Cheese Platter 101: How to Make an Epic Cheese Board
A show-stopping cheese board may be the easiest possible contribution to a holiday party. Here’s how to make one in about 15 minutes.
Why we love our epic cheese board
Ah, the cheese board. The old standby that never gets old. First of all, there’s cheese, which really speaks for itself. CHEESE. Did you hear it? If you don’t speak this language, we’ll have to agree to disagree. (And luckily, a good cheese board always comes with wine.)
But the beauty of a good cheese board doesn’t end — or even begin — with its namesake ingredient. It begins with the perfect ease of picking up a few beautiful ingredients and assembling them in 15 minutes or less. And it ends only with your creativity.
This is your cheese board
This being your cheese board, you are of course welcome to design it any way you like. I even collected a few examples for ya.
But here’s my favorite thing: the current trend in cheese boards is to make them basically the bedhead of appetizers. Nothing too structured. Make it beautiful, but make it seem like it just woke up, rolled out of the fridge looking like this and arrived at the table ready to biz-lady its way through the best day ever. Look, I even tossed some corn nuts. That sounds like a euphamism, but it isn’t.
Of course, like any kind of effortless chic, there’s some thoughtfulness and structure underlying a good cheese board. Let’s talk through the elements for a minute:
What to put on a cheese platter
Here’s what we like to include on a cheese board:
- A variety of pretty, slightly mismatched boards and bowls
- Several cheeses of different milk types, firmness, and ripeness
- Some really good cured meats
- Special little savory bites like olives, nuts, and corn nuts
- A variety of interesting crackers and bread
- Sweet elements like fresh fruit, honey, and/or preserves
- Cheese knives
How to assemble a beautiful cheese platter
1. CHOOSE A FUN MIX OF BOARDS AND BOWLS
2. ARRANGE CHEESES
3. ARRANGE MEATS
4. ADD SAVORY BITES LIKE OLIVES AND NUTS
5. FILL IN SPACES WITH CRACKERS AND BREAD
6. LAYER IN FRUIT AND OTHER SMALL ELEMENTS
6. ADD A VARIETY OF CHEESE KNIVES
What cheeses to use on a cheese plate
For a group of 10-ish people and to provide some nice variety, start with four cheeses of 8 to 12 ounces each. The most important thing is to select cheeses you like to eat.
Beyond that, aim for variety in type of milk (cow, sheep, goat, even nut), strength of flavor, softness or firmness of texture, and style of cheese. You can select cheeses from one region or aim for variety here too.
For this board, I used a small wheel of Camembert (mild flavor, soft cow’s milk cheese from the Normandy region of France), some 3-month aged Manchego (medium flavor, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain), a mild and creamy Danish blue cheese (medium flavor, semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese) and a good old red wax Gouda from Holland (semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese), requested by the 8 year old, which turned out to be wonderfully nutty like more aged Goudas usually are, and was the star of the show.
Obviously I did a fairly crap job of achieving variety of milk type, but no one seemed to care. Point being: break the rules all you like, and there will still be cheese.
While it’s perfectly fine to add only sweet or only savory elements to a cheese board, I find it’s easiest and most crowd-pleasing to do a little of both. For savory additions to this board, I opted for two types of green olives, again following the principle that it’s a good idea to choose what you like to eat.
We all love Sicily’s Castelvetrano olives, those plump green beauties with a slightly sweet flesh. And recently we’ve been obsessed with a marinated garlic and lemon olive situation that Whole Foods offers, so of course some of those made the cut as well.
I don’t always add meat to a cheese board, but when I do, I add prosciutto and hard Genoa salami or sweet sopressata made by smallish companies that treat their animals well.
Also, corn nuts, which seem way fancier when they’re called Spanish Quicos. They add a welcome crunch to the mix. Just do it.
Helloooo, fruits and jams. In the winter, I like to include a couple of quartered blood oranges, some tart green apple slices, and a pomegranate that I’ve quartered medium-savagely and removed some of the arils from to toss faux-relaxedly onto the table.
Platters, boards, and bowls
For one of these bedhead cheese boards, it’s fun to use cutting boards and bowls that you’ve been bequeathed by grandparents or salvaged from estate sales. No, I’m totally kidding — I don’t have any of those AT ALL.
What I do have is some suggestions on how to make it look like you have a few those treasures. Step 1: click through on these links, which literally all lead to the Target website, where I’ve purchased all of these boards and bowls within the past few months. Step 2: Answer the door when the delivery arrives. That’s it. Yay.
- Acacia Paddle Board
- Architec Board
- Marble Dip Bowl
- Speckled Stoneware Dip Bowl
- Olive Wood Paddle and Dip Bowl
Now go make that cheese board
And that, my friends, is seriously all there is to it. Get crazy with the slicing. Don’t leave a whole wheel of cheese untouched or your guests may be shy about cutting into it. Put out a few cheese knives of various types — blunt ones for soft cheeses, sharp ones for hard cheeses, end of story. Be generous with the wine and the baguettes or crackers. Have fun.
A variety of flavors, textures, and colors will bring your cheese board to life. A truly epic cheese board is quick, easy, and impossible to ignore.
- 4 8- to 12-ounce wedges of cheese
- 1 whole pomegranate
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 2 blood oranges
- 1 cup corn nuts
- 2 cups olives (I use two types)
- 6 ounces dry salami (Genoa or sweet sopressata)
- 6 ounces prosciutto
- 2 torn or sliced baguettes, or crackers
- On a countertop or table, arrange a few nice-looking boards and three small bowls. Arrange cheeses, meats, fruits, olives, bread or crackers and other ingredients as if they just rolled out of fridge into their awesome, awesome life. Share with as many friends as you can find, or just a few if that sounds like more fun. Serve with plenty of wine.