How to create a cheese board that will wow your guests

A surefire way to make your party a hit? Cheese--lots and lots of cheese. Although it’s a seemingly simple appetizer, the assembly and presentation of a cheese board can be daunting, especially given all of the cheeses and accompaniments from which to choose. So we talked to Megan Patterson, head of U.S. marketing for the global dairy company Fonterra, to glean some expert tips for creating a cheese board that’s sure to impress your guests.

Tip #1 -- Be Thoughtful About Presentation

Cheeseboard with salami and grapes
Presentation is key. Megan Patterson/Fonterra

Patterson says she loves to use her family’s marble “P” initial board, which she layers on top of a larger wood board “for depth and height and a natural look.”

If you’re serving three cheeses, set one in each third of the board. For four, use quarters--and so on. Be sure to set the cheese out first, so it can come to the ideal temperature before serving; if it’s too cold, the flavors will be muted. For that party-perfect temperature, take the cheeses out of the fridge about a half-hour before serving them. Harder cheeses take longer to warm up because they’re more dense, so give them about an hour to do so.

Patterson also suggests “pulling out a few fun, small plates” for cheese-loving guests to use.

Tip #2 -- Offer Variety

Various types of cheese set with grapes and nuts
Pair soft and hard cheeses together. iclipart.com

“My trick to preparing a cheese board is truly about variety, color and utilizing both sweet and savory elements along with fresh products,” says Patterson. “I love to pair domestics and imports, soft and hard cheeses together.”

To mix and match your cheeses, refer to this texture guide:

Semihard cheeses

Gruyère, Comté, Cheddar, Manchego, aged Gouda

Hard cheeses

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, aged Manchego

Soft-ripened cheeses

Brie, Camembert, Cambazola

Blue cheeses

Stilton, Gorgonzola

Semisoft cheeses

Young Gouda, Havarti, Fontina

Fresh, creamy cheeses

Goat cheese (chèvre), ricotta, fromage blanc

Washed-rind cheeses

Limburger, Taleggio, Epoisses de Bourgogne

Tip #3 -- Select the right accompaniments

Complement the cheeses with the right fillers.
Complement the cheeses with the right fillers.Megan Patterson/Fonterra

Patterson reveals she loves to “scour the aisles of Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme to pick up great, fresh, crusty bread, ground mustard, a variety of crackers, and Rutherford and Meyer fruit pastes which are a fan favorite and a New Zealand company.”

She also suggests “using the freshest of breads, black and green cured olives from the Whole Foods olive bar and pepito peppers for pops of color and a tasty kick.” And keep in mind that “Marcona almonds, candied walnuts, Volpi prosciutto and salamis, marinated artichokes, and Bon Mamann raspberry (or fig) spread in brightly-colored bowls all lend to a great board.”

Tip #4 -- Don’t forget utensils

Offer a separate knife for each cheese.
Offer a separate knife for each cheese.iclipart.com

Nothing worse than salivating over cheese with no way to eat it! Make sure each element has its own serving utensil where needed. Add small spoons or spreaders to bowls of jam, offer toothpicks for grabbing fruit and olives--and, of course, don’t neglect the cheese knives. We suggest serving each cheese with its own knife to keep flavors separate from one another.

Tip #5 -- Pair with wine

Top it off with the perfect drink.
Top it off with the perfect drink.Megan Patterson/Fonterra

“Chill the perfect rosé wine--one sparkling, one still--and a pitcher of water,” recommends patterson. “It’s an instant party or the perfect warm summer dinner.”

And remember: there’s really no “wrong” way to make a cheese and charcuterie board, as long as you are using premium ingredients and cheeses. Also, don’t be afraid to use fruit and veggies to add color and depth--and be sure to choose bold flavors and sweeter elements to please even the pickiest of palates.

“I love to finish with chocolates and sea salt caramels,” says Patterson. “It truly elevates the experience.”