What’s better than a holiday cheese board? How about a six-foot long cheese table brimming with cheese, charcuterie and seasonal accoutrement? That’s exactly what the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen cooks whipped up for the annual company holiday party, and the results were show-stopping.
“The great thing about a giant cheese board is that it kills two birds with one stone because it’s both the food and the décor,” says test kitchen cook Emily McFarren.
“Plus, it’s an interactive food experience for guests, so it’s basically the entertainment, too,” notes test kitchen cook Belle English.
Here, our test kitchen hosts shares their tips for taking your holiday cheese board from supporting role to center stage.
Start with Surfaces
Use everything you have when setting the table: Cake stands, marble pastry boards and wooden cutting boards can all act as cheese boards; cocktail glasses can hold bread sticks and endive leaves. “You want a table that has a variety of textures and heights,” says Williams-Sonoma Culinary Director Amanda Haas. Incorporating things like cake stands or wooden boxes to elevate cheese boards adds dimension to the table, so aim to work in one raised up element every foot or so on your tablescape.
Arrange Food Strategically
Remember, a cheese table is not a buffet, where you start at the beginning and work your way down to the end. Instead, a guest should be able to approach the cheese table at any point in the spread and be able to find everything he or she needs within arm’s reach—crackers or bread, a few cheeses, some fruit and some nuts. “We had a six-foot-long table, so we started with six bowls of olives and placed them evenly down the table, alternating sides,” says Haas.
Then, they built the rest of the spread, thinking of the area around each bowl of olives as its own mini cheese plate. “First we placed all the cheeses—at least one on each surface,” says English. “Then we added the meats and olives, then rounded each section out with something sweet, like jams, fruits or honey.”
Another clever tip: Scatter stacks of small plates throughout the arrangement so guests don’t get stuck waiting in line to start serving themselves.
Choose the Cheese
As with any cheese board, making the right selection of cheeses is key to the spread’s success. The rule of thumb is to focus on a mix of different milks and textures: Sheep’s milk, cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses should all be offered, plus a range of hard, soft and semi-soft cheese.
With such a huge cheese board, it’s easy to incorporate a variety of cheeses (the Williams-Sonoma board had 25 cheeses to feed 250 people!) but don’t forget about balance at every section of the board. “I think the perfect cheese trio is one blue cheese, on triple crème and one gouda, all within arm’s reach,” says English.
Pro tip: Always create little cheese labels. “If you don’t, people will ask you and I can guarantee you won’t remember,” says McFarren.
Keep it Natural
Add instant style without investing in floral arrangements by bringing natural, seasonal elements into the spread—clementines with leaves still attached, pomegranates cracked open to reveal the jewel-hued seeds and artfully draped bunches of grapes are all snacks that do double duty as décor. Honeycomb is another test kitchen favorite on a cheese plate “It adds a big wow factor with a small spend,” says Haas. Plus, it pairs beautifully with salty cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Feel Free to Go Beyond Cheese
Though a glorious cheese spread is certainly a crowd pleaser, some guests might appreciate lighter fare, such as hummus. “It’s totally fine to set out store-bought dips, but add a homemade touch,” says McFarren. For example, transfer packaged hummus to a serving platter and topped with spice-roasted chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly torn mint for an instant upgrade.