It took me longer to write this post than all of my other posts combined. Every time I would write a paragraph, I ended up thinking about more things to add. Over the last five years, I have made hundreds of Cheese and Charcuterie Boards, having had two jobs where making them became my main responsibility. Not to mention the ones I made at home for meal starters or full meals. Along the way, I gathered so much experience and knowledge in this – relatively new – trade. However, I am 100% self-taught when it comes to anything food related. These 5 things come from experience in making and eating countless cheese and charcuterie (cured meat) boards.
You have most likely heard this tip before: aim for variety. Soft, spreadable cheeses like fresh goat cheese, hard, aged cheeses like gouda, and some kind of crumbly cheddar or blue. And while that’s not bad advice, it certainly makes it more difficult when it comes to pairing. This is because cheeses as different as these all require different accoutrements, and most importantly – different beverage pairings. And this brings me to the first thing you should know:
Accoutrements, such as fruit, nuts, mustard, etc., are not fillers or decorative elements, but equal “players”. A difference of textures and flavors is a wonderful thing, but don’t expect it from cheese alone! After the first few bites, flavors will get mixed up and nothing will feel “new” to your palate. Focus on a good cheese, and highlight it with a few, good quality accompaniments. For example, if it’s Manchego (which happens to be my favorite cheese!), serve olives, Marcona almonds and quince paste. Savory, briny olives, crunchy, salty nuts and sweet quince offer a variety of flavors that complement the cheese. Don’t spend all your money at the cheese counter (that felt odd to say). Divide your cheese & charcuterie board budget equally between cheese, meat, accoutrements, and wine.
2. Wine pairing
It’s true that cheese and cured meats are great with other beverages than just wine, but wine is my favorite so I feel confident talking about it. If you do decide to showcase a variety of cheeses, remember this: There is not a cheese that doesn’t pair with Champagne and there is not a wine that doesn’t pair with Parmigiano-Reggiano. I am not sure who the author of this awesome rule is, but I am very grateful to him. If you’re unsure what to serve with your platter – dry and acidic sparkling wine is a safe bet. Even if you don’t like dry sparkling wine on it’s own, it will serve as a perfect palate cleanser when served with cheese. Cheese has a « mouth-coating » tendency and dry wine will rinse it clean.
If you decide to not serve sparkling, three other helpful tips are: likes with likes (think Cheddar with Cabernet Sauvignon, both are bold), opposites attract (sharp and salty blue cheese and sweet Port – a classic) and (my favorite) – what grows together, goes together (Manchego and Tempranillo, fresh goat cheese and white wine from Loire Valley).
*I highly recommend checking out classes at Murray’s if you are ever in New York. It’s super fun and a very educational experience. I have been to their Cheese Boot Camp (that’s a thing!) and a Goat Cheeses class. They have all kinds of classes, including some on pairing cheese with beer, cider, cocktails, etc.
3. Serving surface (try saying that fast 3 times)
I don’t know what it was like a few years ago, but something tells me there weren’t so many options to choose from. Marble, slate, wood, ceramic… For our wedding, we got at least 5. And yet I still feel that I need a couple more. However, my favorite one is actually a big, white, round dinner plate with a pretty wide rim that is raised just a little bit. It gives it a nice, clean border. And here is the trick: if you are serving your cheese and charcuterie on a white surface (be it ceramic or marble), fill it up. It will look abundant. If you leave room in between cheeses/meats, it just looks skimpy. However, if you are using a black (such as slate) or wooden (such as wooden :)) surface, you can either fill it up or leave room in between – it will look stylish.
4. Serving size
Unless you are serving soft cheese, cut it into bite sized pieces. Presentation is so important, and leaving it whole will let it last, until the first person takes a cheese knife (and those are never sharp enough) in their hand and while holding a drink or a plate with one hand, cuts (usually) way too big of a piece. And when I say «cut in bite sized pieces » I mean slices. Never, never, cut it in cubes. You have gone through trouble and expenses to make this beautiful platter at home. Don’t give it a supermarket-made look. I have nothing against supermaket-made, but it will take over your taste buds for five straight minutes, leaving you chewing, and chewing, and chewing. Just slice it.
Same thing applies to prosciutto. Whether it’s on a cheese and charcuterie board or in a sandwich, it is one of the most annoying things to be stuck with a whole piece in your mouth. It is one of my biggest pet peeves, taking a bite of sandwich with prosciutto in it, and seeing the whole thing pulled out in one bite. Cut each slice in have, and it will still be “foldable” into a airy, flower-like shape (see picture in slider above).
Last, but not least. I love bread. Living low-carb most of the time, making and eating bread is what I miss the most. As a result, I get overly excited about bread service at restaurants. But I always try and pace myself because I tend to fill up on it. And I know I’m not the only one! So whenever we have cheese & charcuterie date nights in, I make up for it with a special bread plate. Unless I have room to fill on my platter, I love serving it on the side with a little bit of olive oil. Everyone loves bread with olive oil. It only gets better if it comes with a piece of cheese and/or charcuterie!
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful! But remember, the most important thing is for you to enjoy your creation. And the best way to do that is to pick your favorites and trust yourself. Chances are, you are doing a way better job than you think you are. And, no one’s been judged yet for feeding others cheese, meat, bread, and wine. At the very least, your company will be grateful, and at the very most – thrilled, full, and overjoyed.