Think of a time you were really happy…was there a cheese plate nearby? There was, right? It’s pretty much impossible to have a bad time when a beautiful cheese board is around. Even better, there’s no situation we can think of that isn’t cheese plate-appropriate.
If you’re hosting a casual gathering with friends, make a simple cheese plate that every can gather ‘round. If you’re throwing a formal cocktail party, make an extravagant one to showcase your fabulous taste. If you’re having a big Sunday dinner with the family, a cheese plate will keep everyone busy snacking until the meal is ready. Outdoor hangs, whether a picnic in the park or a day at the beach, are vastly improved with top notch snacks…like a cheese plate. When you’re snowed in in the winter and it’s too hot to cook in the summer, the cheese plate is your best friend. And if you should find yourself, at the end of a long day, eating dinner over the sink, do yourself a favor and make it a cheese plate instead (you’ll feel so much better).
Photo via @sorellacollective
There’s no exact science to making a great cheese board, but there are guidelines that are worth keeping in mind on your journey to cheese plate heaven. To help you make the perfect cheese plate, we’ve broken down all the elements of the ideal board – and all the accoutrement to make it a platter to remember.
CHOOSE YOUR CHEESE
How many cheeses should go on a cheese plate?
You can have a beautiful cheese plate with one cheese or with six cheeses. The number of cheeses on your plate depend on the number of people you’re serving and the types of cheese you prefer.
How much cheese should go on a cheese plate?
The general wisdom is 4 oz per person…so do with that information what you will. (Can we eat more than 4 oz of cheese in a single sitting? Yes, yes we can.)
Photo via @chefscutjerky
What types of cheese should go on a cheese plate?
When choosing your cheese, aim for balance. Textually, this can mean pairing a hard cheese like Gruyere, Cheddar or even Parmesan with a bloomy rind cheese like Brie or Camembert. Or you can create variety through milk type: pair a cow’s milk cheese like an aged Gouda with a goat’s milk cheese like Bucheron. Only like blue cheese? That’s not a problem, just make a cheese plate with different types of blues, like Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton. It’s just as fun.
CHOOSE YOUR MEAT
How many meats should go on a cheese plate?
A cheese plate doesn’t need meat to be a cheese plate (it only needs cheese…c’mon, it’s in the name). But if you want to add meat, feel free…and add as many or as few as you like. General rule: If there’s more meat than cheese on your board, you don’t have a cheese plate, you have a charcuterie plate with cheese.
Photo via @halfbakedharvest
What kind of meat should go on a cheese plate?
When pairing meat and cheese, think about matching similar flavors. If you’re serving a buttery, rich Triple Creme, a fruity Fontina or fresh goat cheese, go with milder meats like Filet Mignon Beef Jerky made by Three Jerks in Venice, CA, and Wagyu Beef Jerky made by Lone Mountain Wagyu in Golden, NM, both of which are tender, almost-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth meats that won’t overwhelm the gentle cheeses.
Medium-strong cheeses, like many Alpine-style cheeses such as Appenzeller, Challerhocker and Beaufort, can take a little heat, so they’re perfect to pair with more flavorful meats. Cracked Pepper Turkey Jerky made by Field Trip in New York, NY, and Maple Garlic Grass-Fed Beef Jerky made by SlantShack in Jersey City, NY, are both great options, since they have serious flavor but won’t completely dominate your palate.
Photo via @iamboard_melbourne
When you’re breaking out the strong stuff, that’s the time for bold meats. Pair cheeses like Epoisses, aged Farmhouse Cheddars and French Morbier with spicy, smoky Sriracha Bacon Jerky made by Chef’s Cut in Naples, FL, and barbecue-inspired Spicy Red Rub Grass-Fed Beef Jerky made by SlantShack, which can hold their own beside the stinkiest of cheeses.
What if I don’t want meat on my cheese plate?
Then carry on, intrepid meatless snacker.
CHOOSE YOUR CRACKERS
What kind of crackers should go on a cheese plate?
The ideal cheese board has thought of everything, including the way that the cheese and the crackers will play together (this is a peaceful cheese plate, folks, we don’t want anything broken). To figure out what kind of crackers you want, think about your cheeses in three texture categories: spreadable, soft or semi-soft and hard. Now, pair accordingly.
