'Tis the season for appetizer parties. You've got your crescent roll-wrapped weenie sausages, your queso and chips, your crudités, and the almighty crostini topped with all manner of delicious spreads. But king of all the apps is the almighty cheeseboard, overflowing with an artful array of cheeses, sometimes meats, spreads and dips, nuts, fruits, and garnishes that make it look almost too good to eat. Because constructing an Instagram-worthy cheese platter feel daunting, we've asked some of our favorites for their tips and tricks. With their help, you too can create a gorgeous platter that will become the centerpiece of the party.
Start With a Pretty Platter
Because it will eventually become visible as your guests enjoy the selection, start with a pretty canvas. Andrea Potischman of Simmer and Sauce suggests considering your canvas before you start. "To begin building a gorgeous board, first find the right board or platter to build on," she says. "Large cutting boards, marble slabs, slate boards, or large simple platters all work well."
Choose a Variety of Cheeses
Your guests will likely have a range of tastes in cheese and a variety looks prettier on the plate, too. Marissa Mullen of That Cheese Plate created a "cheese by numbers" technique to create the perfect platter. Step one is, of course, cheese. "I like to use a combination of something soft, something hard, and something stinky," she says. "This can be a Brie, gruyere and blue. Spread the cheese out on the plate so it has room to breathe."
Add Some Color
When shopping for cheeses, look at how they play together from a visual perspective. Ange from Scrumdiddliumptious Catering likes to choose cheeses with colorful waxed coverings or a pretty vein running through, like a blue cheese. Those will add interest to your platter, even before you get into fruit and garnish.
Slice It Up Nice
Don't just stick a few blocks on your board and call it a day. Slice your cheeses (and meats, if you have them) into a range of sizes and shapes—not only is this pretty to look at, it'll also make them easier to eat. Laura Nelling from Cheeseboard and Chill advises using different hard or crumble styles to serve as slices, triangles, or pieces and keeping softer or creamy cheeses whole on your platter. "Include dimension on your board by folding larger round meats in half twice to make a flower and layer across the board," she adds.
Create a Salami River
Step two in Mullen's cheese by numbers is what she calls a "salami river," or a row of meats like salami, soppressata or prosciutto down the middle to break up the cheese. "To create a salami river, fold a slice in half and in half again," Mullen explains. "Repeat until salami goes from one end of the board to the other, then curve in a 'river' shape." She adds that if you don't eat meat, you can make a "river" out of dried apricots, figs, or other fruits and veggies, too.
Get Versatile With Veggies
You're going to need some crunchy accoutrements to balance out the richness of cheese and meat. That's where fresh or pickled vegetables, dried or fresh fruit, and nuts come in and why Mullen's step three is produce. "Create small piles of similar produce around the board, leaving some space for for your crunchy items," she adds. Pickled additions like olives, capers, or pepperoncini add acidity and texture, too.
Don't Forget the Dips
Scattering some schmears or ramekins of dips adds a creamy element to your cheeseboard that also gives the cheese something to stick to when constructing the perfect cracker bite. Savory options like mustard or pepper jam work well, but you can pump up the sweetness with jam or honey to add both flavor and textural contrast. Potischman also likes olive tapenade, country pate, or roasted red pepper dip for additional flavor.
When In Doubt, Add More Meat
When creating a cheeseboard, more is more. Potischman likes to use at least three different kinds of meat to complement the cheese. "Remember to slice it ahead or buy it pre-sliced," she says, so your guests don't have to saw into it. "Keeping one item whole for guest to slice is fine, but no more than that."
Crunch Is Important
Where there's cheese, there must be crackers. Mullen notes that crackers and nuts add both crunch and extra dimension to your board. She likes to put a basket of crackers on the side for easy refilling, but sprinkle some nuts, breadsticks, and small crackers amongst the cheese for texture and visual interest, too.
Go for a Garnish
Finally, don't forget a pretty garnish to top it all off. Nelling suggests making your board pop with fresh fruit, herbs, and even edible flowers. Get seasonal and use sprigs of greenery around the holidays, fresh flowers for springtime, and fragrant herbs in the autumn. The only limit is your imagination.
Consider Taking a Class
If all of this sounds daunting, don't despair. Even the most artistically challenged can create a gorgeous cheese platter, and help is out there for those of us who just don't feel comfortable going it solo. "Try finding a local cheeseboard workshop to attend," Nelling suggest. "Lots of people who run cheeseboard based blogs and Instagram accounts are doing pop-up workshops to go more in depth on their favorite tips and tricks to make a beautiful board."