Cheese Board Making 101 (a.k.a. How to make a cheese board in 10 minutes or less OR How to make a cheese board without breaking the bank) is simpler than you might think. When it comes to making cheese boards, the possibilities are truly endless. Whether I’m pulling together a late night snack, an easy lunch, or appetizers for 20 people, cheese boards are my choice for every occasion.
A few years ago, my friend Maegen came to visit along with some other great friends. (Hi! Rebecca, Meseidy, Lynne, and Christi!) Maegen made us a fabulous cheese board while she was here and she made it look so easy. As it turns out, it really is that easy!
Cheese boards can be as fancy as you’d like, but most of the time, my boards are pretty simple. 2-3 meats, 2-3 cheeses, a pile of crackers, and a few handfuls of snack foods that I pull from whatever is stashed in the pantry. You can pull something together in about 5 minutes or spend half an hour assembling something fancy. I lean towards the quick and simple in pretty much every aspect of life, so I’ll give you one guess how I make a cheese board most of the time.
The secret to a great board? Just pile it on there. In all seriousness, you might not think you have what it takes to pull together a great board, but I bet you do. If you’re a fan of fancy meats and cheeses, go for it with all your favorites. Sometimes our boards cross the line to fancy, but most of the time, my kids ask for a cheese board lunch (a.k.a. snack lunch) and I just use whatever is on hand.
Our everyday cheese boards usually wind up with a couple different deli meats folded into piles, some sliced cheddar, a wedge of brie (if it happens to be in the refrigerator), peanut butter pretzels, assorted bits of leftover crackers, and whatever fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts are in the house.
I went to my Instagram account to pull some photos of the cheese boards I’ve shared. When I hit 25 photos, I realized that there is probably a reason why people always ask so many questions about our cheese boards. Every time I share a snap or Instagram story of our cheese boards, I get a bunch of questions about my favorite things to pile on the board.
So, this is a very long list of everything we use. And NO, all of this does not get used at the same time. (Not unless you’re feeding a small army.) As you can see from the huge variety of boards I’ve shared on Instagram over the past few years, there are rarely two boards just the same, but there are a lot of favorite foods that show up frequently.
When you’re ready to build your board, start with the cheese. When I’m building a board for at least 5-6 people, I typically use 3 varieties of cheese. Ideally, there will be a mild, medium, and strong cheese. For my family that could be a mild brie, a medium or sharp cheddar, pepper jack, and a stronger or funkier smelling cheese like Humboldt Fog, stilton, bleu cheese, or a goat cheese.
We love Cabot’s Everything Cheddar and the Unexpected Cheddar from Trader Joe’s. During the holidays, we especially love the cranberry goat cheese, also from Trader Joe’s. For a frugal tip, splurge on a small chunk of your favorite fancy cheese and fill out the rest with the much less expensive brie and cheddar options.
For the meat, my favorite thing to buy is the 3-pack of charcuterie meats from Trader Joe’s. It’s super affordable and gives a great variety without breaking the bank. If there isn’t a Trader Joe’s in your area, just ask at the deli counter for about 3 ounces each (very thin slices) of your favorite meats. I also like to pick up one hard salami each time because that’s always a favorite with my boys.
You really don’t need much meat. Just a little scattering of meats on the board for salty savory bites. Capocollo, prosciutto, salami (there are countless varieties of hard and soft salami that you can try), plain old ham, turkey, and roast beef will work as well. Don’t be intimidated by all of the choices. A hard salami runs about $5 and when you slice it thin it will fill a lot of space on the board.
Like I do with the cheese, I usually splurge on one fancier meat and fill in the rest with the more budget-friendly choices. Those skinny little meat sticks that show up on almost every one of our boards are these Citterio Italian Salame sticks.
Next, I pile on a few different crackers. I like to use a basic sea salt cracker, a multigrain or wheat cracker, and then a nutty cracker that’s filled with dried fruits or other more unusual ingredients. (The unusual crackers pictured on almost every board are the Raisin Rosemary Crisps from Trader Joe’s.) I add pickles and olives in little bowls most of the time so that their juices won’t mix with any of the other ingredients.
Little pinch bowls with a spicy jam and a sweeter option, honey, mustard, fresh vegetables, dried fruits (apricots, apples, banana chips, oranges, pineapples), nuts (we love the rosemary Marcona almonds and the candied walnuts from Trader Joe’s as well), and fresh fruits are all added according to what I have on hand or what we are craving.
Some other random things I’ll add are roasted peppers, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, giant dried corn, pretzels, wasabi peas, edamame, pretty much anything goes from the snack section of the pantry. Sometimes I’ll add a cheeseball or a special dip, fruit salsa, or even these salad-on-a-stick skewers. (My kids love to help make those.) Sliced and toasted leftover baguette makes a nice addition as well.
Initially, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of ultra fancy boards that I had seen in restaurants and online. Now, when I plan to make a cheeseboard, I just try to add something new to try just for fun each time. And to clarify, planning a cheese board is different from throwing one together from the pantry. Both kinds of cheese boards are delicious, but sometimes it’s fun to get a little fancier with it and make sure you have all your favorite bites on hand.
For the cheese board pictured above, I purchased all of our favorite things and then poured some wine and shared the board with some friends. We’d just wrapped up a massive weekend of shooting recipe videos and it was the perfect way to end our night.
Kitchen Tip: I use a cutting board, a serving tray, or even this small sheet pan to make my cheese boards. Truth told, by the time you get it piled high with deliciousness, no one will even notice what you have used.