How to make the perfect cheese board for any special event

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A cheese board can — and should — include more than just cheese. Murray’s Cheese
  • Cheese boards are an exciting, versatile addition to any party, no matter how casual or formal.
  • There are no hard and fast rules for creating a cheese plate, but you can impress your guests by featuring cheeses with contrasting or a similar variety of flavours.
  • Tyler Frankenberg, customer experience manager at Murray’s Cheese shop in New York City, recommended portioning out one ounce to 1.5 oz of each cheese per person.
  • The mantra “What grows together, goes together” can help you select meats, nuts, fruits, and other accompaniments that will match well with your cheeses.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The cheese plate is, without a doubt, everyone’s favourite guest at a party. It’s approachable, welcoming, and, above all, always different. Plus, it’s incredibly versatile, whether it’s at a casual picnic in the park or a formal (socially distanced) garden party.

Crafting the perfect cheese plate is easier than you may think. There are ways to make the dish artful – one that balances flavours, textures, and has depth and range. You can elevate your plate to the highest form with complementary meats, fruits, spreads, and crackers, or you can have it be as simple as three to four cheeses. There really is no wrong way to do a cheese plate.

We spoke to Tyler Frankenberg, customer experience manager at the famous Murray’s Cheese shop in New York City, for his tips on how to begin to flex your cheese muscles and craft a wow-worthy plate.

“I get asked all the time at the pairing classes I teach whether it’s ok to mix and match the cheeses and accompaniments, and my answer is ‘absolutely yes,'” he told Business Insider. “The guidelines I’m offering should help you arrive at the most enjoyable pairings, but that’s not to say your favourite pairing is ‘wrong’ if it ‘breaks the rules.”

The only “right” answer when pairing cheeses and accompaniments, Frankenberg said, is what’s most enjoyable to you. In a nutshell, don’t worry, don’t overthink. Just slice, spread, and smile.

It all starts (but doesn’t end) with taste

The Mother's Day sampler from Murray's Cheese which features 3 pounds of assorted cheeses.
The Mother’s Day sampler from Murray’s Cheese features three pounds of assorted cheeses. Murray’s Cheese

Believe it or not, there are only five tastes that our taste buds can perceive: sweet, savoury (salty), sour (tart/tangy), bitter, and umami. Everything else that we experience as “flavour” is contributed by our sense of smell. (Test it out: Hold your nose the next time you taste something and you’ll see how muted it becomes).

“These five tastes are just the starting point when balancing a cheese plate,” Frankenberg said. “We want to taste with all of our senses, including smell, sight, touch, and sometimes even sound, in the case of crunchy crackers, cornichons, or the amino acid crystals that form in very firm cheese.”

Setting the tone: casual or formal?

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The Alp Blossom, here topped with honeycomb, is one of Murray’s fancier cheeses and coated with a mix of marigold, rose, and lavender petals. Murray’s Cheese

When it comes to cheese, there can absolutely be a vibe. It can be as unbuttoned as Ritz crackers and cheddar, or you can elevate the experience to a decadent and formal affair.

For a more casual cheese, Frankenberg recommended Aged Manchego,La Tur, or Cabot Clothbound cheddar.

“They are produced year-round with balanced, consistent, and familiar flavours, so they will be a hit at any gathering,” he said. These also offer a bit more bang for your buck, which is always something to keep in mind when shopping for a crowd.

If you’re ready to make your cheese plate a bit more haute, try fancier cheeses. “I think of formal cheeses as those I might have to put a bit more effort into appreciating because they’re only seasonally available, or because their flavours vary seasonally,” Frankenberg said.

He recommended Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Jasper Hill Harbison, and Montgomery’s Cheddar. “They are made with great care for the terroir of where they come from – the unique ‘taste of place’ that changes seasonally with the climate and their animals’ diets,” he said.

How to select complementary cheeses

Virtual Cheese Tasting
A cheese plate is not an exact science — a mix of either similar or contrasting flavours can both work. Murray’s Cheese

When selecting which cheeses to display, should they all be of a similar family, or is it better to play off of contrasting flavours? Again, there’s no wrong answer.

