Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Cooking

How to build a better cheese board

Washington Post

Whoever first decided it was not only acceptable but classy to throw a bunch of cheese bits and snacks on a board deserves credit for simultaneously pulling off what may have been both the greatest scam and invention in the history of entertaining.

Sure, you might want to invest in fresh cheese if youíre having friends over, but you can pull together the rest of a great board using mostly what you already may have in your refrigerator or freezer. And letís be honest, you can spend all the time in the world making an impressive main course, and your guests will still probably be as enamored of the cheese board you put out to occupy them at the beginning of the evening.

Shelly Westerhausen, who recently released Platters and Boards: Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion with her partner, Wyatt Worcel, unsurprisingly says that anytime is a good time for a cheese board. Small party, big party, cobbled-together dinner for one or two: You canít go wrong.

Here are tips to help you put together a cheese board, geared particularly for feeding a group or party.

Have a plan

Building a cheese board can be overwhelming and intimidating because of how many choices there are, Westerhausen says. But it doesnít have to be. She suggests starting with one item you absolutely want, and go from there. That probably means your favorite cheese, or maybe one cheese and one meat. With regard to quantities, it depends on when you want to serve the board. As a starter, Westerhausen recommends at least:

1 ounce of cheese per person

1 to 2 tablespoons nuts

1 to 2 tablespoons condiments

4 pieces of fruit

4 to 6 vegetables

1 to 2 ounces of meat

As a main, the amounts increase:

1 to 2 ounces cheese (others recommend up to 4 ounces)

2 to 3 tablespoons nuts

3 to 4 tablespoons condiments

4 to 5 pieces of fruit

6 to 10 vegetables

2 to 3 ounces of meat

Keep in mind, itís better to buy more than not enough.

Fill in the rest with a variety
of flavors and textures

It helps to think about categories of cheese when youíre building a board. Three or four cheeses is a good number to aim for, hitting on several different types. Among the categories you can choose from:

Firm: Cheddar, asiago, Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Semisoft: Havarti, Gouda, fontina, Monterey Jack

Soft and/or ripened: brie, queso fresco, Camembert, mozzarella, goat cheese

Blue: Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort

If you need help picking, go to a specialty cheese shop or the cheese counter at your grocery store.

The accompaniments fall into categories as well. Try to include:

Crunchy: Crackers, nuts

Salty: Meats, crackers, nuts

Sweet: Honey, jam, chocolate, fresh or dried fruit

Tangy: mustard, olives and anything pickled, chutney

Make it easy on yourself

"I donít think you should feel bad about putting together stuff you pick up from the store," Westerhausen says. This is part of the beauty of the cheese board. It lets you enjoy the party yourself, with a little restocking as necessary. If you want, you can focus on making one thing in advance ó say, a dip or quick pickle or jam. Then buy as high-quality items as you can find or afford. Westerhausen says there are so many producers making excellent artisanal food (probably better than the rest of us can) that you can easily wow your guests with unique local specialties they may never have had before, rather than worrying about impressing them with your own cooking prowess.

Arrange thoughtfully

Wood is a classic choice for the board. Go for hard, nonporous woods that wonít draw moisture out of cheese. You can buy cheese boards relatively inexpensively at home goods stores, but your large wooden cutting board makes for an attractive display as well. Other options include slate or ceramic trays or any large serving platter. Be sure to provide knives, spoons, small tongs, toothpicks and other tools to let people serve themselves. Runny foods such as honey or jam should be placed in ramekins or small bowls. Labeling the cheese in one way or another (cheese flags are sold at some stores, or you can DIY with toothpicks or skewers and paper) is helpful, too.

A good approach is to start by placing your cheeses 1 to 2 hours in advance so they can come to room temperature. Try to avoid letting them touch so flavors donít mingle (this is also why you want separate knives for each cheese). Then start filling in the gaps with your other items. Meats should be taken out just 15 to 20 minutes before you plan to serve, and if you know you have vegetarians in the mix, you may want to have charcuterie on a separate board or platter.

