We're partnering with Hilton Garden Inn to help you bring hotel hospitality into your home with recipes (and not-recipes!) that are perfect for sharing. Here, we're taking a cue from Hilton Garden Inn's decked-out cheese boards—complete with Brie, prosciutto, tangy gherkins, and more—and learning from the pros how to make one at home.
While cheese plates have been around since the dawn of dairy, it seems like lately they’ve gotten bigger, more beautiful, and more bountiful than ever. It’s no longer enough to throw a couple of cheeses on a plate and call it a "cheese plate." Today’s design-forward boards are overflowing with crudités, crackers, and accoutrements, and feature tricks like “salami rivers” or color-coded arrangements.
Whether you’re looking for likes on Instagram or simply want to wow your guests at your next party, there are a few easy ways to step up your game, according to two of our favorite cheese plate experts: Yossy Arefi, food stylist extraordinaire and blogger behind Apt. 2B Baking Co., and Mackenzie Smith, an executive chef and blogger behind Grilled Cheese Social. Watch the video above for their best tips on how to arrange a picture-perfect cheese board and read on for the details.
While most people might be inclined to pick based on flavor or texture alone (think: cow + sheep + goat; salty + sweet + funky; melty + semi-soft + hard), our cheese plate experts suggest thinking about color and shape, too. “If I can, I also buy cheeses that are interesting shapes, like a pyramid of goat cheese or a little round of Brie,” shares Arefi.
According to Smith, three to four cheeses is just the right amount for a large board. “That lets you cover enough bases for each cheese to be different without overlapping styles,” she says. “I usually go with a squishy one like a Brie or Tallegio; a hard one like a clothbound cheddar or a Midnight Moon; an extra- hard one, like Piave or aged Gouda; and then a cheese with veins like a blue or Gorgonzola.”
While you can certainly go with whatever board you happen to have on hand, if you’ve got options or feel like picking out something new, the bigger, the better. "You want to get a board that’s big enough to have maybe four or five inches between each cheese," says Smith. "This will give you enough room to make a board that feels super lush."
Whether you're stuck with a smaller board or plan on hosting a smaller crowd, don't worry. "Even one or two cheeses can look great on a board with lots of fun garnishes," says Arefi. Fill up those empty spaces in between the cheese, she explains, and your board will never look wanting.
Instead of just slapping on your cheeses, your extras, and serving, our cheese plate experts both pointed out that it’s helpful to lay out a game plan before you do the shopping. This way, you can pick out accompaniments that look good together on the board.
“It makes a big visual impact to choose a limited color palate for the garnishes and work from there,” says Arefi. “For example, on a green plate you could add green grapes and olives, endive spears, sliced Persian cucumbers, chopped romanesco, snap peas sliced open so the peas are exposed, celery with leaves attached, a little bowl of goddess dressing...you get the idea.” Or maybe you want to go in the total opposite direction: Choose a whole range of colors, and arrange everything from light to dark or in rainbow order.
On the other hand, Smith likes to think of her cheese boards in terms of a flavor map. “I like to create two zones, with the sweeter dessert cheeses on one half of the plate alongside dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes chocolate; and the more savory cheeses that you're going to pair with pickle-y, salty, or briny items on the other side.” For a truly epic arrangement, you can divide the board into quadrants, adding one cheese, one condiment, and three complementary accoutrements inside each one.
Once you’ve decided on a direction, it’s time to go shopping for all the little things that will take your board over the top. As Arefi notes above, she likes to focus on color and seasonality—whatever goes with your theme and looks fresh and beautiful at the farmer’s market is a great place to start. “The most important thing is to choose a variety of shapes and textures,” she shares. “And if you have lots of crudités on the board, make sure there's a dip to go with.”
In addition to fresh fruit, crunchy bits like nuts, and condiments such as honey, mustard, and jam or compote, Smith swears by colorful pickles, olives, and dried fruits. A few of her go-tos include cornichons, bright red peppadews, pickled beets or carrots, and extra-large olives (like Castelvetranos). She also recommends grating orange or lemon zest over your olives, or including dried fruits like apricots, as a way to add another pop of color.
Another question to answer: to meat or not to meat? While Arefi likes to keep charcuterie and cheese separate in case she’s got any vegetarian guests, Smith pretty much always adds charcuterie to her cheese boards, selecting one type of meat to complement each cheese.
Slicing your cheese ahead of time invites your guests to dig in. As Arefi notes, “No one wants to be the first person to crack something open.” But it also gives you a chance to add some different shapes and textures to your board. “With cheeses that come in a block, it's obviously easiest to cut them into tiny squares,” says Smith. “But when a cheese comes in a wedge, it's easiest to cut those into the triangle slices. With a blue cheese, because it's so crumbly, I don't try to cut that at all. The more firm and semi-firms cheeses are definitely the ones that you're going to take advantage of using a different cut style.”
For anything you cut into slices, Smith recommends creating movement across your board by making a design out of overlapping layers. This is a trick she often uses to create a visual division between the two different flavor zones on her cheese boards. If you’ve never done it before or need some inspiration, Smith suggests checking out the Instagram feed That Cheese Plate or its offshoot, Cheese by Numbers, which frequently features something they’ve coined as a “salami river”—basically the same idea, with salami.
“When I'm arranging, I always start with the larger items like whole pieces of cheese, bowls or nuts or larger clusters of fruit or vegetables,” say Arefi. “Then I fill in the space with smaller items to add color and texture.” For Smith, it’s basically the same order: cheese first, then condiments, followed by extras, any layers to create movement, and finally finishing touches like herbs or flowers.
Both agree on the most important thing you can do: fill every square inch. The more bountiful your cheese board, the better.
Pull out all the stops at your next celebration with a show-stopping spread. In partnership with Hilton Garden Inn, where you can find alllll the cheese board inspiration, we're sharing recipe ideas, tips, and videos to help you take the hospitality home with you. From D.I.Y. flatbreads to a new take on a breakfast classic (hint: It's French and toasty!), there are so many ways to entertain, and Hilton Garden Inn can help you pull them off without a hitch.