Wow your friends by puttying together a sophisticated cheese board. It’s a skill that may very well change the way you look at entertaining, a near-effortless offering that requires nothing more of you than purchasing and arranging. Carolyn Stromberg, cheese aficionado and founder of Righteous Cheese at DC’s Union Market, shares how to create the perfect spread in minutes, and selects a few of her favorite cheeses for inspiration.
Start with a board made from a natural texture, like wood or slate. “These really accentuate the earthiness of the cheeses, and create a beautiful look,” Stromberg says.
Choose three or four cheeses in a variety of flavors and textures, including soft, semi-firm, and firm. Fewer looks skimpy; more is overwhelming.
Stick to crowd-pleaser cheeses. “Look for what I call ‘in-law’ cheeses—the ones that are impressive but aren’t crazy, wild, or offensive,” she says. “They work well together, and a wide range of people can enjoy.”
Arrange cheeses from mild to strong. If you’re working with a square or rectangular board, place from left to right. On a round board, start at 12 o’clock and arrange clockwise.
Provide a separate knife for each cheese. You don’t want to mix flavors, and each cheese has its own mold and bacteria. If you have leftovers, you don’t want them to grow mold that works on a certain cheese but not on another.
Remember that cheese tastes best when it’s not chilled. Take it out of the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before guests arrive for room temperature.
Use knives for party- time serving, but not behind-the-scenes cutting. “The surface area of knives drags and causes crumbles,” Stromberg says, “so pick up a hand-held wire like the type used in a cheese shop.” Try the Rösle Wire Cheese Slicer ($29.95; williams-sonoma.com).
Go for a variety of textures when choosing bread and crackers. “I love a baguette with soft cheese, and two flavors of crackers for the others,” says Stromberg. “Water Wheel crackers are light and crispy with just a hint of saltiness. But my favorites are Lesley Stowe Cranberry Hazelnut Raincoast Crisps—they’re perfect.”
Don’t forget the extras. Dress your board with accompaniments that add a hint of sweetness and a touch of saltiness—like caramelized pecans, Marcona almonds, sour-cherry preserves—and fresh fruit like figs, grapes, and apples (which can be sliced ahead of time and soaked in a mixture of water and lemon juice to keep from browning)
Humbly accept your new title of Cheese Goddess.
Click the image below to see which cheeses Carolyn Strombert recommends. Plus—she shares perfect wine and dish pairings for each cheese.