salty cured meats, pickled items and nuts are quintessential for cheese boards, as they add flavor and texture.”
“When desired fresh fruits aren’t in season, opt for dried ones,” said Ellian Rohrbacher, assistant manager at New Seasons in Portland, Oregon. “Dried figs, apricots and cherries are wonderful additions to cheese boards because they not only offer a sweet bite, but also a pop of color.”
Arranging A Cheese board
Styling a cheese board is easiest when all the cheeses and pairings are first prepped and ready to work with. Before building your board, cut all cheeses, prepare accoutrements and place condiments into small bowls.
“Cheese is the most important component of any cheese board so start by arranging the cheese first,” said Spencer. “Make sure to place a lot of space between the cheeses so there is no confusion as to what’s what.”
“One of my favorite tricks is to place a small glass upside down on my cheese board and lay pieces of sliced cheese down around it one by one, then remove the glass,” said MacKenzie Aivazis, cheesemonger at Urban Radish in Los Angeles. “Creating perfectly placed shapes throughout the board provides eye-catching focal points.”
Once cheeses are on the board, add items according to the amount of space they will take up – biggest 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.
“When arranging cheese boards, try to create movement,” suggests Liz Dueland, a cheesemonger from Madison, Wisconsin. “You want to subtly convey tasting recommendations to guests by strategically placing cheeses and accompaniments next to one another, suggesting ‘this be paired with that’ and encouraging exploration into other areas of the board.”
To make entertaining easy, cheese boards can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Approximately 30 minutes before guests arrive, 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.