How to Make an Epic Cheese Board ~ grazing tables are all the rage, and this blockbuster appetizer is ideal for winter holidays, game days, or any time hungry friends and family gather. It can provide snacks for a crowd or a meal for an intimate group.
a fabulous cheese board always makes a splash!
Cheese platters are a great way to entertain any time of the year, but there’s something especially appealing about them during the winter months. This rotating cheese platter never fails to elicit ooohs and aaahs.
A cheese plate like this is perfect for the holidays, but also a wonderful way to perk up a dreary January or February night. Here’s how to do it, step by step ~
Lay down a base of greenery
When I make a holiday cheese board I start by laying down some pine boughs and a few pinecones around the edge of my platter. You could substitute branches of rosemary, fresh bay branches, or any other non-toxic winter greenery you have around. (All pines, spruce, and fir have edible needles.)
Rinse and dry your greenery before using. You can bake pinecones on a foil lined baking sheet in a 225F oven for about 30 minutes to prep them for your platter. You can also soak them in a sink of warm water with 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Let them dry thoroughly before using.
The cheeses anchor the arrangement
The cheeses go down first. I place each one on a small sheet of waxed paper and arrange them scattered evenly around the board. Choose a good variety, I always look for a couple of soft cheeses like Brie or St Andre. Then a blue cheese, a hard aged cheese like cheddar or Manchego, a spreadable goat cheese, and some sort of flavored cheese like a dilled havarti or a wine marbled cheddar. For this platter I left the cheeses whole, but sometimes I’ll cut cubes or small wedges for easy grabbing.
Try to include a small knife for each cheese, if possible, these simple knives will work for hard or soft cheeses.
I made a soft cheese ‘pinecone’ out of Boursin studded with sliced almonds.
To form the cheese into a rough pinecone shape I loosely cover it with waxed paper and then nudged it into shape. Then I insert the almonds in an overlapping pattern to cover. You can see it at the top of the cheese platter, above.
Include a variety of nuts
In winter I like to put a special emphasis on the nuts in my assortment, they’re in season and add a hearty, crunchy element to the mix. I usually like to corral the nuts in small bowls to keep the platter neat.
- Roasted nuts have the best flavor.
- I like to toast my own: spread out raw nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. They’re done when you can smell their aroma and they just start to brown. They will become extra crunchy as they cool.
- For a winter platter I like walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and Marcona almonds.
- I always include some candied or spiced nuts ~ Trader Joe’s is a great source.
- If you include nuts in the shell, provide a nutcracker.
Choose seasonal fresh fruit for a punch of freshness and color
Fresh fruit brings bright color to any cheese board, and I’ll customize it to the season. For fall there are always apples, figs and grapes, but in winter I like to use persimmons, clementines, and pears. Fresh fruit not only breaks up the platter visually, but it makes it more appetizing and makes the arrangement seem less heavy. I’ll also use dried fruit like dates, apricots, cranberries ~ or use whatever you love.
(Ok you caught me, I also threw on some definitely out-of-season raspberries because I found them in the produce section. That’s the prerogative of the cheese plate maker. )
Add meats that have a variety of textures
The meat is an important part of my cheese platter, but you can leave it out if you prefer to keep vegetarian.
- I look for a variety of texture so I pick up a couple of hard salamis, (one spicy) and some sliced meats.
- Be sure to pre-slice the hard salami to make it easy to grab.
- I fold the sliced salami in quarters and arrange it so the ruffly edges are showcased.
- With prosciutto I’ll lay down each slice in loose folds.
Include one or two condiments and spreads
This is your choice, I like to include a grainy mustard and some sort of sweet spread like fig jam or honey on a winter cheese plate. I love to use the homemade marmalade I get from my friend Barb every Christmas. Provide a small spoon with each one.
I love to include one of my many hot pepper jams or jellies. In winter, my hot pepper cranberry jam is perfect. Another alternative is a sweet spiced jelly like my mulled cider jelly or my mulled cranberry jelly which go wonderfully with aged cheeses like cheddar.
Fill in blank spots with something pickled or brined
I always include tiny cornichon pickles, pickled veggies, and/or olives. The sharpness helps cut the richness of the cheese and meat. If your supermarket has an olive bar you can get great ideas there, and buy just the amount you need for your platter. No waste!
If you want to make your own quick pickles, check out my how to quick pickle anything post for ideas.
Don’t forget the crackers
If you’ve got space, I will add the crackers right onto the tray. If I don’t have the space, I’ll serve them separately. Raincoast Crisps are so pretty I always include them. I’ve got a recipe for homemade Raincoast crisp style crackers, here.
Arrange everything on an extra large platter, preferably one that spins so everybody gets a crack at everything!
Reader Rave ~
“This is the most amazing “recipe” on the internet … LOVE LOVE LOVE the diagram by number – wonderful for us wana-bees … I made a cheese board recently – but yours is way beyond what I put together … Thank you for sharing .” ~Judy
Epic Cheese Board by the numbers ~ (if you’d like to pin this chart, click here.)
1. Winter greens
2. Brillat Savarin triple cream cheese
3. French Mimolette cheese
4. Saint Agur soft blue cheese
5. Boursin cheese
6. Boursin cheese ‘pinecone’
7. Basil Gouda
9. Garlic herb Brie
10. Spiced pecans
11. Toasted hazelnuts
12. Hazelnuts in the shell
13. Walnuts in the shell
14. Marcona almonds
15. Fresh raspberries
17. Dried apricots, peaches, and pears
18. Fresh whole pears
20. Candied orange slices
21. Dried dates
23. Sliced salami
24. Hard salami log
25. Spicy hard salami log
27. Grainy mustard
28. Cornichon pickles
29. Raincoast Crisp crackers
*This post first published in November 2018, updated November 2020