Cheese Board Basics

Readers often email for tips on putting together a cheese board. Here are a few suggestions:

Pick a theme.

When in doubt, choose a variety of cheeses from different milks – cow, sheep, goat, and if you can find it: water buffalo. You can also put together a cheese board by country (French, Italian, or Spain) or pick American all-stars. Here are some of my favorite combinations: monastic cheeses and beer, triple cremes and bubbly, a variety of blues and barley wine.

Let your cheese relax.

Set out your cheeses before guests arrive. Cheese is always best served at room temperature. Cover your cheeses with some damp cheese cloth or a damp kitchen towel so that they don’t dry out.

Baguettes, baguettes, baguettes.

If you spend a pretty penny on gorgeous cheese, for heaven’s sake don’t put out sad crackers. A slice of plain baguette is the best raft for a gorgeous mouthful.

Don’t stress about accompaniments.

Put out some honey, dried fruit, olives, a few nuts, and some cured meat. Don’t worry about perfect pairings. Guests will have fun mixing and matching.

When in doubt, go for white wine or beer.

Subtle cheeses are easily overpowered, especially by heavy reds. A good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to white for cheeses, along with an assortment of light lagers, fizzy Belgians, and nut brown ales.

Store leftover cheese in waxed paper. 

Tight plastic suffocates cheese, which is a living, breathing entity. Wrap your hunks in waxed paper, then drop them into a roomy Zip-Lock. The vegetable drawer is the best haven for leftover cheeses because it’s the coldest part of your fridge.

To toggle your cheese brain, check out the “Resources” link on the menu bar. It’s got a list of useful cheese books.

On Keeping A Cheese Notebook

“It all comes back,” writes Joan Didion in her famous essay on the subject of writer’s notebooks. It’s true. It does all come back.

For almost three years now, I have recorded every nibble, every recommendation overheard at the cheese counter, along with lists of cheeses to try. Bad Axe. Gamonedo. (I have yet to find either.) But I will tell you this: it’s a pleasure to go back in time and relive first impressions – the first bite of Moses Sleeper, the first whiff of Comte: like nutty brown sugar – gorgeous, perfect, no ragged edge.

Now that I am 3 dog-eared notebooks deep, allow me to nudge you, Lover of Cheeses, Dreamer of the Golden Dream. When you shop for school supplies, pick up a small notebook to carry in your sock or back pocket. Why?

You can write down all your cheese desires. Then, when you go to the store and you can’t for-the-life-of-you recall whether you ate Boursin or Burrata at your cousin’s bat mitzvah, you’ll only have to flip open your little Bible.

You can scribble notes at the cheese counter. Cheese counters should have scratch paper. The mongers always have great tips for pairings and sometimes tell scandalous stories that are worth recording for later histrionics. Won’t you be a clever fly on the wall with your new Moleskine?

You will develop a glittering palate. Cheese can seem daunting, but if you begin to describe flavors on paper you’ll begin to recognize certain qualities that reappear – like grassiness or peanutty tastes. Soon, you’ll see that these flavors are distinct to certain cheese styles.

You can read aloud from your cheese notebook at poetry readings. Let me give you an example: Tuma Di Fobello, smells meat lockery and ripe. Looks vaguely leopard print. A real fly magnet.

You’ll make fabulous friends. A cheese notebook leads to tastings. Tastings lead to cheese parties. Cheese parties draw Europeans. Europeans bring great cheese, and the beastly cycle continues.

Best of all, you can tell others that you are writing a memoir. Some people need a farm in Africa. Others need sad divorces in order to eat, pray, love. A good cheese is all the journey you need. Let’s remember that. Say it after me. Now write it down.