Here at Beecher’s, any reason is a good reason to build a cheese board. That said, with the holidays right around the corner and all the gorgeous fall produce that’s in season right now, we can’t think of a better time of year to try your hand at the art of the cheese platter.
To help you with your cheese board-making endeavors, we enlisted the expertise of chef and cheese monger extraordinaire Sarah Simms Hendrix, owner of LA-based Lady & Larder. Lady & Larder builds exquisite boards, works exclusively with American cheese and charcuterie producers, and sources all their produce locally from farmer’s markets. While she was on a Lady & Larder PNW tour, Sarah met up with us at our Beecher’s Pike Place Market location. Together, we tasted an array of Beecher’s cheeses and then selected local accompaniments from Pike Place Market.
Lady & Larder’s cheese boards have a way of turning heads. They are lavish, beautifully composed, and colorful— and we learned a lot about how to build one of these jaw-dropping boards from Sarah. Here are our top-five tips for building a cheese board that is sure to be the star of the show at your next holiday party:
1. Get to know the cheeses you’re going to be working with.
Here at Beecher’s, we are lucky enough to taste our cheese all the time, but we know that’s not the case for everyone. Make sure to talk to a cheesemonger about what you are looking for. Opt for a variety of styles of cheeses, and then before you get started on purchasing accompaniments for your cheeses, taste each cheese side by side, paying attention to what makes each cheese unique. Maybe one particular cheese has earthier notes that would pair well with fruit preserves, or caramel notes that would go nicely with nuts or honey. Take notes on the flavors that stand out in your cheeses and then think about flavors or textures that would either provide contrast or match the flavors of the cheese. Good pairings can go in either direction! For our cheeseboard we used Marco Polo Reserve, Flagship Reserve, Dutch Hollow Dulcet, and Flagship.
2. Shop locally, seasonally, and look for variety.
Buying fruit from a vendor you trust will make miles of difference. They’ll know what tastes best right now, and will likely only be carrying fruit, nuts, and vegetables that are in season. Not only is buying produce from your local farmer’s market more ecological, but the produce is undeniably fresher and tastier. Opt for a colorful array of fruits and an assortment of nuts. A variety of colors indicates that you’ll have a variety of flavors that will pair well with different cheeses, and also makes for a more beautiful board. We recommend choosing at least one honey or jam to go along with the fruit and cheese.
3. Anchor the cheese board with your cheeses, and build up from there.
It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed on where to start once you have all your cheeses, produce and other accompaniments purchased. But fret not - start with the cheese! Layer it around the board so that there is space between cheeses and around the edges to place the fruit and nuts. Don’t worry too much about straight lines or perfect piles, but do make sure to place the cheese all over the board you are working with. Then place any open jars (honey or jams) that you’ll be including. From there, you can start sprinkling a mixture of fruit and nuts, and building up those little piles of sweetness in order to make the board look really abundant.
4. Less is not more.
There is a time and place for a sparse cheese board with simple pairings, but if Lady & Larder is your muse, then that time is not now. One of the secrets to their incredibly beautiful boards is sheer abundance. Do not skimp on the quality of the product you are using, and then make sure to use lots and lots of it. Plentiful mounds of fruit, cheese, and nuts are your secret weapon to making the dreamiest of cheese boards.
5. Flowers are the perfect finishing touch.
Like the cherry on top, a dash of flowers, herbs, or greenery provide the important finishing touch. These little pops of color add the final flourish that takes your cheese board to the next level. Lady & Larder often opts for colorful, edible flowers like pansies or chamomile blossoms, but herbs and flowering herbs work well in a pinch, too. Notice how those little details make all the difference.