My Family’s All-Time Favorite Dinner Requires *Zero* Cooking

It's the meal I look forward to most.

April 10, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

Who says cheese boards are just for parties? We're partnering with California goat cheese maker Cypress Grove to show you all the ways you can enjoy a cheese board for dinner (yes, dinner!), starting with these four deliciously unique pairings.

As much as my family loves food (and I mean loves), growing up, we were never really big on cooking. Sure, we had a few staple recipes, like my mom's turkey burgers and my dad's grilled pork loin with mango chutney, but with three very busy schedules between us, low-lift meals or going out to eat was the fallback most nights of the week.

Our all-time favorite family dinner, however, didn't require a restaurant reservation or any cooking at all—just a trip to the store and some crafty assembly. Enter: the cheese board.

I don't exactly know how we came up with this tradition—probably some combination of necessity and convenience (oh, and our familial love for cheese). But at least once a month, a bountiful spread of cheeses, meats, fruits, and crackers would take center stage—it was our appetizer, main course, and dessert all wrapped into one.

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“The idea of a cheese board as family dinner occasionally is certainly liberating and appealing. With the addition of cut fresh vegetables to the mix for crunch and fiber I am sold and confident that my family would be too. ”
— Sarah H.

And it couldn't have been simpler: We'd make a quick run to the supermarket and gather up all the supplies. Then we'd set up our spread in the living room, turn on a movie, and feast until we were full and happy.

It was our appetizer, main course, and dessert all wrapped into one.

Even though I don't live at home any more, every time I visit my parents, a cheese board of epic proportions is always the first meal we share together. There are at least four types of cheese (always one hard and one soft, and two wild cards) each with their own flavor profile (ranging from herby to spicy), meats, and plenty of accoutrements. Oh, and wine. Depending on the weather—in Florida, where I'm from, the weather varies between humid, humider, and humid-est—we'll pour rosé, Chardonnay, or occasionally, Pinot Noir.

Have I convinced you to make your very own cheese board for dinner yet? (I repeat: no cook. Lots of cheese.) Here are just a few of the cheeses I've been loving lately, and all the bits and bobs that make them shine—try one, or if you're like me, all of them.

Creamy & Classic

Every cheese board my family has ever made always starts with a mild, creamy cheese, like Humboldt Fog, a soft-ripened, wonderfully spreadable goat cheese with light floral notes and hints of citrus. Fig spread is a must (its sweetness plays off the tang of the cheese), as are roasted and marinated red peppers and prosciutto for a savory touch. I like adding a few Mandarin oranges (keep the stems and leaves for a pretty presentation) to bring out the citrus finish in the cheese, and always go for mini toast points as the base—they're sturdy enough to spread and stack to your heart's content (you can also swap in some crusty bread).

Tangy & Nutty

Even though rich, velvety soft cheeses are nearest and dearest to my heart, every board needs balance. A firm, almost buttery aged goat cheese, like Midnight Moon, makes a welcome addition. When thinking up pairings, start with bright, punchy options—like rainbow olives and briny gherkins—that will draw out the subtle, nutty flavors of the cheese. Either fresh or dried apricots would work here, too; the fresh bring a tart sweetness to the table, while the dried are a little bit more earthy and mellow. And since no board would be complete without some variety of meat or cracker, I'll include a funky, dry-cured salami and thick, salty triscuits.

crisp & spicy

With two sure-fire winners on the board, now's your chance to add a few wild cards (as in cheeses you've never tried before or cheeses with a flavor profile that might challenge your palate). First up: Danger Zone, a soft goat cheese spiked with brined jalapeños, onion, and garlic. I was very skeptical of this one at first, which meant I definitely had to try it. For fixings, I went with thick-cut radishes (I used fresh, but you could also pickle 'em), smoky dried chorizo, and pita chips. I also threw in a bit of hot pepper jelly for some extra heat, but any old hot sauce you have lying around would be great drizzled on top. The combination—and the cheese on its own, I should add—is spicy and delicious.

