Let’s take a moment to talk about our favorite things.
Cheese. Spicy spreads. Cheese. Sliced fruit. Cheese. Candied nuts.
Oh, and did I mention cheese?
Guys, I’m telling you. Cheeseboards are my jam! I don’t know if it’s the ease of putting them together – grab a board and pile it with stuff! Or if it’s because they are chock full of so many delicious flavors. Orrrrr it’s because I finally have an excuse to purchase massive quantities of cheese without being judged by the cashier when checking out. What ever the reason – I’m not complaining.
And this past weekend, I had the perfect excuse to put this little number together. It was our family’s fifth annual Oktoberfest, and the first one I was able to attend. So, I knew I wanted to do something. Aka: go completely overboard. It’s just my style.
But no, really. You could totally put one together if you follow these steps.
Step 1: Choose your board.
There are so many different types of boards you can use. Some of my favorites include this slate board and this marble board. If you don’t have a big fancy board like one of these, don’t fret. Just use a large wooden cutting board like I did. I’m sure even a cookie sheet would work. Pretty much, just have a large, flat surface that can hold food and you’re good to go.
Step 2: Add your cheese.
Narrowing down what type of cheese you want to use is probably the hardest part. It’s like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. They are all just so dang good.
However, it’s best to add a variety of cheeses to your board so that everyone will be happy! So, you get to choose more than just one. Yay! The easiest way to do this? Choose at least one cheese from each of these categories:
Aged: Aged cheese is a broad term that includes cheeses that are cured in a controlled environment – like a cave or a cellar – for over 6 months. They tend to be sharper and harder or more firm in texture than fresher varieties. Also, the longer the cheese has been aging, the less lactose remains in the product which leaves a cheese that is more friendly to the digestive system.. Examples of aged cheeses are: variations of cheddar, gruyere, gouda, and parmesan.
Blue: Blue cheese is the result of Penicillium molds settling on the cheese which caused spontaneous blue veins to appear. The process of bluing is much more regulated than leaving the cheese to grow these molds, which ensures a more consistent flavor. Some manufacturers either blend the blue spores directly into the curds that form the cheese, or inject the mold into young cheese with a syringe. Either way, the cheese has a wide range of sharpness, creaminess, and flavor – depending on the chosen variety. A general rule of thumb is that the creamier blues (perfect for spreading) are generally more mild than the crumbly ones (perfect for salads). Examples of blue cheese are: Roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, and Danish blue.
Firm: Firm (or hard) cheeses contain less moisture than the softer varieties of cheese. The maturation period of these cheeses is usually measured in years, not months. The crunchy, crystalized texture in these cheeses is one of the greatest characteristics and create a cheese that is full-flavored and pungent. The rinds of these cheeses are typically not eaten. Examples of firm cheeses are: manchego, asiago, and conte.
Soft: Soft cheeses are further separated into two categories: fresh and soft-ripened. Fresh cheeses contain a high moisture content and are usually mild with a creamy taste and texture. The second category is soft-ripened cheeses which are typically young cheeses that have been aged for two months or less. The most common soft-ripened cheeses have a white, edible rind which is produced by spraying the cheese with a special mold before the short aging period. Examples of soft cheeses are: cream cheese, goat cheese, brie, and camembert.
If you’re using more than 4 cheeses (because I could eat four myself, really) double or triple up on categories that are most popular. For example, I used goat cheese, brie, and I made the cheeseball out of cream cheese. I also chose two bricks of aged cheddar – one white and one yellow. I find that both of these categories are the least polarizing, so having extra didn’t hurt.
My picks: aged New York extra sharp white cheddar, aged Wisconsin yellow cheddar, manchego, goat cheese, brie, blue cheese, and an everything bagel flavored cheese ball.
When placing your cheese on the board, set the cheese going hard to soft, and then finish with the blue cheese. I went counter-clockwise on my board due to running out of space.
Step 3: Add salty things.
Part of the fun of eating a cheese board is being able to nibble on lots of different flavors and textures. You can incorporate salty by adding some meats. If you’re a vegetarian, you can just skip on by this section. Your meats will most likely be pig-based because of the way the meat is processed. This processes will allow you to keep the meat out for the duration of your gathering without having to worry about them spoiling and creating a safety issue.
Bacon, salami, prosciutto, pepperoni, and sopressata are all great options. I kept it simple and picked up an Old World Trio that contained Genoa salami, hot sopressata, and pepper salami.
Step 4: Add sweet things.
I felt like dried and fresh fruits were the way to go with this autumn-inspired board, so I incorporated pears, grapes, and dates for my produce. Other autumn-inspired fruits could consist of apples, cranberries, figs, and pomegranates.
I also decided to do candied nuts. It’s a common thing around this area (the area I live) to be able to purchase German-roasted nuts at the seasonal events – so I whipped up a large batch of these and had them sitting in a bowl next to the board. Because, you know. Overboard.
Step 5: Add some bread & crackers.
You definitely want a vehicle to transfer all of those creamy cheeses and condiments from the cheese board to your belly. Also, nothing is better than creating a mini sandwich with some aged cheddar and a slice of salami. Since carbs are pretty much the go-to for every cheese combination, it’s best to have a variety of breads and crackers. Especially since they seem to be the first thing you run out of.
I decided to do a water cracker, a whole wheat cracker, and a pepper and poppy cracker. I also included a thinly sliced French baguette, because there is no other bread more compatible with a cheeseboard. In my humble opinion.
Step 6: Add condiments.
Aside from choosing the cheeses, this was my favorite part. I knew that I wanted something sweet to be paired with the brie and the goat cheeses, and I absolutely love the combination of apple butter with brie, so I made a bourbon apple butter for the board. I also wanted to make a more savory spread to go with the aged cheddars and manchego, so I decided to make a hummus. In order to tie it into the autumn-theme I made it pumpkin-flavored. And spicy. And then what would a board be without honey? I really wanted a chunk of honeycomb, but wasn’t able to find any so I settled on a raw honey to be drizzled over top of the blue cheese.
Other condiment options: mustards, jams, preserves.
Step 7: Fill the spaces.
I’m a firm believer that the fuller a cheeseboard looks, the more appetizing it appears. So, once you have the stars of the show situated on the board – the cheese, meats, and in my case the homemade condiments – fill all the nook and crannies with everything else (on the board in the photos, I chose to do this with dates and grapes). I cut small little clusters of grapes which filled the spaces wonderfully, and were the perfect size for someone to grab and just eat a few.
And that’s it! I know it’s a lot of explaining, but the process doesn’t take too long. Especially if you don’t plan on making your own condiments. And to make your life even easier, don’t pre-slice the cheese before it goes on the board – have knives available, like these, so guests can slice their own. However, I would recommend at least slicing into the brie beforehand if it’s a full circle. This allows guests to view the creamy interior.