The cheese and charcuterie board is mainstay in our household – and as any of my friends can tell you, it’s my go-to party contribution and appetizer. You can prep a full spread of cheese and charcuterie beforehand, cover everything, and leave it in the fridge to chill while you go get ready. Magic!
A well composed cheese plate requires some thought, but when done correctly, will serve you equally well at a ladies night or a quick going-out pre-game (and is infinitely customizable). Have a good friend allergic to nuts (R, obvi…)? Swap them out for bitter dark chocolate pieces. Hate mustard? Replace it with pesto aioli or pink peppercorn jam.
Here are our top 10 tips to make your cheese plate the best in the west:
1. Start with slate: there is no replacement for a good cheese slate or marble slab. When chilled, it will retain the cooler temperature, and keep your cheese from sweating/melting (yuck). We like this one, from Sur La Table ($42).
2. Curate your wine list BEFORE choosing cheese: this will help pave the way for organic pairings that are flexible, instead of having to hunt for cheese that ‘goes’ with your wine – which can be tricky! For a girls’ night, we’ll usually opt for a Cab Sauv (our favorite) like Stag’s Leap: Artemis, a good Pinot or Zin (feeling adventurous? Maybe try a red blend!) like Coppola, and a crowd pleasing white (a Sancerre, perhaps?) like Michael Redde et fils: Sancerre Les Tuilières.
3. Pick one type of cheese for each 2 guests: For a party of 10, I would typically choose 5 cheeses of different varieties. Here are my party go-to’s for the above wine list, in no particular order: Chèvre cheese log (goat, preferably with Blueberry coating but honey will do), Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream (cow), Cowgirl Creamery Humboldt Fog (goat, blue cheese), Dubliner or other Irish Cheddar, and a hard cheese, like a romano blend or soft blend asiago.
4. It’s all about the carbs: crackers? Bread slices? Mini toasts? Whatever you choose, make sure you balance sweet and salty, heavy and light. We like AkMak Australian crackers with a heavy creme Brie, and Raisin Rosemary Crisps with a punchy blue cheese. The ultimate combo of our dreams? Pretzel bread slices with blueberry chèvre. Divine. We may have done this last Friday night….
5. Accentuate like a pro: outside of the wine, cheese, and carbohydrates, you’ll want a few other pairing accents to complement the palette. Our typical favorites include nuts (unsalted for savory, salted for sweet pairings), Pickles (mini gherkins are the BEST. THING. EVER), olives, dried fruit (cranberries and apricots are popular), and chocolate. Bitter sweet or dark chocolate pairs really well with a number of cheeses, and is a great balance for the saltiness of the rest. You can also add in a few spreads, like the aforementioned aioli, rough grain mustard, or fruit spreads/jams to go with the carbs.
6. Meet the Meats: Charcuterie can be a daunting word, and implies an air of stuffiness. Our tip? Keep things light and Italian, and you cannot go wrong. Opt for thin cuts like Salumi, Capicola, Proscuitto, and Iberico ham (ok, that’s Spanish, but perfect). We like to layer the meats around the cheeses, to facilitate snacking from multiple parts of the cheese board. Keep them cold, and serve immediately out of the fridge. Trader Joe’s has a great starter pack of blended Italian meats for this purpose – definitely give it a try!
7. Hand everyone a small plate or cocktail napkin, and dig in! Seeing the hostess try the fare is a good indicator to your guests to start snacking. Okay fine, that was 3 less than ten, but after a few glasses of wine and some great cheese, who’s counting?!?