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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.