Spreadable cheeses want a cracker that they can be spread on (obviously), but not a cracker that will break under the pressure of a knife. For these cheeses, a kinda sturdy cracker (that’s the technical term) is best, like crunchy, oaty Rosemary and Lemon Crackers made by Bespoke Crackers in Boulder, CO.
Photo via @potterscrackers
For soft or semi-soft cheeses – the kind that easily give way under your teeth and turn totally creamy in your mouth – a lighter, crisper cracker is called for. Crackers like savory Farmhouse Crisps made by Jan’s Farmhouse in Stowe, VT, almost-sweet Organic Caramelized Onion Crisps made by Potter’s Crackers in Madison, WI, and ohmygodsogood Sourdough Crackers made by Aida in New York, NY are all delicate cheese delivery systems that will thoughtfully support your cheese.
Hard cheeses need the harder crackers, like nutty Heritage Grain Emmer Farro Crackers made by Hayden Flour Mills in Queen Creek, AZ, and hoppy Pilsner Beer Flats Crackers made by Panorama Foods in Braintree, MA.
Photo via @chesemongrrl
Can I serve bread on a cheese plate?
Of course. We love bread. What do you think we are, the cheese plate police?
CHOOSE YOUR CONDIMENTS
What kind of condiments should go on a cheese plate?
Sweet, savory, spicy…let your condiment freak flag fry. Every cheese has subtle qualities that can be brought out by complimentary and creative pairings with delicious spreads and jams.
What savory condiments should go on a cheese plate?
The key here is to bring together flavors that support each other without overpowering either the cheese or the condiment. For example, the sweetness in a hunk of salty, fruity Parmesan is highlighted by the honeyed tang of Balsamic Four Onion Spread made by The Gracious Gourmet in Bridgewater, CT; the same spread also highlights the nuttiness in a super aged Gouda.
Photo via @tinmustard
Gruyere and mustard is a classic German pairing, Cheddar and mustard is a classic British pairing, Cantal and mustard is a classic French pairing – and all are made even better when you use Whole Grain Mustard made by Tin Mustard in Brooklyn, NY, which blends together sweetness of Central European whole grain mustards, the slight spiciness of British mustards and the sharpness of French mustards.
Sun-dried tomatoes may make you think of huge shoulder pads and hair sprayed bangs, but they should also make you think of goat cheese. Humboldt Fog goat cheese is a fresh, bright, minerally goat cheese made in California. Thousands of miles away lives its cousin, Spanish Garrotxa, a slightly herbal, more aged goat cheese. The thing that will bring them together on the cheese plate? Candy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes mixed with salty Kalamata olives and tons of garlic found in Sun Dried Tomato Olive Tapenade made by Sutter Buttes in Sutter, CA. Fun fact: Humboldt Fog has a ribbon of ash through the cheese (like a layer of icing on a cake) and Garrotxa is made in a highly volcanic region of Catalonia, Spain, so it’s not so surprising that both of these goat cheeses, while very different on the face of things, would actually pair similarly.
What sweet condiments should go on a cheese plate?
Spanish Manchego is classically paired with membrillo, a fruit paste made from quince. And while we’ll happily pair our cheeses with pâte de fruit, we’re really feeling this rich Fig Jam made by The Girl & The Fig in Sonoma, CA. The sweet figs bring out the nuttiness of the Manchego, but the jam can also highlight a cheese’s richness, as it does when spooned atop Vermont Creamery Cremont.
Photo via @bedfordcheeseshop
You’ve heard of apple pie with a slice of Cheddar on top (it’s an American classic!), so it makes sense that a sharp Cheddar would get along well with a smear of Caramel Apple Preserves made by Rare Bird Preserves in Oak Park, IL. The sweet whole fruit suspended in caramelly jelly cuts through the cheese’s bite; or pair it with Wisconsin-made Pleasant Ridge Reserve to see how it brings out the caramel notes in a nutty, aged cheese.
Blue cheeses love sweet fruit. From Roquefort (made with sheep’s milk) to Stilton (made with cow’s milk) to Persille de Chevre (made with goat’s milk), pair blues with purples – like a rich, fruit-filled Concord Grape Jam made just for Mouth – to bring out the cheeses’ subtle sweetness and tame the sharpness.
