An elaborate, picture-perfect cheese board may conjure up memories of cocktail parties and social gatherings from a bygone era (that is, pre-2020). But here’s a secret: you don’t actually need an occasion to assemble — and, more importantly, eat — the cheese board of your dreams.
Sure, the abundant array of cheeses, charcuterie, fruits, nuts, and spreads makes it an ideal dish for entertaining, but it can also be an event unto itself. And with our social calendars looking much barer than usual this holiday season, we could use a few of those.
Cabot’s deli cheeses make for a foolproof entry point to your cheese board endeavors: slow-aged cheddars are a classic pick, and flavors like Cracked Peppercorn and Wildly Horseradish add variety and keep you coming back for more.
We asked Jane Bruce, a cheesemonger at DTLA Cheese in Los Angeles, for her tips on building the ideal cheese board for any holiday scenario, whether you’re having a solo night in or hosting a few friends around a backyard fire pit. Read on for six cheese boards to try this season.
The beauty of a cheese board is that it is infinitely customizable, but there are a few guidelines that will help you maximize its potential. “For a balanced cheese board, you should look to have a little bit of everything: salty, sweet, acidic,” says Bruce. “A variety of textures is good too, combining crunchy nuts and soft jams. Let’s be honest though, the most important ingredient is the cheese. With the cheeses, you should have a variety of animal milks (cow, goat, sheep), textures (soft, firm, semi-firm), and locations (the possibilities here are endless, but try things local to you, and beyond!).”
For the perfect presentation
You don’t need to be serving a dozen guests to create a bountiful-looking board. “Find an inexpensive ingredient like dried fruit or nuts and fill in the open spaces,” says Bruce. “It’ll look amazing and not break the bank. Also, I love to include honeycomb on a cheese board. It’s a unique ingredient you don’t see everywhere, it goes great with cheese, and it looks incredible.”
A date-night cheese board
Who says date night can’t be a little special, even in this isolated season? Open a bottle of Cabernet, light a few candles, and take it from there. Says Bruce: “A full-bodied red wine goes great with something that can stand up to its own intensity. I love onion jam. It’s unique and tends to give you a bit of that sweet/savory combination in one jar. If you like charcuterie on your cheese plates, select a nice fatty salami (my favorite is Dodge City from Smoking Goose in Indianapolis).”
Opt for Cabot’s premium 3-Year Cheddar Cheese (aged a minimum of 36 months) alongside an assortment of soft cheeses, like one of Bruce’s favorite’s, called Up In Smoke: “It’s a little round ball of soft goats’ milk cheese wrapped in maple leaves that have been gently sprayed with bourbon. Both the cheese and the leaves are lightly smoked over alder and maple wood. It’s just smoky enough. Bonus points if your wine comes from the Oregon coast as well.”
A weeknight cheese board
When you’re looking for a “just because” spread that’s easy to whip up but special enough to make even the most Monday-est of Mondays feel like a treat, try a board with quick, nutritious bites alongside your favorite cheeses.
“I know it sounds basic, but truly my favorite thing to eat with cheese is crackers,” says Bruce. “A nice Cabot Cheddar with a flavored crisp… yum. I also love the idea of fresh veggies with some of the flavored cheeses. Heirloom tomatoes with Garlic and Dill Cheddar Cheese, or sliced cucumber with the Spicy Jack. ‘Tis the season to be roasting squash, and I would love some of that topped with some Roasted Garlic Cheddar.”
A cheese board for a small gathering
For small celebrations with family or roommates, a cheese board that comes with a story behind it makes for a thoughtful choice.
“My favorite way to pair is by location,” says Bruce. “So with Cabot cheese coming from Vermont, I would try to find some jam or other goodies made in the state as well. Of course, Vermont is known for all things maple, and my mouth is already watering thinking about anything maple with the Smoky Bacon Cheddar. I highly recommend maple syrup or maple cream from Spring Brook Farm to benefit their Farms for City Kids program. You want your flavors to balance each other out, and not to have one overpowering the other.
“It’s important to find the right combination of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. But my favorite way to learn what I like best is to keep tasting, tasting, tasting!”
A cheese board for a day of binge-watching
When you’re engrossed in a show, you need to keep the snacks flowing. Stock up on a variety of easy-to-pair sharp cheddars to go with your crackers, meats (think sliced salami and other deli meats), and veggies. And who’s to say you can’t keep popcorn on the table? Just mix it up with a kettle corn instead.
Also be mindful of how long your board will be sitting out — especially if you’re settling in for a whole season. “For an all-day cheese, I would love a clothbound cheddar,” says Bruce. “The sharpness will pair well with the sweetness of kettle corn, and a hard, aged cheese like that will sit well on the coffee table all day.”
A cheese board for après-ski, hike, or snowy day activities
A day in the cold earns you an overflowing cheese board, we think. Spice it up with a Spicy Jack or Wickedly Habanero cheddar cheese on the board — or better yet, try it in a queso, sure to win over the hungriest of the family.
For another warm dipping option, “Find a soft cheese wrapped in spruce bark such as Harbison from Jasper Hill in Vermont. It’s a perfect spoonable texture,” says Bruce. “Slice up some baguette for dipping and pair with some sort of fruit jam with a little bit of tang or spice to it. I always love to ask a local shop about their favorites because you’ll probably find something you’ve never tried before.”
A cheese board for a (safe) outdoor hang
Just because this holiday season is different doesn’t mean the foods have to be. Slice up apples to pair with your sliced aged cheddar, toast up some crusty bread, and put some hot apple cider or mulled wine on the stove — perfect for when the temps drop.
Serve alongside one of Bruce’s favorite seasonal cheeses, Black Betty. “It’s an extra-aged version of a goat gouda from Fromagerie L’Amuse in Holland called Brabander. Brabander is typically aged 6-to-9 months, and the wheels that become Black Betty (aka Brabander Reserve) get an extra 6 months added to that. It has a little bit of pineapple sweetness that’ll jump right out at you when paired with mulled wine. With a mug of hot apple cider, you’ll likely get more of the brown butter notes.”