The One Piece of Advice You Need for the Best Cheese Board
We’ve partnered with California cheese maker Cypress Grove to highlight creative ways to incorporate one of our favorite ingredients—goat cheese!—into your holiday party spread.
Not to brag, but I’ve put together my fair share of ridiculously abundant cheese plates through the years. (I’d like to thank the one-two punch of formerly working at a fancy cheese counter and—shocker—really liking cheese.) Let’s just say, if you come over my house for dinner, rest assured there will be cheese.
Actually, in years past, it probably would have been more accurate to say: Rest assured there will be so much cheese you’ll be Thanksgiving-full before I even serve you the salad course. In my dairy-loving zeal, I could never choose between a barnyard stinker and a salty marbled blue; an ice-cream-like triple cream and a runny-meets-crumbly cave-aged goat; a nutty, crystallized aged gouda or a grassy clothbound cheddar. So I’d just get them all! (Easy solution, right?)
But in all honesty, as much as I love sampling a bit of this and a bit of that, all of that cheese on one board can be as overwhelming for the palate as it is for the plate.
So I’ve learned to reel it in: Instead of trying to hit every single flavor and texture note on the cheese spectrum for every dinner party (which can multiply pretty quickly), now I pick just one hero cheese that I know everyone will love. Then I build out the board from there with crackers, seasonal fruit, and a few extra doodads like homemade jam or compote, infused honey, or candied nuts that will all work well with the cheese, no matter how you mix and match the components for each bite.
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The end result is a win-win. It’s easier and cheaper, for starters. And with all those extras, you’ll definitely still strike all of the salty/nutty/crunchy/spicy/sweet notes. Plus, my cheese boards actually taste better because I can be a little more thoughtful about how everything interacts. For bigger parties, I’ll pick three cheeses instead of just one, but I’ll still build out three separate boards, making sure to spread them around the room. (That way my friends don’t all hover over one table, fighting each other for the spreader…another curse of the overcrowded cheese board!)
Below are a few of my all-time favorite combos, but you can apply the same principle to any of your favorite cheeses:
If you haven’t tried this one, I’m willing to bet you’ve admired it at the cheese counter. With a cakey white center, ring of cream around the rind (which gets runny and unctuous at room temperature when this cheese is ripe), and a line of ash straight through the middle, Humboldt Fog has a super distinctive look you’ll probably recognize. According to the artisans that make the cheese at Cypress Grove, it was inspired by the line of fog that hovers over the coastline in Humboldt County, California, where the cheese is made. (Perhaps the self-taught founder’s time in France, home to classic cheeses like Morbier—where the morning milk and evening milk were traditionally separated with a layer of vegetable ash—had something to do with it, too.)
- Fresh figs
- Savory wet nuts
- Cerignola olives
- Crackers with raisins, walnuts, rosemary
- Dried apricots
Why it works
Creamy and tangy, this cheese works with all sorts of stuff. Figs (which are also great with Midnight Moon below, by the way) and bright, buttery olives are a good place to start; dried apricots keep the colorful theme going. Because it’s a relatively mild cheese, a cracker with a lot going on—like raisins, nuts, and/or herbs—is a nice match. To top it all off, I love pairing Humboldt Fog with a homemade, savory take on wet nuts, which is a classic ice cream parlor topping usually made with honey or maple syrup and walnuts. Because, you know, this cheese is so lush it might as well be ice cream.
This cheese is plenty truffle-y without being too in-your-face pungent; in other words, it’s truffled cheese for people who think they don’t like truffles (and also people who already know they love them!). Soft-ripened, the buttery, almost whipped texture of this cheese really serves as a nice canvas for all that flavor. Leave the cheese out at room temperature for at least one hour before serving, and more time if you can. As the cheese softens, the truffle aromas loosen up and the texture only gets more velvety.
- Cornichons with lots of pearl onions
- Thick-cut, plain potato chips
- Salmon roe
- Buttery crackers
Why it works
You want big flavors that stand up to that tangy, truffle-y goodness, but you don’t want a shouting match. Anything super salty or briny is an awesome complement, instead of a competitor; when picking out the extras, think about what you might want inside or alongside a martini (and honestly, a martini would be a pretty good match here too). My dream bite is a thick-cut, salty potato chip topped with Truffle Tremor and pearls of salmon roe, chased by a super-briny cornichon or sweet-spicy peppadew.
A six-month aged goat Gouda, this was one of my favorite cheeses to sample out when I worked behind a cheese counter; it’s so darn likable that every time I asked someone to try it, they’d end up purchasing a big hunk. That’s because it’s a bit of a revelation—especially if you’ve never had aged goat cheese before. Similar to classic Goudas, it’s got a nutty flavor and those lovely, crunchy protein crystals that come from the aging process, plus a unique, goaty tang that’s all it’s own.
- Fig jam or caramelized onion jam
- Endive spears
- Apple and pear slices
- Oat crackers
Why it works
Midnight Moon plays well with a lot of other flavors, so you can’t really go wrong here. That’s why I like to throw a few different things on the plate so you can mix and match. In the fall, apple and pear slices make a sweet, fresh combo with the cheese. (Have you ever had apples with cheddar or gouda? It’s that idea, and it totally works here). I also like to offer a sweet something with a bit more complexity, such as a fig or caramelized onion jam, to play up the sweet-and-salty thing. Prosciutto makes an easy addition since it echoes a lot of the flavors—nutty, salty, umami—in Midnight Moon itself. Endive spears add a nice pop of color, fresh crunch, and a bitter counterpart, while toothsome oat crackers are a good match for everything on the table.
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If you still wind up somehow overdoing it (I often do) with your three hero cheese plates, don’t worry, you can find uses for all of these cheeses long after you’ve cleaned up the party. Midnight Moon is amazing grated and mixed in to anything melted, like a macaroni and cheese situation, or tossed with winter greens for a warm salad; Humboldt Fog is fantastic crumbled into salads or flaked on top of savory crepes; I recommend eating Truffle Tremor with roasted potatoes…or simply with a spoon.
When Mary Keehn first started making goat cheese, she had just two goats (Esmeralda and Hazel) and no experience. But after perfecting a fresh goat cheese over her stovetop, which quickly caught on in her Humboldt County, California community, she launched Cypress Grove Chevre in 1983. Today, Cypress Grove has over 1,000 goats and produces a variety of award-winning goat cheeses, like Midnight Moon, Truffle Tremor, and its most popular, Humboldt Fog. In partnership with Cypress Grove, we’re excited to share unique ways to bring goat cheese to your holiday table this season, from dips and spreads to fancied-up cheese boards.
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Author: Cory Baldwin”