Five Ideas for Cheese Boards
August is ugly. It’s all sweat and flies. Here in Philadelphia, everyone related to anyone with a shore house has packed up and fled. As a midwestern transplant, I console myself with cheese boards instead of crab claws and spend most evenings drinking cocktails on the stoop instead of on sandy beaches. No complaints. August is a good time to surf local cheese shops (business tends to be slow), linger by the coolers enjoying samples, and invite old friends over for epic snack plates.
Since fixing a cheese board doens’t require an oven, it’s the perfect cold supper. Quick to fix. A delight to eat. As you know, I love a cheese board that seduces the eye, offering a bit of drama — a little dinner theater. Like “Shakespeare in the Park,” a great cheese board is all about the stage and a well-chosen cast of garnishes.
May the cheese boards below, pulled from the MF archives, inspire you to create a cheese-themed soirée, an antidote to August’s bleating hotness.
1. Goat Cheese & Citrus Board
- Pick out 3 to 5 goat cheeses of different textures (goat milk is the lightest of milks and, thus, ideal for summer)
- Play off the the acidity in goat cheese with lemon curd or marmalade — I love Yuzu marmalade, which is both citrusy and slightly floral. You can also set out honey.
- Fill in around the board with pistachios or walnuts, plus light crackers (any cracker with rosemary or thyme will be fab)
- To drink: a light, bright wine (like Sauvignon Blanc), wheat beer or saison, a citrusy cocktail with an herbaceous edge (like a French 75 or a Gin & Tonic)
2. Exploring-One-Style-of-Cheese Board
- Decide on a single style, like fresh cheeses, triple-cremes, cheddars, Alpines, stinkers, or blues
- Ask friends to bring one cheese in that style (call it a Mozzarella Potluck, say!) or pick out the cheeses yourself, then assign friends to bring accompaniments
- Build a big, beautiful board with lots of accompaniments so people can mix and match — don’t sweat the pairings, let people go wild. As long as you have nuts, fruit, pickles, jams, bread, and booze, everyone will be happy.
- At the end of the night, ask everyone to describe their best bite
3. Road Trip Cheese Board
- Pick a country or region you hope to visit
- Visit a good cheese shop with helpful mongers and ask them to recommend several cheeses from that place (Italy, France, England, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal are all good bets)
- Try picking wines or beers from the same place — there’s a theory that terroir matches terroir. The theory doesn’t always work, but it’s still fun to try cheese and drink from the same region
- You can also focus on artisan cheeses from a region of the U.S. — this is a great way to begin planning a road trip
4. Single Artisan Cheese Board
- Pick out 3 to 5 cheeses created by the same maker (in this case, Allison Hooper of Vermont Creamery — her line of goat cheese is readily available and wonderful)
- Offer simple pairings so that the cheeses remain in focus. Notice how the same milk expresses itself through different cheeses. So interesting.
- Choose a drink pairing from the maker’s region, in this case Barr Hill Gin from Vermont
5. Farm & Garden Cheese Board
- Pluck whatever is ripe or available at the farmers’ market — I like to steam veggies, especially green beans, carrots, pototatoes
- At your cheese shop, ask for cheeses with herbaceous flavors (like mountain cheeses or Alpines) and at least one aged Gouda for something sweet
- Add one earthy element, like sautéed mushrooms or something truffled
- Play with natural and/or earthy wines or beers
Next up: I’m exploring the theme of “cheese boards” this month, from composing cheese boards like the ones here, to finding actual boards that are good for entertaining. Join me as I visit a unique company that is working to re-invent the cheese board.
Uhhh…the cheese pictured at the top of this post? It’s Taupiniere, a gorgeous mushroom cloud of goat cheese rolled in ash, from California. I should have mentioned: you can always build a board around a single glorious cheese. Just add berries, dramatic flowers, and call it Ikebana.