When people hear the word cheese board they immediately think it is something only snooty foodies can partake in. I am here to inform you that that’s just not the case! Cheese boards are fun and easy to put together and a great way to delight in the joys of cheese, I mean, who doesn’t like cheese? (I love and feel for you lactose intolerant folks out there!!!) It’s the perfect romantic gesture for your Valentine or a great food adventure for a party of your friends!
So to all you stinky cheese-lovin’ folks out there, grab a board, grab a plate, clean off your counter tops and crash those stereotypes on the elusive cheese board! Here are some helpful tips and tricks on crafting the ultimate cheese board.
The Smorgasbord that is the Cheese Board
- Cheese Select 3-7 different cheeses for your board; soft cheeses (goat cheese, brie, or feta), semi-soft cheeses (Gouda, mozzarella, or jack), semi-firm cheeses (Asiago & cheddar), hard or firm cheeses (Parmesan). Keep an open mind and check out the “fancy cheese” section in the deli at your local grocery store to see if they have some smaller cuts for a lesser price; this is a great way to be daring without breaking the bank! And ask the experts for advice, they can help explain what the cheeses taste like and make suggestions.
- Fruit A mix of fresh and dried fruits are a must. Dried apricots or figs are a great morsel to nibble on and have a deep richness of flavor that pairs well with cheese, wine & beer. Fresh fruits, like oranges, strawberries, pears and apples always add a refreshing contrast against rich cheeses.
- Condiments Honey, Mustard, Jams (I hear Kelle B Jammin’ makes some pretty tasty local jams… just sayin’!) & Chutneys Honey or jam drizzled over goat cheese is AMAZING and I like to add a pinch or two of ground pepper! Mustard and other sauces like chutneys can be tasty addition to meats or cold cuts.
- Meat Slices of ham, thinly cut prosciutto or Jamon (a Spanish version), or roasted turkey are great to layer on your cheese board and can be used to create mini open faced sandwiches. Or wrap some Jamon around some cheese straws and you have a delicious meaty treat!
- Olives These briny counterparts are a perfect addition to any cheese board. A wonderful place to snag some unique olives is the olive bar at your local grocery store where you can buy by the pound which can equal a ton of savings and doesn’t require you to commit to a whole jar.
- Bread & Crackers Have a variety on hand to tear into like baguettes which can be picked up at the grocery store. A variety of plain, herbed or dried fruit and nut filled crackers are all divine choices! Packages of cheese straws are great to make some impromptu meat popsicles… it’s a good thing, trusty me!
- Nuts You can lightly toast them in a dry skillet ahead of time or keep them raw, but stay away from stronger nuts like the peanuts as they can really harsh your pallet! 😉
- Wine &/or Beer With the advent of all these great craft beers popping up all over the place, this is a great way to put your twist on the traditional wine & cheese. Several craft beers are meant to pair nicely with cheese and other foodie foods! Regardless, wine is always a good stand by and let me just share with you a good “Mama Va-ism”: You don’t have to spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine, unless you just want to! Wine blends (mix of 2 more types of wines) are a great way to introduce yourself to the delights of wine (one of my faves, Cupcake Red Velvet), or you can do as I do and go by the prettiness label (this isn’t a foolproof method though…). And don’t forget to read the labels; winemakers are making wine very accessible to everyone and will usually describe the flavors found in the wine and what it pairs nicely with. And if you go wrong, well, the more you drink, the less you care! 😉
A few more tips and tricks…
Let your cheese come to room temperature. If you eat cold cheese, you cannot taste the flavors as well as you can at room temperature. It really makes a difference and doesn’t hurt the cheese at all.
If possible, label all your cheeses, this way you and your friends can discuss the ones you liked and disliked. Save the labels to the ones you liked so you can remember them for next time!
Don’t be afraid to mix things up! Grab a hunk of bread, put some brie on it, pile some prosciutto on top, spoon some jam on and top it all off with a pistachio! Savor the flavors and then drink a little beer. Your taste buds will definitely have a party! Anything goes, so be adventurous!
Keep it simple! And as Ina Garten, the barefoot contessa, says, “How easy was that?” and she says this often of a cheese board. So whether you are feeding a crowd or having a romantic twosome, cheese boards are a great way to think outside the appetizer box. Take it as a challenge to have a cheesy adventure!
Happy Valentine’s Day friends!