Please, someone, offer us a bite.
It's the most wonderful time of the year—so bring on the comfort & joy, we say. In The Art of Chill Holidays, we'll show you how we keep celebrations low-key, with festive decor tricks, clever time-saving tips, and scrumptious spreads of snacks (always snacks!).
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something bold—you might want to take a seat for this (if you're, you know, one of those standing desk people): At least once this holiday season, consider skipping the big fancy dinner and serving a show-stopping cheese board instead.
I know, I know, it sounds insane—the people need their prime rib. But, allow me to make a few airtight arguments in support of a casual, cheese-centric holiday dinner:
The cheese board is the star of a dinner party anyway. People flock to it immediately, and huddle around it as if it's a highly valuable prehistoric fossil they've just discovered in the ground, stacking crackers high with accoutrement and saying things into the ether like, "Ugh, I'd better cut myself off so I don't fill up before dinner." Well, let them fill up!
There's something for everyone on a cheese board—or at least, there can be, if it's the only party dish you need to keep on your radar. From olives and nuts, to wedges of cheese and crackers and bread, to sliced meats, to crowd-pleasing cheeseballs, to jams and other spreads (or dips!), to crudités, to whatever you want really, it's a blank canvas.
With a cheese board as the entrée, you can go as casual or as formal as you like. On the preparation front, a cheese board looks amazing when kept "rustic" (aka, just sort of tossing things down and filling in the negative space with crackers and little bowls of toppings). Or you could also spend an hour designing a gorgeous, aesthetic treat, if that's how you roll. In terms of serving, you can let your guests go at it free-for-all style and use the deconstructed dinner vibes as an excuse to set up an exceedingly fun serve-yourself cocktail bar, or you can seat everyone and conduct a proper cheese-and-wine pairing as a group.
Convinced? So are we. Accordingly, we've done
very serious, scientific research lots of internet stalking to get to the bottom of what makes the all-time best cheese boards. Here are the top tips we've picked up from seven spectacular spreads, including a couple from our very own test kitchen (please send any leftovers our way!):
If you're going to go the cracker route—versus, say sliced bread (I'll have mine toasted, thanks)—make sure you either pick a true crowd-pleaser like Rustic Bakery's Olive Oil & Sel Gris, or cast a wide net so there's something for everyone. A handful of flatbreads here, a nice little row of Table Waters there, maybe a bowl of Ritz, a couple of Triscuits; you get the idea. (If you're having gluten-free guests over, Simple Mills and Mary's Gone Crackers both make excellent options.)
As my colleague Emma Laperruque says, "You don’t need to buy 84 cheeses to impress your guests. Just diversify each type so every person can find one (or more!) they love." Aim for some combination of a goat’s milk, cow's milk, and sheep's milk—and make sure you're a fan of each. Let the cheese come to room temp before you serve, and pre-cut a few pieces out from the wedges so guests feel comfortable digging in right away.
Adding a few jams or honeys to your cheese board will take it from good to really, really great. It's tough to go wrong in terms of selection—and if you're going to include more than one type, even better—but our favorite generalists for pairing with most any cheese include fig jam, apple butter, and Mike's Hot Honey (trust us).
Sliced meats will add extra heft to your cheese board—which'll do wonders, if this is your holiday party entrée. You're basically giving the group everything they need to make cracker sandwiches. Olives and nuts never hurt anyone, either—and they provide a welcome pop of color. (Same with fresh fruit, dried fruit, and sliced or simply chopped vegetables.)
Okay, so this one isn't technically a cheese board, per se, since it's only about 10% cheese—you really have to look closely to find the goods. But we love it! The brightly colored sliced veg (we spy candy cane radishes!), golden cauliflower florets, and apple slices make us want to dive in and get crunching. And dipping, in whatever that swoosh-y, creamy, show-stopping number in the middle happens to be.
If you have a gorgeous wooden board rife for cheese display, great for you. If not, no problem. Get creative! Most of the surface will be covered, anyway. I've used everything from a sheet pan draped with decoy linen napkins, to literally just the tabletop (coupled with enough festive decor to make it seem intentional).
If you're going for a more hands-off approach and want to encourage guests to feel comfortable serving themselves, why not throw a few adorably constructed labels into the mix? Bonus points if you add suggested drink pairings. (Psst: You can snag that round wooden beaut right here.)
What are your best tips for the most stunning cheese boards? Let us know in the comments!
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