Here are some things you’ll want to consider when creating a cheese board: flavor, texture, aroma, color, and source.
A typical cheese board will contain three cheeses and a sprig or two of seedless grapes. When selecting your cheese, you’ll want to make sure that you vary the criteria listed above to appeal to different tastes, and avoid redundancy.
There are various flavors to choose from: slightly sweet, pungent, mild, and slightly bitter to name a few. Boursin tends to be sweet, while Roquefort is highly pungent, and cheddar can be mild or sharp. You can also get cheeses flavored with different additives, such as herbs, brandy, vegetable ash, and fruit. Sage Derby and Wenslydale with Cranberries come to mind. Choose three different flavor profiles for your board. If you are unsure how a cheese tastes, it’s better to purchase them before hand and try them at home. Or better yet, ask for a taste sample at the counter.
When we talk about texture we’re really talking about fat content. Cheeses with a high fat content are creamy, rich, and spreadable. Think Brie or Chèvre. Cheeses with a low fat content tend to be dry and crumbly. Think Parmesan. Cheddar has a medium fat content, as does Roquefort, Stilton, and Edam. Mix it up.
This is kind of obvious. If you sever a “stinky” cheese, don’t serve more than one. Also, don’t confuse aroma with taste. They are two different things, and are sometimes not even in the same ballpark.
This is just for aesthetic reasons only. Don’t server three all white or all yellow cheeses. Sage Derby has a wonderful green swirly kind of thing going on, as does many of the cheeses with Brandy added. Blue cheeses, of course, have the wonderful blue veins in them.
I don’t only mean local in this instance, but it is great to mix that up as well. Serve one from France, one from Italy, and one from South America for instance. What I really mean from source is the animal. There are three common sources: cows, ewes, and goats. Each animal typically has a different flavor profile and fat content. Goat’s milk, of course, is the fattest and the most pungent. I’m sure somewhere out there in some specialty shop you’ll find yak’s milk cheese, but I can’t attest to what that might be like.
Serve cheese on a wooden cheese board if you have one, and provide a separate knife for each cheese. Cheeses should be served at room temperature, not cold.
Books I’ve read say to serve only a small garnish of grapes with the cheese board, but people like grapes, so I always put quite a bit. Plus, the astringent quality of the grapes helps cleans the palate between cheeses.
Serve only plain bread or crackers. Don’t serve flavored or herbed breads unless you are only serving one cheese that is mild or unflavored. For example, you can serve rosemary-flavored bread with a unflavored Brie or Chèvre. Never serve flavor-enhanced cheese and bread at the same time.
Some more cheese facts:
Stilton is considered the King of Cheeses, Roquefort is considered the Queen.
When choosing Brie, be sure it is soft (ripe), with the sides of the wedge oozing and melting.
Cheeses are usually cut into wedges from wheels. The best cheese is in the middle. That means you never start eating the cheese from the point of the wedge towards the outer rim. Always eat from the outer rim towards the point of the wedge. This way, each progressive bite gets better. You should also eat grapes in the same manner, too. The tenderest grapes are at the bottom, so always eat grapes from the top down.
The name for the blue cheese, Gorgonzola, means “gorgon-like”.
Cheeses to avoid:
Cheap cheeses like Kraft cheddar. Go with a gourmet white cheddar instead, or goat’s milk cheddar, or perhaps a Canadian or Irish cheddar, too.
Feta. It’s too crumbly and wet, even if you drain it well.
Parmesan. It’s too hard to cut. It basically crumbles all over the board.
Other serving ideas:
If you want to serve just one cheese try Brie with Roasted-Raspberry Chipotle sauce poured over the top, and served with standard water crackers. If you can’t get Brie, cream cheese works as well. This would be the only time you’d want to serve cream cheese to guests.
Also consider Brie with caramel sauce on top and whole-wheat crackers. Sounds weird, but it is good.
All About Cheese
The Artisanal Cheese Guide
Cheese and Wine Pairing Guide
A note about the picture above: Notice the knife. That is a cheese knife. If has holes in it to prevent sticking. It makes the cheese easier to cut. They also make little, tiny Brie knives that are only about 1/4" wide. This also helps to keep the knife from siticking to the cheese.
However, there are not three knives available for that board. Also, notice that the Brie is not ripe. The cheese should be oozing from the sides, like lovehandles on your daddy.