In my mind, cheese is the perfect food. Shaved Parmesan is pasta’s best friend. Thick slices of cheddar on griddled bread makes a mean sandwich. And Sunday football wouldn’t be the same without a piping hot dish of bubbling queso.
But, above all, I love eating cheese straight up (with a cracker if I can find some fast enough) – I’m sure you can relate. In fact, I’ve actually been known to snack on a cheese plate in lieu of a real dinner. But can you blame me? It’s a snap to put together, there’s no recipe, it’s fun to eat, and it’s always satisfying. Win!
So naturally, when it’s time to impress, I pull out all the stops and make a fancy cheese board. It’s an appetizer as simple as they come, but it feels undeniably classy. And with a few upgrades, it’s the only appetizer you’ll need at your next dinner party.
The Cheeses // There have been so many articles written and rules set about what kinds of cheese you should choose, but my advice is: serve what you like. Of course, variety is the spice of life and it affords you so many delicious combinations and tastes, so pick some old standbys like cheddar and gouda to lay the foundation, then spice it up with oddities from your supermarket – I recently had a crumbly, stinky wedge of Wensleydale studded with dried cranberries that was delicious.
You could also pick a cheese from each milk-producing animal: cow (for example, Gruyère), sheep (Manchego) and goat (chèvre). Or you could pick different textures – a firm cheese like Parmesan, a medium-firm cheese like Fontina, and a soft cheese like Brie. Which introduces another facet – temperature. Melted, bubbling Brie (en croûte or otherwise) is always a welcome addition to a cheese party.
Or, do like I do and empty out your cheese drawer onto a cutting board and call it a day. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cheese.
The Extras // These are what take your humble cheese plate to the next level. Add a few of these and your guests will be swooning.
Crackers are key. Save the Triscuits and Wheat Thins for hummus – this is the time for the humble water cracker to shine. I love Carr’s for their regular shape and structure (i.e. they don’t crumble to bits when you take a bite). They do everything a cracker should for cheese – they give a good crunch, and they let the flavor of the cheese shine.
Olives help round it out. Their sharp, briny flavor is the perfect foil to the creamy richness of cheese. I almost always have two varieties on hand: green olives stuffed with whole garlic cloves, and black Kalamata.
Similarly, cheese and fruit are a match made in heaven. Fig jam (this is my favorite brand) is a staple for me. The combination of fig jam and buttery fontina is unrivaled in deliciousness, but I love it on any cheese. Quince jelly is another classic – sweet and lightly fruity, it won’t overpower any cheeses. Something more off the beaten path to consider is plum spread, which is thick and tart and tastes especially amazing paired with goat cheese. Another option is coarse, vinegary Pommery mustard.
Nuts are a classic too – roasted, salted cashews and candied pecans bring out savory, nutty tones in cheese. I found in a recent (and delicious) experiment that a few pine nuts sprinkled on a cracker with the cheese of your choice and fig jam is sheer perfection.
Some charcuterie isn’t out of place either. Try adding some paper-thin slices of proscuttio or a hunk of pepper coated salami to your set up. If you’re feeling super fancy, pâté will do the trick.