A cheese board, also known as a cheese platter or charcuterie board, is an appetizer typically served on a wooden board, stone slab, or large platter. It features a selection of cheeses, cured meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, jams, pickles, breads and crackers that guests can graze on.
Cheese boards make great starters for dinner parties, cocktail hours, holidays gatherings, and more. They offer something for everyone and allow guests to taste a variety of flavors in one place. Best of all, cheese boards require no cooking and can be customized based on the seasons, themes, or what you have on hand.
The History of Cheese Boards
Cheese has been around for thousands of years, but serving it on boards gained popularity rather recently. Charcuterie boards originated in 15th century France, where shops specializing in preserved meats became gathering places to enjoy cured meats and cheeses over wine or beer.
In the 19th century, the cheese course was common at formal dinners in France, Britain, and America before being largely replaced by dessert at the end of the 1800s. However, cheese and charcuterie remained beloved fare for the working class throughout Europe during this time.
The practice of lavish, photogenic cheese boards exploded with the rise of social media in the 2010s. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest made sharing beautiful platters easy, turning cheese boards into an artistic form of their own. However, boards can range from humble to decadent depending on one's taste and budget.
How to Build a Cheese Board
Building a cheese board is fun, easy, and customizable to your event or personal tastes. Follow these tips for foolproof platters every time:
Choose 3-5 Cheeses
Select a mix of soft, semi-soft, aged, creamy, crumbly, funky, mild - whatever you enjoy! Try to incorporate a blend of cow, goat and sheep's milk cheeses. Let texture and flavor vary so there's something for everyone. Slice firm cheeses ahead of time.
Add Cured Meats
Salami, prosciutto, chorizo—a few slices of charcuterie instantly elevates a board. Fold or roll meats attractively to save space.
Include Crackers or Bread
Provide a crunchy, starchy element with crackers, baguette slices, breadsticks or crostini. Vary textures and flavors.
Fresh and Dried Fruit
Grapes, berries, figs—fruits add vibrant colors, flavors and nutrition. Dried fruit offers concentrated sweetness.
Nuts and Olives
Walnuts, almonds, pistachios—nuts satisfy crunchy cravings. Olives offer a briny, salty bite.
Sweet and Savory Accompaniments
Jams, chutneys, honey, mustard—anything that perfectly complements cheese. Cornichons and pickled veggies also welcome.
Herbs, Vegetables, Spreads
Get creative with spices, edible flowers, roasted veggies, pesto, whipped ricotta—you choose!
Cheese Board Tips
Building stunning, delicious cheese boards is mostly about having fun and getting creative. But these pro tips will help you take your platters to the next level:
- Set out cheeses 30-60 minutes early so they soften. Serving cold, firm cheese diminishes flavors.
- Slice hard cheeses ahead of time for easier snacking. Keep soft cheese whole.
- Vary textures from creamy and spreadable to aged and crumbly.
- Fold or roll charcuterie into fun shapes to save space and add interest.
- Scatter fruits and nuts—don't pile them. Fills in gaps beautifully.
- Always add a pop of color and crunch with fresh produce.
- Replenish popular items as needed so the board looks bountiful.
- Left out too long? Swap in a backup board so cheese stays fresh.
- Most importantly—have fun designing it! There's no wrong way to assemble a tasty platter.
Seasonal Cheese Board Ideas
Another benefit of cheese boards? You can customize them to every season or holiday by using peak produce and timely themes.
Fall Cheese Board
Apples, pears, grapes, pumpkin butter, fig jam, fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs, roasted nuts
Winter Cheese Board
Pomegranate seeds, blood orange slices, cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts, chocolate chunks, fresh rosemary
Spring Cheese Board
Asparagus, radishes, baby carrots, fresh berries, edible flowers, herb sprigs, flower-shaped crackers or breads
Summer Cheese Board
Cherry tomatoes, stone fruits, melon, fresh basil, balsamic glaze or reduction, frozen grapes
Christmas Cheese Board
Clementines, cranberries, gingerbread people crackers, pine sprigs, poinsettia flowers or holly leaves
Easter Cheese Board
Pastel crackers, jelly beans, Peeps®, carrots, radishes, spring produce, edible flowers
Get creative with your seasonal boards—they make fantastic edible centerpieces!
Key Takeaway: Customize your cheese board to the seasons by using peak produce and timely themes.
How Much Cheese Do You Need?
Wondering how much cheese and accompaniments to buy for your crowd? Use these guestimates:
- For an appetizer, allow 2-3 ounces of cheese per guest
- For a meal, allow 4-5 ounces of cheese per guest
- Buy more cheese than meat or bread since they're the stars
- Offer 2-4 charcuterie varieties in smaller quantities
- Bread, cracker or nut quantities depend on preferences
- Round out with produce—fresher and more colorful the better!
And if you have leftovers? Bonus midnight snack!
Key Takeaway: For appetizers allow 2-3 ounces cheese per guest; for meals allow 4-5 ounces per guest.
Making Cheese Boards on a Budget
Gourmet cheese and charcuterie can be expensive, but crafting boards on a budget is totally doable. Follow these money-saving hacks:
- Stick to 3 cheeses max—maybe a cheddar, brie and blue
- Skip the fancy meats and grab basic salami and deli turkey
- Buy cheese from warehouse stores or counters with affordable options
- Use everyday crackers like Ritz or Wheat Thins
- Omit pricier nuts and fill in with more seasonal fruit and veggies
- Supplement with quick pickled vegetables you make at home
For example, a budget-friendly board for 10 could include:
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- Deli salami
- Bagel crisps
- Quick pickled carrots
- Strawberry jam
How long can cheese sit out for a cheese board?
Cheese tastes best at room temperature. Leave it out 30-60 minutes until slightly softened. Keep soft cheese towards the end.
What kind of knife do you use to cut cheese?
Use a sturdy chef's knife for hard cheeses. Softer cheeses are easily spreadable with a dull butter knife. Provide one of each for convenience.
Do you refrigerate leftover cheese board?
Yes, cover tightly and refrigerate leftover cheese and meats within two hours. Fruit and veggies also last longer chilled.
How do I prevent cheese from molding too quickly?
Wrap leftover cheese well in parchment or wax paper followed by a seal of plastic wrap. Try to minimize air exposure. Don't submerge cheese in water.
From their rich history to modern incarnations, cheese boards bring people together over the simple pleasures of wine, cheese, charcuterie and conversation. Learning how to build the perfect platter for any occasion is easy and fun.
Customize your board to the seasons, occasions, or anything you desire with endless cheese varieties, produce, cured meats, crackers and accompaniments.