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The 3 Best Cheese Boards for Summer Entertaining

July 7, 2020

The following cheese boards and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com. 

No party is complete without the obligatory cheese board. It’s the easiest thing possible to set on an appetizer table and guests invariably eat it all up… mindlessly and with no excitement. The problem with most cheese boards is that they’re thrown together without any thought or imagination. How many times have we encountered cubes of cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack tossed on a platter with a large cluster of grapes and a pile of Ritz crackers? This is a shame because beautiful, interesting, artisanal cheeses are being produced all over the world and many of them are featured in the Heinen’s Specialty Cheese Department. I’d like to show you how, with just a little effort, you can transform an ordinary cheese tray into something exciting and memorable for guests and family.

Variety is Important

When constructing a cheese board, the first thing to keep in mind is that variety is important. Don’t serve all soft, semi-soft or hard cheese. A tray of Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged Asiago and Pecorino-Romano, while all wonderful hard cheeses, are too close in texture and flavor to be an interesting offering to your guests, as would a plate of soft goat, burrata and brie cheeses.

The ultimate cheese plate has at least three cheeses of different textures such as a blue cheese, a soft goat cheese and an aged cheddar. This combination stays within most people’s comfort level and also caters to different tastes. I also like to shake it up by offering a board of goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses of varying textures to make it interesting. To expand any offering, a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a wedge of camembert or brie are always welcome as they are familiar and delicious, but I must encourage you to try something new. If you like Brie, try a Reblochon. If you like cheddar, try a French Mimolette. There are so many interesting cheeses from all over the world to explore and Heinen’s cheese associates are there to assist you with all the cheesy info you need.

Selecting Accompaniments

The cheese selection is only the first step in constructing a wonderful cheese board. The accompaniments, I think, are the fun part. Consider acidic elements like pickled peppers, pepperoncini, pickles, olives, capers and tart jams scattered over the platter for color and to cut the richness of the cheese. And yes, grapes do have their place, but so do fresh figs, sliced ripe pears and dried fruits such as apricots and dried cherries. Marcona almonds, those famous nuts from Spain, are my favorite nuts to scatter over a cheese board, but also think about cashews, walnuts, pistachios or candied pecans. After all, you are the boss of your cheese platter. To round things out, I like to add a little cured meat such as prosciutto, coppa or salami to each board as well. The point is to think outside the box when it comes to your cheese platter and turn something average into something that will inspire “oohs and ahhs” from the crowd. Think of your cheese board as the centerpiece of your party.

Crackers are another interesting feature on the board and though Ritz crackers are delicious, it’s nice to see the variety of shapes, textures and flavors available in the artisan crackers now available. Heinen’s Organic Fruit Crisp Crackers are a great addition to cheese plates as are the Firehook brand, pita chips, bruschetini and wheat crackers. Be sure to have gluten free options for those sensitive to wheat as well.

It’s best to allow cheese to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving in order to bring out the true character of the cheese. I usually arrange the board, cover and refrigerate, bringing it out a bit before the guests arrive so it has a chance to warm up . This allows me to arrange the board in a zen moment, making it pretty, so that I can effortlessly bring out the masterpiece later in the day.

Do remember that a little bit of these rich cheeses and meats goes a long way. About one or two ounces per person should do it as an appetizer, but if you’re serving a large group, appetites will invariably expand, so offer a bit more. If making a cheese board lunch (which I highly recommend for a Saturday afternoon), offer about three ounces per person.

The following cheese board ideas are to be used as a template. Once you get your inner cheese board sensei going, it will become second nature and super easy to arrange a beautiful assemblage of cheese, fruits and accompaniments. I’ve offered a few recipes to make your boards even more spectacular. The pickled cherries are like nothing you can buy which makes them really special on a cheese board. Prosciutto-wrapped peaches are another quick but impressive addition to any cheese tray and the sweet and spicy tomatoes with perline mozzarella topping makes it look like you worked hard, but you and I both know it was really pretty easy.

Above all, these boards appeal with their simplicity. So, relax. You can’t go wrong. It’s essentially a party on a plate. Follow these tips and you just might find yourself the coolest host with the most at your next party.

Quick Cheese Board Tips

  1. The best cheese boards are diverse. Try to offer a variety from soft to hard cheeses like gorgonzola, goat cheese, gouda, Manchego, aged cheddar and Parmesan. Go-to meats include prosciutto, salami, coppa, soppressata and chorizo.
  2. Remember that this is rich stuff and offer 1 to 2 ounces cheese per person.
  3. Take the time to make it pretty. Treat your cheese board like a centerpiece and use pretty platters, wooden cutting boards or marble or slate slabs as a base. Garnish with fresh herbs if you have them growing in your yard or use hosta leaves as the base.
  4. Make it interesting by adding complementary and contrasting flavors and colors like mustards, nuts, dried and fresh fruits and cured olives, peppers and pickles.
  5. Crusty bread, crackers, breadsticks and crostini will offer textural contrasts and provide a vehicle for carrying all of that great flavor to your mouth.
  6. You can arrange the platter ahead and keep it in the fridge. Pull it out about 30 minutes before the guests arrive so it has a chance to warm up slightly.
  7. Wines that pair well with cheeses include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé and Albariño for the whites and Pinot Noir, Chianti, Cȏtes du Rhȏne and basic red blends. They needn’t cost a fortune as there are lots of great tasting wines for under $20. Talk to your Heinen’s wine consultant for suggestions to suit your taste. For beer lovers, just about any of your favorite IPAs will go beautifully with cheese. Enjoy!

