1. Start with the big stuff
The best way to construct a cheese plate is to start with the chunky bits and build around them. By “chunky bits” I mean the cheese and bowls. By placing these sturdy items first, you are creating a base that can be built around that won’t fall over or roll off the board. They will help to secure hunks of bread and keep charcuterie standing.
2. Focus on textures
In my mind, texture trumps flavour when it comes to a cheese board. As much as I love the taste of asiago, manchego and gruyere, I would never think to put them as my 3 cheese selections on a board. Why not? Well, because they are all hard cheeses (read more about types of cheese here). A truly good platter will include at least one soft and one hard cheese, and either a semi-soft or semi-hard (if you are going for the rule of threes).
3. Be generous
Nothing makes a plate sadder than scarcity. Four crackers, a slice a ham and a few slices of cheese does not constitute a cheese board. Instead, be generous! Put all the ham on the plate and the entire wheel of cheese. You can always wrap up leftovers. Don’t be mistaken, I'm not saying that you need to spend a fortune to make an impressive display. For example, an item like toasted bread drizzled with olive oil takes up a lot of space, is delicious, and rather cheap. Instead I'm saying that you should make the best of the space you have. Which leads me to my next tip…
4. Use the appropriate sized board
Only feeding two? Then no need to bust out your giant wooden cutting board and buy 5 cheeses to fill it up. Instead, review your offerings and find a platter to fit. Only have one piece of cheese? Go for a compact board and be sure to include some meats, breads and fun sides. I always grab a board smaller than I think I need as I am always surprised by how little space things take up once they are no longer lying flat in a package.
5. Fill in all the gaps
A question I ask myself to judge if my cheeseboard is ready is, “Can I see the actual board?”. If the answer is "no", then I know I am ready to go! Here is where the value of all those small accompaniments lie. Have a space between a piece of cheese and bread? Toss in some nuts. Struggling to close the gap between a bowl and some salami? Squeeze in a few strawberries or apple slices. By filling in all the gaps you are creating the idea of abundance and generosity that makes eyes open wide and taste buds water.
6. Get creative
There is more to a cheese board than just meat and cheese. Some obvious additions are nuts, fruits and olives. But why not get creative? Have a look in your cupboard or fridge and see what you have stored away. Any jams or mustards lying around? (check out my recipe for Boozy Bacon Jam if not!) How about pickled vegetables? Cornichons, sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers can all be great on a platter. Sometimes I even throw some thinly sliced red onion on the plate. Just make sure to place anything runny/marinated – ie honey, olives, pickles – into a bowl to help separate flavours.
7.Go for height
Lying meats flat on the board is NOT something you want when trying to impress someone with a cheese board. Volume and height will dramatically improve the visual aspect, and therefore bring that “wow” factor you are after. By stacking and layering elements of the board, you are creating an image of variety, abundance and richness – who doesn’t want that? One of the key elements to prop up on the board are your meats because, let’s face it, they are in their nature flat. Here are some ways to fold your charcuterie:
- For large circular pieces (think salami or soppressata), roll into a cone and tuck the points together between a cheese and a bowl to keep them in place. You can also fold in half, then half again to make a triangle and stack on top of one another, fanning out to create an eye-catching design. Or just scrunch them up and stick between two elements on the board so they stand up.
- For thinner sliced meats (think ham or prosciutto), try holding them up in the air, then gently lower them down while twisting your hand so they gather some height and stay in place.
- For sausage style meats (pepperoni, chorizo, etc), try and cut diagonally then, starting at a bowl or slice of cheese, lean the slices up against each other to create an angled domino effect.
8. Add fruit
Not only are fruit and cheese an amazing combination, but fruit will also bring a pop of color to your board (and at an affordable price!). The fresh, natural sweetness of a grape, for example, cuts through the creaminess of the cheese and refreshes the palate. I’ve always found success with sliced apples, grapes, strawberries, or figs, but feel free to use whatever is in season at the time.
9. Use bowls
Not only will bowls hold dips and smaller items that can easily roll off the board (think olives), but their height and shape will help break up the board and make it more fun to look at. You could also swap in some mini fig paste or jam jars in place of the bowls for the same effect. Just be sure to place these on the board first to help with your overall placement (and to help secure other items on the board!)