The beloved and always appropriate cheeseboard. Most likely, you will encounter the time and place where you will have the desire or necessity to construct one. I certainly have, and never — not once — have two boards been the same. It is versatile and adaptable, self-sustaining and a good choice for an evening of savoring alone or for a potluck. Let’s classy it up!
Before we begin this sweet and savory journey, which ends in a gorgeous and delicious cheeseboard, please find the definition below and apply.
Architecture: Art and technique of designing and building, as distinguished from the skills associated with construction. The practice of architecture emphasizes spatial relationships, orientation, the support of activities to be carried out within a designed environment, and the arrangement and visual rhythm of structural elements, as opposed to the design of structural systems themselves. Appropriateness, uniqueness, a sensitive and innovative response to functional requirements, and a sense of place within its surrounding physical and social context distinguish a built environment as representative of a culture’s architecture.
Architecture, you ask? Why yes, Frank Lloyd Wright himself has nothing on you when it comes to The Cheese. We will build the archetype for creating a structurally sound cheeseboard. It begins with engineering (from the Latin ingenium, meaning “cleverness” and ingeniare, meaning “to contrive, devise”). Ingenuity and an open mind are everything. I ask each of you to access the mathematical and scientific side of your brain while allowing your designer and food creative out to play. Few offerings tell so much about a person’s style and personality than cheese. I really appreciate that this does not have to cost a lot to add a quality that is unique. With a little thoughtfulness and a lot of beauty, you can turn an appetizer into a work of American artistry.
Get the when and where — ask yourself the time of day. Indoor or out? What season is it? Then make your decisions accordingly. For instance, a happy “hard” cheese is kept at an ideal temperature of about 59 degrees, otherwise the cheese may dry out and the corners may bend, losing moisture and flavor and leaving the texture undeniably not sensuous. Cheese is sexy and should remain so from beginning to end. If it’s an outdoor function and a hot summer day, perhaps a selection of soft and semi soft cheeses, like Taleggio and Muenster, is a better choice.
Get a head count — how many people are you entertaining? Mind you, The Cheeseboard serves as entertainment, too. It is my go-to best choice for social lubricant, next to booze.
Quantity — I use a ratio of four ounces per person. For example, if there are ten people I am sure to bring forty ounces of cheese. With accompaniments, this should be more than enough.
Select the board — a “dais” or platform is a term used in architecture. Because this is the foundation of your structure, this needs to be sturdy and roomy enough to not crowd cheeses and their vital accompaniments. I like to use a mix of natural and unnatural elements. If feng shui was ever a consideration, now it is. I like a wooden board, either a live edge stump (just cut it off of a neighbor’s tree) or a fine piece of teak wood that has been sanded many times and sealed.
Laying the groundwork — you will want a variety of cheeses. Some hard cheeses with a low moisture count. Soft melty, overly ripened cheeses. Choose a diversity of cheeses based on the type of milk used to prepare the cheese, e.g., sheep, goat, buffalo, camel, yak and even reindeer milk, which is common in Scandinavia and has a very high (22%!) fat content. Not to mention vegan cheese — some made of coconut milk have come a long way. And local artisan cheeses are a fantastic conversation piece. Choose by textures and tastes.
Three things to remember while selecting cheese: First, explore all the possibilities. Second, acknowledge all of your senses. Third, take a chance on an unfamiliar.
A few I use:
■■A true Italian gorgonzola — soft, creamy (cow)
■■Beecher’s Flagship — a mild hard cheese, nutty, grainy (cow)
■■Smoked aged Gouda — a semi-hard cheese (cow, sheep, goat)
■■Something sweet — honey, maple, lemon curd, Nutella, preserves
■■Something pickled — cornichons, olives, pickled onions, beets, kimchee
■■Something peppered — add red pepper berries over Chevre (goat cheese), peppery crackers, spicy greens like arugula
■■Something crunchy — radishes, fried leeks, root chips, crackers, hearts of palm, nuts (candied or spiced)
■■Something fresh — figs, apples, berries, herbs
■■Something salty — anchovies, salted dark chocolate
■■Something Charcuterie — Soprosatta, Salami, chorizo, prosciutto, ham, bacon
Break ground and build it — Please allow cheeses to come to temperature one hour before eating. It will taste better. But work with them cold. They are easier to work with and will not become misshapen.
Create an arris, a sharp edge where two objects meet. This can be a triangle of cheese where the cheese and board line up.
Create a buttress. Though in architecture, this is usually made of stone or brick, here use an interesting shaped edible (I used a cracker) and build a supportive structure for something else to lean against.
Create articulation, the manner or method of jointing parts such that each part is clear and distinct in relation to the others, even though joined.
Color is good. Have you ever been to a party where the host serves that plastic plate covered in white cheese and white crackers? Not enticing at all. Rather, choose the board and its elements and let the natural beauty be seen, by not smothering it entirely with a one-dimensional item. Allow some space between the accompaniments, a minimalist view. Innovate.