The holidays are here and the whole family is coming over! Luckily, Chef Britt is ready to give you some tips and tricks for impressing your guests with a cheeseboard. Read through to the end to get a recipe for some unbelievably addictive Smoky Candied Pecans!
Let’s be honest: cheese is just about the best food in existence. It can come in a variety of textures, flavors, shapes, sizes, and colors. From an ooey-gooey, lip-smacking, triple-creme brie to an intriguing, salty cheddar laden with crunchy crystals… I’m already drooling. There’s a world of cultured varieties out there just waiting for you to explore!
When it comes to building a cheese board, I have a couple of helpful guidelines:
1. Pick your board based on how many people you want to feed. By this I mean, choosing the size of your serving platter. Wooden cutting boards are perfect for this application, and there’s plenty of options at ATBBQ.com. In the featured board for this blog, we used this beautiful slate cheese tray, which makes cheeses visually pop. To determine what size will work best for your crowd, think about the size of a standard sheet of paper: 8.5″x11″. For every sheet of paper, you can feasibly fit enough stuff on there to feed five people. The slate board I used is roughly the surface area of two sheets of paper and was perfect for creating a board that could accommodate roughly 10 people.
2. Decide if you are feeding a cheese board as a meal, or as an accompaniment to a meal to determine how much cheese to buy. As a light snack before or after a meal, I try to aim for about 2 oz of cheese per person. If a cheese board is the main attraction, look to have about 4 oz of cheese per person. This guide will help you visualize how much cheese you need to purchase to satisfy your guests. (In my experience, however, you can never have enough cheese. If you’re in doubt- err on the side of MORE.)
- 5 people = 10 oz – 1.25 lbs
- 10 people = 1.25 lbs – 2.5 lbs
- 20 people = 2.5 lbs – 5 lbs
- 30 people = 3.75 lbs – 7.5 lbs
- 40 people = 5 lbs – 10 lbs
3. When deciding what cheeses to serve, look for variety in both flavors and textures. Keep things interesting and try something new! I have a penchant for a very pungent and buttery stilton blue cheese or a soft-ripened goat cheese. Most artisan cheesemakers will have their unique spin in the cheese-making process. It’s determined by what is fed to the animals that produce the milk, how it’s cooked (or not cooked), what enzymes are used in the fermentation process, or for how long it’s aged. If you’re not sure where to start, try talking with the cheesemonger at your local cheese counter. They can steer you in the right direction and let you know what’s popular or rare.
4. For every cheese, have a paired condiment. My use of the term “condiment” is pretty loose here. I’m not just talking mustard and honey. It also includes jams, preserves, pickles, olives, dried fruit, and nuts. I tend to crave sweet things with cheese, so my featured board has bread and butter jalapeños, smoky candied pecans (recipe below), and raspberry jalapeño jam. When arranging them on your board, make an unconscious suggestion to your guests by placing the condiment of choice near the paired cheese. Keep in mind, your condiments will often work with more than one cheese, so don’t be mad if Aunt Karen decides bread and butter pickles go with brie. The beauty of making a board is keeping variety in mind and letting people choose their journey. If you need help figuring out what works best with each cheese, again, discussing with your local cheesemonger will be your best bet.
5. Carbs are a must. Unless you’re Keto. Carbs like crackers and bread are a necessary way to not only stretch your dollar but also to create a vehicle for the cheese to be served. As a complete carb advocate, I won’t be biased if you decide to grill slices of fresh sourdough baguette or open a box of Ritz Crackers. All are welcome. If you are watching your carb intake, however, feel inclined to serve apple slices or parmesan crisps instead.
6. Always put something fresh on the board. Whether it’s fresh seasonal fruit or crudite, this will break up the monotony of fat-heavy and potentially salt-driven foods. Besides, produce is good for you, and you deserve only the best. I love adding a simple microgreen or sprout mix to fill spaces and to bring a bitter astringency that helps cut through heavier cheeses. It also always brightens up the board, giving it an extra oomph of color. Greens are perfect for filling in any spaces so that your board will always look bountiful.
7. Have all the serving utensils in mind. This means knives, tongs, spoons, and toothpicks. Unless everyone’s really close with each other and doesn’t mind dipping in with their hands, you’ll want to make sure every component is easily served. I’ve also found if there’s not enough knives to cut each cheese individually, that stanky blue cheese might get on every other cheese on the board. For that reason, I love this charcuterie set from Wusthof. If you are concerned that people will try and take an entire chunk of cheese on their plate, you can often pre-slice semi-hard and harder cheeses and keep portioning under your control.
8. Serve at room temperature. Giving cheese the chance to come to room temperature makes a world of difference regarding flavor. The fats in the cheese will release on your tongue much quicker, releasing their maximum flavor potential. Give your cheese an hour to come up to temp before your guests arrive, and Uncle Ted won’t believe he’s had a better cheddar.