Sweet & herby

With a ton of spice and tang already happening on the board, for my last wild-card cheese, I'll opt for something totally different. Purple Haze immediately caught my eye. It's a fresh, subtly sweet and tangy goat cheese with—and here's that wild-card element—lavender and fennel pollen. It's board buddies work to enhance and offset that sweetness: herb-infused honey, crunchy endives, blueberries or raspberries (why not both?), make-ahead rosemary walnuts (or any nut mix, really), and a handful of salt-flecked pretzel crisps to round everything out. You could throw in a bit of funky chicken liver pâté for that meaty element, or if you want to keep it vegetarian, try a fragrant mushroom pâté.

What's your favorite cheese board pairing? Tell us in the comments below!

Mary Keehn first launched Cypress Grove in 1983, after a fresh goat cheese she perfected over her stovetop quickly caught on in her Humboldt County, California community. She started out with just two goats (Esmeralda and Hazel) and zero experience, but today, Cypress Grove has over 1,000 goats and produces a lineup of award-winning goat cheeses—from their popular Humboldt Fog and Midnight Moon to the one-of-a-kind Danger Zone and Purple Haze. In partnership with Cypress Grove, we're excited to share all the simply tasty ways you can enjoy goat cheese at every meal, from a loaded-up cheese board for dinner to a make-ahead salad (stay tuned!) you'll want to bring to every spring picnic.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • bellw67
  • Foodporncess
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    Kathy Trainor
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    Victoria Maynard
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    Sandy Alexander
Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.


bellw67 May 5, 2019
This is going to be my once a week dinner from now on. I need to get off the guilt trip of not cooking meat, potatoes and veg type dinners first. If I lived alone it would be cheese boards seven days a week.
Foodporncess April 12, 2019
I am literally reading this as I eat from a plate with triscuits, midnight moon, olives, and salami.
Kathy T. April 11, 2019
After getting married in 1971, during the time of fondue, we began doing a cheese tray with some of the same things you and your family enjoy. Bravo !! You have given me even more things to try. The spicy jelly was used with cream cheese, but now I can see there are choices I never thought of. Thanks loads.
Author Comment
Erin A. April 12, 2019
Yay! I'm so happy to hear that, Kathy 😊 I love that the possibilites are pretty much endless when it comes to cheese boards 🧀
Victoria M. April 11, 2019
In my house (I live alone) we call this "Feast". I have Feast for dinner at least once a week! I love Humboldt Fog but I am intrigued to try some of the other cheeses you mentioned.
Author Comment
Erin A. April 12, 2019
I love this—I'm calling my cheese board for dinner "Feast" from now on.
Sandy A. April 10, 2019
It’s fun and delicious! 😋
Hands down the best!! 🙌
Author Comment
Erin A. April 12, 2019
Hi mom! Can't wait for our next one—you'll love this jalapeño goat cheese 😋💖
Lore D. April 10, 2019
I would add Stilton Blue.
Lizzie G. April 10, 2019
I will dream about this cheese board tonight
M April 10, 2019
This works really well Spanish-style -- marconas, piquillos, pickled onions and other jarred Spanish vegetables, jamon, manchego, etc.
Author Comment
Erin A. April 10, 2019
That is such a tasty idea! We'll have to do a Spanish-inspired board next time I'm home.
Sarah H. April 10, 2019
The idea of a cheese board as family dinner occasionally is certainly liberating and appealing. With the addition of cut fresh vegetables to the mix for crunch and fiber I am sold and confident that my family would be too.
Author Comment
Erin A. April 11, 2019
Yes! While we're not as big on the veggies at my house (we're all about cheese and bread lol!), a little bit of fresh crunch is always a great addition.
TXExpatInBKK April 10, 2019
We do this! My boys are only 3 and 5 and sometimes I struggle to find a dinner option we all like and aren't tired of. We call this "snacky dinner" and I'll put out cheeses, meats, crackers, fruit, and popcorn. My kids ask for it almost once a week.
Author Comment
Erin A. April 12, 2019
Snacky dinners are the best!