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Tips for assembling a cheese board

Put together a fabulous cheese board or party tray with the right varieties and perfect presentation

A cheese board perched on a buffet is a beautiful sight, especially one that is decorative and complementary to its companions. If you are preparing a cheese board or appetizer tray, it may be helpful to keep these ideas in mind.

Cheese boards can be of any material: wood, marble, slate or woven basket style. If you are selecting blocks of cheese that require carving, be sure to leave plenty of space for knives and hands to make the cuts.

For a nice cheese board selection, you will need at least three cheeses. Determine quantity, the occasion, and number of people, of course. Plan on about 3 ounces per person for evening events at which you are serving other foods; 4 ounces if you are setting up a tasting and serving only breads, fruits, and wines. This is a very general calculation; add more or less - you do not want to run out of cheese!

When selecting cheese, aim for a balance, not only of heights and colors, but also of tastes. Cheeses with varying textures can create an attractive picture and wonderful sensations for the palate. Set wedges of brie near a crumbly, blue-veined cheese. Behind those two choices, place a sharp cheddar and a softer fontina.

If you want to be creative, try grouping cheeses by region. Ask your specialty cheese shop expert to select varieties that will complement each other in flavor and appearance.

Consider shapes when coordinating a cheese board. Logs and cylinders, such as a white Bulchette d'Anjou can be partially sliced and placed next to a large Gouda chunk or a block of Gruyere. Add a wedge of blue cheese.

Another blend suggestion: Gouda, Parmegiano-Reggiono, an Emmental or Swiss, and an extra-sharp Cheddar.

You will find no limit to cheese combinations; with so many choices - even at the grocers - you can easily go beyond these recommendations and combine your own favorite flavors.

Serve cheeses at room temperature for best flavor. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving and up to an hour if you are serving in a cool location.

While it is perfectly acceptable to have a mix of strong and mild cheeses, do keep them separated. Cheeses soak up aromas and you will risk compromising the cheeses' individual flavors. Also, make sure you have knives and utensils for each variety; using a blue cheese knife on brie would not be an ideal taste combination.

Do not be afraid to use processed cheese; you may see these products listed as cold-packed cheese food. You will find them packaged as logs, balls, or bars and can add an additional flavor level to your assortment.

Avoid crackers other than rye and wheat. Instead, go for crusty, fresh-baked breads - these will really bring out the flavors in your cheese selection.

Add cubed cheeses to the array. They will look best if placed on an appetizer tray. Roll the softer varieties in paprika or fresh herbs and top with cocktail onions, small red onion slices, and olives.

Serve fruits if in season. You want a nice array of unblemished apples, pears, grapes, and melon to round out your decorative cheese boards and trays. If fresh fruits are unavailable, consider fruit spreads, which can be paired with the bread selection.

You can also add a meat selection, such as prosciutto, roast beef, and salami, for a heartier table setting.

Complete your table decor with floral arrangements or bowls of fruits, depending on the occasion and the time of year, and you will have the perfect cheese presentation.




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