Pro tips on creating the perfect holiday cheese board

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A cheese board from “Cheese Boards to Share: How to Create a Stunning Board for Any Occasion.” Photo credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small

The fall and winter holidays are fast approaching, so you might find yourself often wondering what to bring to parties. 

Writer Thalassa Skinner suggests reviving the art of the cheese board. She’s compiled 25 themes in a new book titled “Cheese Boards to Share: How to Create a Stunning Board for Any Occasion.”

 The front cover of “Cheese Boards to Share: How to Create a Stunning Board for Any Occasion.” Credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small

“I think people make it harder than it needs to be. And I think the whole point of this book is to give one concept, and then just allow yourself to have fun with it,” she tells Good Food. 

Here are Skinner’s tips for creating the perfect board for any party: 

1. Know who you’re serving 

“Envision who you're serving, and how many people you're serving. Say “who are these people?’” advises Skinner.

2. Play with color 

“The reason I went with themes is that there are things like color. So just make it fun. Go for what is really eye-catching and explore with that,” says Skinner. 

Credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small
3. Less is more 

Skinner has a board that focuses on a single large piece of cheese, rather than multiple varieties. “Taste it and then say, ‘What accompaniments should I put with it?’ Then that's really where your cheese board is going to be shining,” she says. 

You can surround your cheese with roasted or unroasted nuts, dried fruit, jams, honey, cured meats, beverages. 

A cheese board with drinks. Credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small
“Under the Stars” cheese board. Credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small

What single cheese would she recommend for a group of four to six people, who are sophisticated and don’t stint when buying nice things to eat? Skinner says she immediately thinks of a clothbound cheddar -- because it’s something people can keep nibbling at.

4. Be creative, but don’t overdo it

One cheese board style that’s popular, at least in LA these days, is to cover the entire board with stuff. Skinner says if you want to be that creative, just go to town and have fun with it. 

“But what I like to do is let the cheese talk. I don't want it to be lost amidst a whole bunch of other things,” she cautions. “And I also personally get a little daunted by ruining such a display.”

“My goal with my book is to make it simple. And if you start getting more and more creative with this, then great, do the all-out showstopper that's going to be crazy. But if you don't want to do that, it's okay,” she assures. 

Rioja & Allspice Pears
Makes 8 cups (64 FL OZ.)/1.9 L

The Rioja wine gives a dark, intense color to these pears, as well as a robust and pleasing taste. Allspice brings all of the flavors together, making them a spectacular addition to any cheese board.

Rioja pears. Photo credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small

Ingredients

  • 3 cups/710 ml Rioja 
  • 1 cup/200 g brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 8 firm pears, cut into quarters and cored
  • Sterilized glass jars with airtight lids 

Instructions 

-Pour the Rioja into a saucepan and add the sugar, allspice, and orange zest. Bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the pears to the pan and cook gently for five minutes. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and pack into glass jars, leaving a ¼-inch/5-mm space at the top.

-Pour the hot Rioja syrup over the fruit and carefully tap the jars on the countertop to get rid of air pockets. Wipe the jars clean and screw on the lids. Seal the jars. The pears will keep for up to one month.

Candied Almonds
Makes 2 cups/300 G

These moreish nuts are very slightly spicy and sweet with brown sugar and maple syrup, a great foil for the savoriness of blue cheese especially.

Candied almonds. Photo credit: Erin Kunkel © Ryland Peters & Small

Ingredients

  • 2 cups/270 g raw almonds, skin on
  • ½ cup/100 g dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup/60 g maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 tablespoon sel gris, coarsely ground

Instructions 

-Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) Gas 5.

-Mix all the ingredients except for the sel gris together in a bowl until the almonds are well coated. Spread the almonds on a non-stick baking sheet and bake in the pre-heated oven for five-eight minutes. The sugars will bubble and turn a darker color.

-Remove the almonds from the oven and stir with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle with sel gris and set aside to cool on the baking sheet. As they cool, the sugars will begin to harden. When the almonds have cooled, serve them in a bowl with your cheese board. The nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.

--Written by Amy Ta

Credits

Host:
Evan Kleiman

Producers:
Nick Liao, Joseph Stone, Laryl Garcia