“Contrast pairings are a very straightforward way to highlight the unique notes that contribute to your cheese’s flavour profile, as well as deliver a uniquely satisfying experience with every cheese on the plate,” Frankenberg said.

For example, if one cheese has a light and smooth texture with a clean and tangy flavour profile, another cheese can swing more firm and fudgy, with strong aromas and flavours. For these contrasts, he recommended pairing Westfield Farm Capri with a Der Scharfe Maxx Extra.

“It doesn’t have to be ‘opposites attract,’ though,” he added. “If you love Brie and want to take your appreciation to the next level, try a plate of three to five different bloomy-rinded cheeses and explore their similarities until you can distinguish the nuances between them.”

One thing that’s important is to order cheese from least to most aggressive flavour – “From mild to wild,” as they say at Murray’s. “Offer palate cleansers like slices of fresh baguette or a wholesome cracker so that the flavour of each cheese stands on its own as much as possible,” Frankenberg said.

How to portion your cheeses

Cheese also goes great with any type of wine
Cheese also goes great with any type of wine. Murray’s Cheese

After choosing about three to five cheeses of a variety of milk types and styles, Frankenberg recommended portioning out one ounce to 1.5 oz of each cheese per person for a guided tasting. If you’re hosting a casual get-together instead, you can easily double those portions.

Serving the plate at room temperature is the best way to get maximum flavour. For hard cheese, pull them out of the fridge an hour before serving, and set the softer cheeses out a half hour before. Adjust accordingly if it’s a warm day.

Adding meat to a cheese plate

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Thin cuts of meat like salami, prosciutto, or jamon serrano offer a hearty addition to a cheese plate. Murray’s Cheese

A cheese plate can sing beautifully all on its own, but pairing cheese with a delicious selection of meat can absolutely raise the bar and bring a whole new series of experiences.

Pairing meat with cheese isn’t all that different from pairing cheeses with each other. Remember that contrasting or comparing textures and flavours enhance the experience.

“I love pairing Alp Blossom with Duck Mousse pate because the cheese’s firm, consistent paste and light, clean, floral flavour profile contrasts so well with the pate’s smooth, rich texture and fatty, gamy notes,” Frankenberg said.

He recommended the mantra, “What grows together, goes together” – meaning meats and cheeses (or wines, nuts, fruits, etc.) that come from the same region and are products of the same genealogy, climate, cultural, and agricultural tradition, often centuries or millennia of shared evolution.

“More often than not, this means they’re going to taste great paired together.”

Try, he suggested, a Basque cheese like Ossau-Iraty or Pyrenees Brebis alongside Jambon de Bayonne, or have Pecorino Toscano with wild boar salami.

What about fruits, nuts, and spreads?

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Finger fruits, like grapes, are an easy add to balance the heavier flavours on a cheese plate. Murray’s Cheese

Absolutely! Why not add more flavours, textures, aromas, and colours to the table?

“Choosing what exactly to have is a matter of rounding out the representation of those tastes we perceive with our taste buds and adding additional textural elements to the mix,” Frankenberg said.

Take feta and marinated olives, for example. They balance each other out beautifully. “Nuts like walnuts or Marcona almonds also tend to bring a nice smack of umami and sometimes a hint of bitterness to the table, and can be an especially textural contrast with sweet, buttery triple cream cheeses like Nettle Meadow Kunik,” Frankenburg said.

The cracker isn’t an afterthought

More than just a vehicle for your cheese, the cracker is just as important as the rest of the plate because it’s a great palate cleanser in between cheese and accompaniments.

“Crackers add a crispy or crunchy texture that you won’t find in any cheese, and therefore adds a contrast element,” Frankenberg said. “A flavorful cracker can be another solid pairing in its own right.”

Choose a cracker that’s simple, like a sea salt flatbread that’s made to go with cheese. He recommended brands like Firehook or Onesto– both are wholesome, sturdy, and flavorful without being overpowering. Onesto happens to be gluten-free and vegan as well.

Creating a cheese plate isn’t a perfect science. As long as you cater the dish to you and your guests’ own tastes and preferences, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.