I love cheese. I always have. I remember sneaking slices of plastic wrapped cheese out of the refrigerator when I was a kid (seems gross now). I grew up eating cheese burritos, cheese enchiladas, cheese quesadillas.
When my middle son was a newborn I found out he was allergic to dairy. That meant I had to cut out all dairy from my diet. That was awful! So thankful he outgrew that allergy!
Now, I am so happy that cheese boards are all the rage! Call them what you will: cheese board, charcuterie board, shared platter, grazing board. Either way, they look delightful and taste amazing. While they can look a tad overwhelming, they really are easy to put together.
Here’s a few tips to help with this crowd pleaser:
Whether you use a board or a platter, it really doesn’t matter. Neither does the size or shape. You can also just throw it down on the table on a sheet of butcher paper. I personally love this option, especially when they write in beautiful calligraphy what type of cheese or meat it is. You can get boards, cutting boards, platters, etc pretty much anywhere. Or look in your own stock of serving pieces and see if you can come up with something creative. You will need something quite large, or multiple items because once you start building the board, it has a way of growing larger than anticipated.
The Cheese and Meats
I think here you use your personal favorites and then add anything you find interesting when you are shopping. Start with a good smoked sausage, and then add in salami, pepperoni, ham. Rolling these up is a great way to display them. For the cheese, you should use multiple colors and textures. Swiss, cheddar, Mozzarella, Blueberry cheddar, Smoked cheeses, spicy cheeses are all great options. Then you add in soft cheeses like Brie or muenster. Cream cheese topped with a pepper jelly is always a hit. The cheeses need to be cubed or sliced, as a variety is more eye appealing.
Think crackers, pretzel thins, mini toasts, breadsticks, cheese straws. You will need lots of this item. I love using Ritz, Club and Wheat thins along with the pretzel thins. If you are able to find cheese straws and crispy breadsticks, you can put them in a mason jar or vase to add height and visual interest.
This addition to the board brings the saltiness that pairs nicely with the creaminess of the cheese. I love to use both green and black olives, jalapeno stuffed olives, and sometimes I even use pickles. I hardly ever use sundried tomatoes, but you certainly can!
Any kind of nut is acceptable, but almonds and cashews are the most affordable.
If you want to step it up a notch, you can add in dips such as hummus, french onion, ranch, hot artichoke, and my personal favorite, spinach. Of course you will want to put these in a bowl or some other sort of vessel. This gives the board more visual interest as well contain the mess.
Fruits and Veggies
You can use either fresh or dried fruit here. Grapes, dried apricots, strawberries, blueberries, celery, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper strips, carrots, snow peas. A mix of shape and color is the best choice.
Putting it together.
You gotta let that OCD go. Think random. It is supposed to be organized chaos. I start with the meats. Place like meats together in multiple places on the board. Next, the cheese. Lump it together or spread it out nicely if you have it sliced. Then add in the bowls of dip if you have any. You will notice there are several bare spots. Spread out the crackers, pile them in like piles. Lay them off the board if you need to. You can use tiered trays or cake platters to provide more space. You will notice that there are empty areas. This is where you add in the fruit, veggies, olives and nuts. Some of the items you will want to put in vessels to add height. Really tuck everything in. The tighter the better. Like I said, organized chaos. You want it to look intentional, without being perfect.
Once you are completely done you can decide if you want to label the items. I like this look but find it to be unnecessary. I think your guests will take what looks appealing to them, whether or not they know what it is. Plus, it’s a great time to try new things! However, if you want to label, they have markers that you can buy, or a simple toothpick with a paper taped on it works well. If you want to be extra fancy you can add in sprigs of rosemary or other herbs. Or, you can never go wrong with fresh flowers. A vase filled with baby’s breath, Queen Anne’s lace, or Eucalyptus adds simple rustic charm. Or for modern elegance, fill a tall clear vase with blossoms or branches.
Lastly, look back at your beautiful success and enjoy with your guests. They will think you are so fancy!