Cheese Board #1: Taste of the Mediterranean

This board contains many of my favorite flavors and it’s pretty as well.

It’s that easy: Purchase the prosciutto from Heinen’s Deli case as it will be thinner and more malleable to wrap around the peaches. The packaged prosciutto is firmer and more difficult to work with.

Start-to-Finish: 30 minutes
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe peaches, each cut into 10 slices
  • 10 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise to make long strips
  • Manchego cheese, waxy coating cut away
  • Paradiso Reserve Italian Style Cheese, rind cut away
  • Dried cherries
  • Dalmatia Fig Spread
  • Fresh figs, quartered
  • Praline Pecans
  • Marcona Almonds
  • Heinen’s Organic Thin Wheat Crackers
  • Cucina Viva Traditional Crostini

Instructions

  1. Wrap each peach slice with a long strip of prosciutto. Transfer to a plate and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble the cheese board.
  2. Cut the cheese into interesting, bite-size pieces.
  3. Arrange the prosciutto-wrapped peaches, cheese, nuts, fruit, condiments and crackers attractively on a platter, wooden board or slate. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before guests arrive so the cheese has a chance to warm up.

Click Here to Print the Ingredients and Instructions for the Taste of the Mediterranean Cheese Board.

Taste Of the Mediterranean Cheese Board

Cheese Board #2: A Taste of Italy

The spicy-sweet tomato and cheese relish takes this board to the next level.

It’s that easy: For extra color, use multi colored tomatoes.

Start-to-Finish: 1 hour
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pt. grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup Dickinson Sweet n’ Hot Pepper and Onion Relish
  • Pinch Salt
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 8 oz. perline mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Mayfield Road Creamery Smoked Gouda, rubbery rind removed
  • Parmesan Reggiano, rind removed
  • Burrata, drained and patted dry
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Peppadew peppers
  • Pepperoncini
  • Castelvetrano olives
  • Bruschetini Cracker Toasts
  • Cucina Viva Traditional Crostini
  • 1/4 lb. Columbus Genoa Salami

Instructions

  1. Bring the tomatoes, relish and salt to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 2 minutes or until the tomatoes soften slightly.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Let cool and stir in the mozzarella and basil. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or vinegar, if needed. It should be spicy and a little tart. Transfer to a small bowl with a spoon.
  3. Cut the cheese into interesting bite-sized pieces.
  4. Arrange the bowl of tomato relish, cheese, peppers, olives, condiments, salami and crackers attractively on a platter, wooden board or slate. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before guests arrive so the cheese has a chance to warm up.
Taste of Italy Cheese Board

Click Here to Print the Ingredients and Instructions for the Taste of Italy Cheese Board.

Cheese Board #3: Savory and Sweet

The chocolate on this board may be surprising, but your guests will love it paired with a bite of cheese and fruit or nuts. The pickled cherries are really wonderful and it’s a great time to make them as it’s cherry season now. They keep for weeks in the fridge so you will have plenty of time to use them up

It’s that easy: It takes a few minutes to pit cherries. Run a knife around the pit from north to south and pry half away, then pluck the pit from the other half. You can use a cherry pitter, but it smashes the fruit and you will still want to cut the cherries in half.

Start-to-Finish: 1 hour
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 branches fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Pinch red chile flakes
  • 1 lb. cherries, stemmed, halved and pitted
  • Supreme Brie
  • Mackenzie Creamery Chevre
  • Mayfield Road Creamery Havarti, rind removed
  • Honey Cashews
  • Dried Apricots
  • 1 pear, cored and sliced
  • Callebaut Dark Chocolate, cut into chunks
  • Toasted Crackers
  • Heinen’s Organic Fig and Raisin Fruit Crisp Crackers
  • 1/4 lb. Zoe’s Sweet Coppa, sliced

Instructions

  1. Bring the vinegar, sugar, thyme, salt and chile flakes to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cherries and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Pluck out the thyme stems. Cherries will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks.
  2. Transfer some of the cherries to a little bowl with a spoon.
  3. Cut the cheese into interesting bite-sized pieces.
  4. Arrange the bowl of cherries, cheese, fruit, chocolate, nuts and crackers attractively on a platter, wooden board or slate. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before guests arrive so the cheese has a chance to warm up.
Savory and Sweet Cheese Board

Click Here to Print the Ingredients and Instructions for the Savory and Sweet Cheese Board.

By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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