If you’ve been scrolling through Instagram lately, you’re bound to have come across a soaring cheese board spread: one peppered with gooey wedges of cheese, teeny pots overflowing with golden honey and green olives, towers of crackers, and ribbons of pink charcuterie. These wonderfully intricate platters are certainly breathtaking to look at, but invariably intimidating to actually replicate yourself.
But no matter: Thalassa Skinner, author of “Cheese Boards to Share: How to Create a Stunning Board for Any Occasion,” and a former cheesemonger herself, is here to help. Her book dives into the complexities of cheese pairings and walks readers through putting together their own cheese board, buoyed by recipes for accoutrements, like apple, sage, and calvados paste and garden patch pickles. Thalassa promises that it’s not as hard as it looks.
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“If you get one great cheese [and] have small things around that, it’ll be impressive,” she says. “Trust me.”
Read on for Thalassa’s tips on how to build your very own cheese board—one that’ll unfailingly rival anything you see on Instagram—as well as a recipe for sweet, candied almonds.
Cheese Boards to Share: How to Create a Stunning Board for Any Occasion, Ryland Peters & Small, 2019, $19.95 on Amazon
Come Excited to Eat Cheese
For Thalassa, this is the mindset all uninitiated cheese board builders should come to the table with. She admits that while it’s undeniably intimidating and overwhelming, you’ll simply be bolstered by your humble passion for cheese.
Select Cheeses and Pairings That Excite You
When you’re outlining what you’ll be putting on your board, Thalassa recommends sticking with your gut: pick cheeses that, at their core, inspire you, because you’ll be more excited to share that passion with your friends and family.
Aged 10-Month Comte AOP Reserve, $19.17 on Amazon
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Don’t Forget That Cheese Is Visual
It’s easy to forget that cheese isn’t merely monolithic (although the packets of sliced cheese you find in the grocery store may suggest otherwise). Cheese, in fact, is diverse: there’s a wealth of colors, textures, shapes, and sizes, and that should all be a point of interest when you’re building your board. Look through the cheese case for show stopping colors and shapes to brighten up the board and make it as visual as possible.
Diversify Your Selections
Don’t simply pick only hard cheeses; there’s plenty of room to play with your creativity. “Think about what is on the board,” Thalassa says. “You should have diversity: you don’t want to have three of the exact same cheeses, or if someone doesn’t like that style of cheese they’re going to be bored.”
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Make the Board Accessible
All those photos you see of cheese boards on Instagram? Those are hardly accessible. They’re beautiful, of course, but Thalassa admits that those kinds of boards actually make it difficult to access the star of the show: the cheese. “You want people to be able to get to the cheese,” she says. “That’s an easily forgotten thing.” Thalassa explains that you friends should be able to easily and conveniently cut a wedge of cheese—without knocking everything over.
Let the Physical Board Shine
After all, you did purchase that wonderful chestnut wooden board specifically for this purpose. Don’t pile a zillion things onto the board: let its texture and color stand out, too.
Cheese Knives with Wood Handle, $19.99 on Amazon
Label Each Cheese
Everyone’s certainly invested in eating cheese, but they’re probably equally interested in learning a thing or two about the cheese you’ve selected. “I’m all for putting signage on,” Thalassa says. She explains that the labels shouldn’t be in the way, but simply adjacent to each cheese.
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Have a Theme
Thalassa’s book walks readers through a host of ideas and themes for cheese boards, which can help you organize what you’re building, whether it’s by animal, milk, texture, simplicity, or color. For example, Thalassa advocates for the theme of less is more: “There’s a real majesty in taking one big chunk of clothbound cheddar and making that the focus,” she says. “People can really focus on that one cheese.”
Let Your Senses Guide You
A cheese shop will invariably be overwhelming—there’s so much to choose from! But Thalassa says the best way to combat any innate fear is to let your sense guide you. Use your eyes to lead you first. Ask your local cheesemonger questions. Taste the cheese: let your palate inform you of what you like and don’t like. Then let those taste buds direct you in your pairing capabilities: for example, if you try a cheese that has notes of mushroom, a good accoutrement is something earthy.
Give the Cheese Time to Breathe
The worst sin you can do to your cheese is to serve it cold. Give it plenty of time to come to room temperature; that way the flavors have plenty of time to emerge.
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Fresh and Aged Cheese?
Don’t Cut Your Cheese Beforehand
Cheese cubes? Absolutely not. Allow your guests to chop the cheese themselves—cutting the cheese beforehand means you’re most likely snipping away an edible rind, a part of the cheese that is there for enjoyment, not something to be tossed away.
Don’t Overpower Cheese with the Wrong Pairings
Cheese is meant to be tasted. Thalassa suggests making sure you’re not overpowering any of the cheeses with overly strong pairings: delicate cheeses are obliterated by a mighty glass of wine or beer, for example. “You want to think about intensities,” she says. “Try to marry those as best you can.”
Bamboo Cheese Board Set, $24.99 on Amazon
Let Your Cheese Be the Star
This seems rather obvious, but it’s easy to bulk up on mounds of candied almonds and rounds of salami and forget about the cheese. This is a cheese board, after all. “The cheesemaker has worked hard and is very proud of that cheese,” Thalassa says. “Let it shine.”
Candied Almonds Recipe
These Moorish nuts are very slightly spicy and sweet with brown sugar and maple syrup, a great foil for the savoriness of blue cheese especially.
- 2 cups/270 g raw almonds, skin on
- ½ cup/100 g dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup/60 g maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1 tablespoon sel gris, coarsely ground
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) Gas 5.
- Mix all the ingredients except for the sel gris together in a bowl until the almonds are well coated. Spread the almonds on a non-stick baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 5–8 minutes. The sugars will bubble and turn a darker color.
- Remove the almonds from the oven and stir with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with sel gris and set aside to cool on the baking sheet. As they cool, the sugars will begin to harden. When the almonds have cooled, serve them in a bowl with your cheese board. The nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.
Header image by Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small