There's no party snack like a really great cheese board. But how do you assemble a variety of cheeses that complement one another—as well as the palates of a large group of guests? Here are four tips to help you pick the perfect cheeses.
1. Think about texture
Ben Schwartz, executive chef of Vino Vino in Austin, Texas, says the very best cheese boards offer a variety of texture. When he builds a board, he ensures there is always soft cheese, such as a Camembert or Époisses de Bourgogne; semi-soft cheese, such as a Gruyere or Ossau Iraty; and "crunchy" cheese—which can range from semi-firm to firm, and is aged to "provide the flavor crystals we all adore so much," he says. An Ewephoria, aged gouda, or Parmigiano-Reggiano checks that last box nicely, he says.
2. Consider milk
Cheeses are made primarily from three types of milk: cow, goat, and sheep. "And any great cheese selection uses these different dairies to its advantage to create interest and appeal," Schwartz says. While cow's milk cheeses—Parmesan, ricotta, brie, and Havarti—are common, mixing in goat's milk cheeses can add a tangy complexity to a cheese board, while sheep's milk cheeses provide a rich, buttery layer to any spread. Consider adding Leonora or Chabrin to your cheese board to represent goat's milk cheeses, and feta, Pecorino Romano, or Idiazábal to showcase sheep’s milk cheeses.
3. Add a variety of flavors
Mild cheeses—such as mozzarella, Manchego, and chèvre—are essential in a cheese board. "These cheeses ease you into the experience, pair more easily with all kinds of wine, and really allow you to taste the kind of dairy at hand," says Schwartz. But it is sharp, tangy, and funky cheeses that really take your spread to the next level. "It’s important to have a couple of these around to add excitement and variety," he says. A washed-rind cheese, such as Quadrello di Bufala, or Alpine cheese, like Beaufort, are a good place to start. Or, simply add a blue cheese. "Blue cheese is not everyone's favorite, but those who love it cannot imagine a cheese board without it," Schwartz says. "They are rich, zippy, and salty, and add a punch that only blue [cheese] can."
4. Choose accompaniments
You can't only have cheese on a cheese board. Or as Schwartz says, "There is nothing better than having the right things to eat with your cheese." He suggests adding light crackers that haven't been heavily seasoned, "so you can experience the true flavors of the cheese." A fruit jam or preserve pairs perfectly with funky, tangy cheeses, and "nuts, olives, raw honeycomb, and even mustard also make great additions," he says.