Cheeseboard Tips and Tricks
by Sharon Phillips, Ginger and Baker Teaching Kitchen Coordinator
I have a lifelong love. An infatuation. An insatiable need. It’s cheese. I LOVE cheese in all its forms. Creamy, funky brie. Tangy goat cheese. Ooey, gooey, melty fontina. Although my love of cheese spans my lifetime, my obsession with creating cheeseboards is relatively recent.
Even though I’m a trained chef, when I’m entertaining I always look for ways to create the most impressive dishes with the least amount of work. I love that, with a little styling, you can throw together a fancy looking cheeseboard from the deli section at local grocery stores. Guests will swoon over a well-prepared board and they don’t need to know that you simply unwrapped these items and arranged them on a beautiful tray!
The holiday cheeseboard is also an excellent way to involve your guests in the meal without having to share your kitchen. What do I mean? Frequently holiday guests arrive well before mealtime. It’s so nice to have the house full of people but it can get a little overwhelming trying to prepare a meal while entertaining a hoard of hungry relatives.
A few Christmases ago, I had a revelation. I could purchase all the supplies for a cheeseboard and have some of my guests put it together as an activity in the dining room. It was a hit! They loved working together to assemble a board and got to enjoy a snack when dinner was still several hours away. I highly recommend trying it. Also, you’re always welcome to my house for the holidays if you help wash the dishes. 😉
- Decide what role the cheeseboard will play. If it’s a snack or dessert course, you’ll need about two ounces of cheese per person. For a meal, plan for five to six ounces of cheese per person.
- Pick your board. I love a large serving tray with a lip because it allows me to stack items higher and makes it easier to transport. For a seasonal cheeseboard, it’s fun to use a festive platter. In the video, I’m using a beautiful pumpkin-shaped board from our Market.
- Pick your cheeses. My best advice when starting out is to choose three to four cheeses in different styles; soft, hard and a wildcard. I love a soft Brie or spreadable chèvre and for something hard or aged, I like Dutch Gouda. My wildcard cheese is often a funky blue or a cheese flecked with black truffles.
- It’s important to know your audience. If you have children or picky eaters, make sure to pick up something mild like a cheddar. If you’re still on the fence, talk to your local cheesemonger. Most grocery stores will have an employee in the cheese section who can help you pick that perfect cheese.
- Are you serving cured meats with the board? Many stores have great variety packs of three different cured meats like salami, pepperoni, and prosciutto.
- Accompaniments! I like to choose two kinds of crackers or toasted slices of baguettes. If you have gluten-free guests, it’s nice to offer some gluten-free crackers as well. Grocery store bulk bins are great for buying small amounts of dried fruits and nuts. Olives, honey, jams, fresh fruits, veggies and/or dips are also great additions.
- Does your board have a theme? Sometimes I like to stick to a general color scheme when I’m creating a board or use skewers or picks with holiday toppers to add an extra bit of flair. Colored or themed containers or ramekins are great for jams, nuts, sauces and olives.
- Get to work! I always start by placing my cheese first, followed by meats and crackers. Then I sprinkle in nuts and fruits to fill the empty space. Some cheeses work well sliced while others I leave whole and let guests cut as needed.
- Make sure to have plates, napkins, toothpicks and cheese knives placed close to your board so your guests can easily serve themselves.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can make a beautiful board your guests will love with just a few cheeses and crackers. Don’t be afraid to experiment and move things around if something doesn’t look right. It often takes me a few tries to find the perfect spot.
For my fall-themed cheeseboard, I did go a little above and beyond and made pumpkin crackers from scratch along with pie crust cookies and an apple pie compote to top the Camembert. Check out the recipe below if you’d like to try making your own crackers and compote.
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. Ginger and Baker Pumpkin Pie Spice
- ½ cup pumpkin puree (I use canned)
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- olive oil, as needed
- pumpkin seeds, as needed
- flaky sea salt, as needed
- Place flour, sugar, salt, spices, pumpkin, and butter in the base of a food processor. Pulse until a stiff dough forms.
- Remove dough from food processor and begin kneading on a clean work surface until the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line several baking trays with parchment paper and brush lightly with olive oil.
- Remove dough from fridge and cut into 8 pieces. Grab one of the pieces and keep the others covered to prevent from drying out with working.
- If you have a pasta rolling attachment for your Kitchen Aid mixer, this is the time to dust it off. Lightly flour the dough and with either a pasta roller or a rolling pin, roll your dough into an 1/8” thick rectangle. Arrange dough strips onto the baking trays.
- Brush dough lightly with additional olive oil and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and salt.
- Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake until crisp and golden. Approximately 10 minutes.
- Let crackers cool completely and break into smaller individual pieces.
- Serve immediately or store in a sealed container for up to two weeks.
- Makes approximately ½ gallon bag of crackers
Traditional Pie Dough
- 8 oz. butter, cubed and frozen
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 3 fl. oz. +/- ice water
1. Cube and freeze butter.
2. Next, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Place in food processor.
3. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms pea-sized balls.
4. Combine vinegar and water. Remove ice cubes.
5. Slowly add liquids to dry mixture until the dough holds together when pressed in your hands.
6. Shape dough into a puck and wrap with plastic.
7. Let rest in fridge until cool throughout, at least 45 minutes.
8. Roll out on a floured surface and shape as desired. Yield: 1 pie crust for a 9”-11” pie pan
Pie Dough Cookies
- 1 recipe Traditional Pie Dough
- ½ cup cinnamon sugar (3-parts sugar to 1-part cinnamon)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and a line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Sprinkle your chilled work surface heavily with cinnamon sugar. Roll dough into a 1/8-inch-thick rectangle. Flip several times while rolling to press the cinnamon sugar into the dough on both sides.
- Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut shapes from the dough and place on the baking sheet.
- Re-roll the dough scraps up to two times.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve and enjoy!
Caramel Apple Compote
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into small dice
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. Ginger and Baker Apple Pie Spice
- juice of ½ lemon
- Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for 10 minutes until the apples are fork tender and the sauce is no longer gritty.
- Remove from heat. Serve warm over Brie or goat cheese. Or cool and serve as a condiment on your cheese platter.
- Cooled compote will keep refrigerated for up to one week.