A Guide to Building your Holiday Cheese Board
The trick to making end-of-the-year holiday parties one hit after the other? Impressive finger food. Forget about those pigs and their blankets. (That’s so last year). A modern host or hostess knows that the way to people’s hearts is through a well-crafted cheeseboard. It’s delicious—and with a little expert direction—fairly easy to put together. Which is why we reached out to Chris Yoeuth, executive sous chefat Five Crowns, for a primer on how to put it all together. Just ask your friends to bring the booze, and you’re all set.
1.Know your basics
A good rule of thumb is to start off with three types of cheeses—firm, semi-firmand soft. If you’re a newbie it’s wise to pick a mild cheddar for your hard cheese, then work your way up to a tangier, aged sharp cheddar. You can even try a simple Idiazabal, which is made from unpasteurized sheep milk, and strikes a smokey chord, even though it’s un-smoked. As for a semi-firm cheese, opt for Havarti, Gruyère or Provolone. “Interms of soft cheese, I would go for a creamier cheese, like brie and camembert,” Chris says. “Just have a different texture for each type of cheese.”
2. Add a splash of personality
Now that you know what textures to include, don’t be afraid to experiment. Crowd-pleasers aside, play around with flavors that speak to you. Hit up a local deli and sample some oddball, out-of-the-box varieties. Chris’ personal favorite, for example, is the Nena cheese from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. It’s made from their double-cream brie curd and washed with various ales. (Yes, you read that right! Beer!) “At that point, it’s just about preference,” Chris says. “There’s no right or wrong.”
3. Pick your nibbles
Not only do little bites add color and texture to your board, they also act as a palate cleanser from one bite of cheese to the other. There’s a smorgasbord of things to choose from—gherkins, marinated olives, candied walnuts and fresh and dried fruit. “You can add some crunch with crostini, bread or crackers so it’s not just a one-note-type board,” Chris says. Pair your brie with organic honey and sliced apple. Harder, more flinty cheeses do well with homemade jams (Chris recommended whipping up something seasonal like sweet potato jam or a savory bacon-and-onion jam). Another expert rec? Marrying your blue cheese with raw honeycomb, which heightens its flavor without detracting from the taste.
4. Break it up or keep it whole
“Going back to the harder cheeses like pecorino or parmesan, just take a knife and break it off,” Chris says. “Serve it however it breaks off. It’s more rustic that way.” Not to mention, cutting a hard cheese into tiny little nuggets makes it perfect for snacking purposes. For softer, creamier options like brie, leave them whole or cut them into large wedges so they don’t ooze and ruin the delicious landscape you just whipped up. Let the guests take the wheel.
5. Serve at the right time.
Remember: nobody likes dried-out, stale cheeses that have been left out at room temperature for too long. Prep these bad boys ahead of time by cutting them up and keeping them wrapped to prevent them from drying out. Ideally, you want to put your cheeseboard out about 30-45 minutes before your guests arrive. “That way, it still has its integrity and stands on its own well,” Chris says. “And by the time the guests come in and start grabbing the cheese, everything is still fresh.”