You can go for a more sparse look or you can choose the cornucopia, things-spilling-onto-the-table look so popular on social media. "I personally like the way it looks when itís just overflowing and inviting," Westerhausen says, though she says sheís probably in the minority. Just try not to make your board look too pristine, pretty or fussy, or people might not feel comfortable diving into it . . . for a minute or two, at least.?

Comments
Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

All right, okay, enough, I get it: You all hate pumpkin spice. But I’ve got one request as we head into fall: Can you just let us have this? There are many things on which to heap anger and despair right now, but please, that thing does not n...
Updated: 9 hours ago
A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

This fresh, hearty side dish will stand out among its richer, creamier counterparts when the holidays roll around. We achieved perfectly cooked brown rice by boiling it in abundant water. Sprinkling the rice with bright lemon juice while it was still...
Published: 09/18/18
Taste test: Frozen Italian meatballs

Taste test: Frozen Italian meatballs

In keeping with our objective of trying to make family meals a little easier this back-to-school season, our judges figured premade meatballs could serve as a basis for a variety of meals. This week, we sampled 10 brands of frozen Italian meatballs f...
Published: 09/17/18
How to be a good host: 7 tips to follow for casual and fancy dinners alike

How to be a good host: 7 tips to follow for casual and fancy dinners alike

A couple of hours into my first time hosting a full-fledged family Thanksgiving, I completely lost it. Elbows deep in the oven, I was trying to rescue a sheet pan that had fallen off the back of the rack and threatened to ruin the entire meal. There ...
Published: 09/13/18
From the food editor: This citrus chopped salad needs a good, homemade vinaigrette

From the food editor: This citrus chopped salad needs a good, homemade vinaigrette

The emulsion was almost complete. Rice wine vinegar, check. A couple of glugs of nutty olive oil, check. Some honey, a dash of soy sauce, salt and pepper. Just one ingredient left to go, and it was a crucial one. Sesame oil. It would offer the unique...
Published: 09/11/18
Pan-fried sole is a light, delicate dish when paired with lemon-caper pan sauce

Pan-fried sole is a light, delicate dish when paired with lemon-caper pan sauce

By AMERICAíS TEST KITCHENSole piccata, a light and delicate dish that consists of lightly browned sole fillets bathed in a lemon, caper and white wine-laced pan sauce, is a classic for a reason: The fresh, bright acidity of the sauce wakes up the fla...
Published: 09/11/18
Taste test: New peanut butter snacks

Taste test: New peanut butter snacks

Since many of us are reaching for portable snacks to pack in school lunch boxes, our tasters thought this would be a good week to give some of the new snacks a try. We picked four peanut butter-flavored snacks, figuring parents and teachers would hav...
Published: 09/10/18
From the food editor: These Orange Ricotta Bars make for a light, easy dessert

From the food editor: These Orange Ricotta Bars make for a light, easy dessert

It was one of those serene kitchen days when everything just kind of works out. My husband and I were home on a Sunday, tending to our new puppy (!) as storm clouds gathered outside, and I set out to prep for dinner. Two of our friends were coming o...
Updated one month ago
Want to make sushi at home? Tips and recipes for beginners

Want to make sushi at home? Tips and recipes for beginners

Sushi was introduced to the United States through Los Angelesí Little Tokyo in 1966. A classic staple in Japanese households, sashimi (raw fish), sushi (raw fish with sticky rice) and sushi maki (sushi rolls) took off in America. Youíd be surprised h...
Updated one month ago
Throw some (tuna) steaks on the barbie

Throw some (tuna) steaks on the barbie

Tuna steaks are a treat, and the intense heat of the grill is perfect for getting a good sear on the outside while keeping the inside tender, moist and pleasantly pink. We wanted a foolproof method for grilling tuna to perfection, and we decided to m...
Updated one month ago