Building a cheese board brings out the creative side in us, but as we concentrate our energies on pies, roasts and holiday shopping, the stress of entertaining can be overwhelming. With our friends at feast!, we have tips and tricks for composing the perfect cheese and charcuterie board for entertaining, which will alleviate some of those holiday jitters. Supporting all things local, all items shown were produced in Virginia and are available to purchase at the shop, making this a one-store shopping trip!
1. Your foundation
A decorative, handmade cheese board is a beautiful touch, but any cutting board, slab of marble or tile, collection of small boards, or even a sheath of craft paper (giving you the option to label each item) can be used.
2. Start with large items first
Start with items that take up the most space (cheeses & meats). A good rule of thumb is to embrace odd numbers: perhaps two cheeses and three meats, or three and five for larger parties. Odd numbers keep the board from appearing too symmetrical.
3. Select your cheese
When choosing cheeses, think about milk and texture. Having sheep and goat milk cheeses alongside cow milk cheeses is an excellent option — not only because of their unique flavors, but as an alternative for guests who may be lactose-challenged. Having a mix of soft, hard and semi-hard cheeses creates a balance of texture and flavors when paired with breads, crackers and accoutrements. If you have a strong or stinky cheese, consider adding a more mild-flavored cheese (such as Monastery Gouda from Our Lady of Angels, Crozet) to the mix. Whole wheels and large blocks are eye-catching, but slicing at least one cheese ahead of time makes it easy for guests and avoids cheese ‘carnage’ (hollowed out wheels or rinds left on the board).
This trio of lonzino, coppa and finocchiona, produced by Terra di Siena (Amelia Court House) and assembled by feast! erases the sometimes-stressful decision-making process. You can artfully arrange the slices in swirls, or fold them over or in quarters to give the board more height and depth.
5. Nuts/fresh & dried fruit
Perfect for filling in the gaps and offering a cornucopia of wintry delights, nuts and fruit are a must to round out your board. Marcona almonds are a classic addition and pair well with almost any cheese. Dried apricots add a pop of orange, and if you have any leftover holiday baking ingredients, try incorporating them; golden raisins, pecans or even chocolate make wonderful accoutrements.
6. Jams & spreads
Try to have all five flavor elements represented on your board, which makes building small bites a sensory-rich experience. Jams provide the sweet element while something like FEAST’s Vidalia Onion Jam also lends a hint of umami that pairs perfectly with the Twenty Paces Party On! Cheese (Charlottesville) and Little Hat Creek crackers. Whole grain mustard, applied in a swirl, and a drizzle of honey are other savory/sweet options to give balance to your board.
These rosemary crackers (Little Hat Creek Farm, Roseland) make for a sturdy foundation to build a perfect bite. You can opt for a low-gluten board, or stop by your favorite bakery for a baguette or batard, then add a sweet biscuit-like cracker to pair with a blue cheese or brie.
We humbly believe no board is complete without at least one type of pickle. Cornichons are adorable, easy to handle and give you that crunch of salty acidity that might otherwise be missing.
9. Finishing touches
A board should be eye-catching. Think color, texture, patterns. Notice how the cheeses point inward, directing your eye to the other elements on the board. The rich color of the meat is complemented by the pale hue of Esmontontian from Caromont Farm (Esmont), and Sweety Drops — pickled baby peppers in their brine — give that pop of color that captivates your attention. An assortment of small bowls, jars and cute cutlery add flare, and we recommend adding a sprig of any fresh herbs leftover from your holiday roasts for a hint of greenery.
A cheese board can be a great conversation piece, especially when locally-sourced with care. Matched with a glass of bubbles, it’s the perfect start, or end, to a special evening.