Any happy hour or summer gathering can have a cheese board, but how often is it the star of the whole event? In the Williams Sonoma Test Kitchen, a breathtaking, scene-stealing cheese board is a favorite party trick. Brimming with figs and olives, blue cheese and good cheddar, crusty bread and crackers, it takes the concept of “cheese plate” to another, more sophisticated level.
Belle English, our resident test kitchen cook and cheese board savant, takes a “go big or go home” approach to boards like the knockout one above. After all, if you’re going to spend the money on good cheese, don’t support it with limp, stale crackers and canned olives. Buy a few verdant Castelvetrano olives and a handful of top-notch dried fruit. You don’t have to break the bank to make a cheese board as beautiful as a color wheel. Here are a few of Belle’s top tips.
1. Think: Goat, Blue, Aged, Soft, and Hard Cheeses
As you can see here, Belle is a fan of having a robust mix of goat, blue, aged, soft and hard cheeses. Ideally, you can fit all of those elements, and of course some will pull double-duty, like an aged Gouda. Once you pick your cheese, pick out a board. To each her own, but for Belle, “I love a big round board. It feels more abundant when it’s round.”
2. Start Wisely, With Star Elements
Maybe you bought the cheese first, but that doesn’t mean you should use that starting point for arranging the board. “Look at it from an artist’s perspective,” says Belle. That might mean starting with the wide, flat bowl of almonds and arranging things around it. “Statement pieces,” as she calls them, whether they’re a lovely jar of jam or a local honey, need to get their allotted real estate first, before you run out of room.
3. Don’t Slice Too Much
Though it may be tempting to do all the cutting in advance because it feels like you’re making things neat and easy for guests, resist the temptation. “Often people cut cheese board elements too much,” says Belle. “Make it more organic. Rip the bread. Crumble the blue cheese. Cut just one slice out of the wheel. It makes it more of an experience.” So put the gooey Brie next to a pile of crackers, or the super-creamy burrata next to bread you’ve torn by hand. Add knobs of jewel-toned grapes, dried apricots, or other pretty, whole seasonal fruits and nuts to round out the shapes and colors on your board.
4. Sweet With Pungent; Nutty With Bright
Put that pungent Gorgonzola next to a tiny vat of honey and a clutch of walnuts. They balance one another out and, as Belle says, ” A raw walnut with blue cheese and honey is one of my all-time favorite bites.” Same goes for nutty Gouda and fresh fruit. Some flavors just need a foil.
5. Consider 3 Meats, Because Why Not?
The best cheese boards have plenty of meat options, pleasing any carnivores who arrived to the party ravenous. (Same goes for Marcona almonds and pistachios for vegans!) “I like to do three types,” says Belle. “Classic and mild (prosciutto di Parma), spicy like Calabrese, and super-fragrant or herbaceous, with fennel or herbs, like finnochiona.
Make your next cheese board the sort of thing people will talk about at future parties. You can do it!