Photo via @ainttooproudtomeg
Honey on a cheese plate can be messy, but it’s 100% worth it for the incredible impact honey has on cheese. There are so many flavors to choose from in honeys, depending on what the bees were feasting on and the season in which the honey was harvested. But for cheese plates, we’re partial to Tennessee Snow Whipped Honey made by Tru Bee Honey in Franklin, TN. Not only is it less messy because it’s whipped into a thick, creamy spread, but also because of how well it pairs with everything from creamy triple creams (where the honey boosts the cream factor) to Pecorino Romano (where the honey balances out the cheese’s delicious saltiness).
CHOOSE YOUR PICKLES
What kinds of pickles should go on a cheese plate?
Pickles are fresh vegetables that we save for later in brine. Cheese is fresh milk that we save for later in mold (basically). So go wild in plopping pickles on your plate. For a burst of color, pair bright red super juicy Pickled Cherry Tomatoes made by Doux South in Decatur, GA, with a creamy, mild blue like Cambozola.
Recreate the flavors of the classic “ploughman’s lunch” with an English cheddar and an American pickle. The sweet, garlicky flavor of The People’s Pickles made by Rick’s Picks in New York, NY, balances out the savory bite of the cheese.
Photo via @dennistheprescott
Asparagus is a vegetable that signals the arrival of spring, and even though we can enjoy these spears of Pickled Asparagus made by Epic Pickles in York, PA, all year long (technology!) they pair particularly well with the milky fresh cheeses that also arrive in the spring, like fresh mozzarella, burrata and tangy goat chevre.
Gjetost is a Norwegian cheese that tastes more like caramel than cheese. Its sweetness is begging to be cut with bright spice, like Spicy Ginger Fennel Pickles made by Pacific Pickle Works in Santa Barbara, CA – though these crunchy-soft crescent of fennel root also do delightfully well with Alpine cheeses, like Gruyere.
CHOOSE YOUR DRIED FRUITS, NUTS AND CRUNCHIES
How do dried fruits and nuts fit onto a cheese plate?
Once you’ve laid out your cheeses and your meats, your crackers and your pickles, take a look at your cheese board. See any empty spaces that need filling? Tiny morsels to the rescue! Dried fruits, nuts and crunchy snacks are a delicious way to give any cheese plate a totally abundant look.
Photo via @ladyandlarder
What kind of dried fruit should go on a cheese plate?
Fresh fruit – like sliced apples, pears, figs and bunches of grapes – is a wonderful addition to a cheese plate. But sometimes the fridge is without fruit, and that’s when dried fruit comes into play. Juicy, not-too-sweet dried Cranberries and Blueberries made by Vincent Family Cranberries in Bandon, OR, or tart, sun-dried Organic Dried Cherries made by Allgood Provisions in Park City, UT, pretty much go with every cheese out there, from milky and mild to aged and stinky. Scatter liberally on your platter. Or try something a little more unusual and pile up strips of Watermelon Lemonade Dried Fruit Jerky made by Watermelon Road Snack Co. in Brooklyn, NY, whose bright fruitiness pairs especially well with fruity aged hard cheeses.
What kind of nuts should go on a cheese plate?
A cheese plate is an ideal platform for showcasing all your nuttiness. From simply spiced jumbo Sea Salt and Pepper Pistachios made by Gilded Nut Snack Co. in Portland, ME, to buttery Maple Roasted Cashews made by Allgood Provisions in Park City, UT, to candy-like Sweet and Spicy Almonds made by Paso Almonds in San Luis Obispo, CA, there’s really no wrong way to go nuts on a cheese plate.
Photo via @noelmoton
And don’t forget the seeds and other crunchies! Toss a handful of nutty Brined & Roasted Pumpkin Seeds made by Stony Brook Wholehearted in Geneva, NY, super-crunchy Salted Crispy Chickpeas made by Pulse Roasted Chickpeas in Bronx, NY, and lightly smoky Crunchy Split Peas made by North Dry River Goods in New York, NY, are all pro-level moves for adding texture and bounty to a cheese board.
And that’s all, folks. Of course, a cheese board is a flexible, dynamic format for snacking and entertaining. Remember: You can make a cheese plate with whatever you’ve got in the fridge and the pantry. Odds and ends of cheese, a few slices of meat and whatever nuts or crunchy snacks you can rustle up, plus sliced bread or crackers, a spoonful of jam, a dollop of honey and a few pickles and it’s a complete meal – and a perfect cheese plate.