Are you tasked with making a holiday cheese board this year? What luck! Making cheese boards is one of my favorite things to do. You can keep it really simple with one really amazing cheese, plain crackers, and a spread (one year I just put out a wedge of Brillat-Savarin and crostini), or you can really do it up by combining a whole bunch of cheeses, crackers, fruits, and other accompaniments.
A good rule of thumb is to choose three to five cheeses with different flavors and textures. Think sharp and crumbly (such as cheddar or Parmesan), soft and bright (like goat cheese), firm and nutty (such as Manchego or Gruyère), tangy and funky (a blue), or ripe and oozy (a Brie).
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Here are some favorite cheeses from the Cook’s Country team and the reasons we love them.
After traveling to the Netherlands in my early 20s, I fell in love with aged gouda. This mature cheese has caramelly and nutty notes, with bits of crunchy calcium lactate crystals (similar to Parmesan cheese). In most of the local pubs, you can find bite-size chunks of aged gouda served with mustard and a refreshing beer. When I finally found it in the United States, I had to put it on every cheese board. Simply wedge the tip of a paring knife into the waxy block and break it into a pile of craggy pieces. Serve with Dijon mustard or a little apricot jam.
–Amanda Luchtel, Test Cook
Many people think of Parmesan as an ingredient and not as something to be enjoyed as a table cheese. They’re missing out! A small block of salty, nutty, crunchy Parmigiano-Reggiano is a great counterpoint to soft, creamy, milky offerings on the board. Just make sure to have a sharp knife or cheese shaver so guests can enjoy thin pieces. Good Parm pairs well with not just crackers or bread but also apples, grapes, dried fruit, membrillo, or fig jam.
–Scott Kathan, Executive Editor
The name of this cheese comes from mi-mou, meaning “semi-soft.” I love that it falls somewhere on the spectrum between cheddar and Parmesan in its texture. I often flake it with a knife to get these ragged pieces. It has a stunning orange color that makes it stand out on a cheese board. It tastes a little salty, tangy, nutty, and caramelly and is equally good with aged port, a stout, or champagne.
-Morgan Bolling, Executive Editor of Creative Content
Every time I eat Piave, a hard cheese from the Dolomite Mountains of Italy, I think of a snackable Parmigiano-Reggiano—it has a full-bodied flavor not unlike our quintessential friend, and it shines equally well from the backseat of a board. I’m always stunned by the delicate balance it strikes between subtle, sweet nuttiness and intensely savory, fruity flavors (from its long aging process). For me, Piave is the perfect harmonizer to punchy jams, spiced meats, and other cheeses alike. It’s forgiving with the wine choice, too—I find that it pairs just as beautifully with a Bordeaux Blanc as it does with any Italian red.
–Kelly Song, Test Cook
Asking me to pick a favorite cheese is akin to asking someone to choose their favorite child—I just can’t do it. I love everything from Manchego and Ossau-Iraty to Pecorino al Tartufo and Brie. But I will sing the praises of one variety that can be underrepresented on a cheese board: goat cheese. People have strong love-hate feelings toward it. I happen to love it, and one of my favorites is Cypress Grove’s Midnight Moon. Midnight Moon is a buttery, nutty gouda-like goat cheese that’s usually sold in wedges. It has a sliceable rather than spreadable texture. With its caramel notes to smooth out the goat-y tang, it’s so good it might even appease the haters.
–Megan Ginsberg, Deputy Editor
Delice de Bourgogne
A go-to for me is Delice de Bourgogne. Made in Burgundy, this French bloomy rind triple-cream cow’s-milk cheese has a fat content of around a whopping 75 percent. The result is a slightly tangy cheese that is irresistibly smooth, rich, and creamy. I love pairing it with an ice-cold light-bodied white wine, a bottle of bubbles, or a locally brewed beer. When it is left to temper, this cheese spreads like a dream over crackers or fresh bread. Because it isn’t a total funk monster, Delice goes well with a wide variety of jams and jellies as well as salty cured meat. It also plays well with other cheeses, making it an excellent addition to any cheese board.
–Mark Huxsoll, Test Cook
When I’m assembling a cheese board, burrata absolutely must be included. This Italian cow’s-milk cheese is made from fresh mozzarella and cream. You get the best of both worlds—the outer casing is firm, while the inside is soft and creamy, filled with stringy curd and fresh cream. With a great, milky, buttery flavor that’s easily elevated by a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, this cheese is a simple indulgence when placed on top of good bread or crackers or paired with fresh fruit and salty meats.
–Lawman Johnson, Senior Photo Test Cook
Bayley Hazen Blue
One taste of Bayley Hazen transports me back to my first restaurant job, working garde manger and slinging beet salads and steak tartare. Bayley Hazen was a stalwart of our cheese selections, and for good reason: It has a dense, creamy texture with a nutty, almost spicy flavor; its in-your-face aroma is a blue cheese–lover’s dream. Whenever I’d carve off a wedge for a cheese plate, I’d hope that a rogue chunk would fall off so I could tuck it away for a cook’s treat during a pause in service. We served it with raisin bread, honey, and candied hazelnuts; I’ve tried it every which way since, and I still don’t think there’s a better combo.
–Jessica Rudolph, Senior Editor
Chabichou du Poitou
My go-to cheese board cheese—and favorite cheese of all time—is Chabichou du Poitou. It’s a small, spreadable goat cheese with a tangy, wrinkled gray-blue rind; a decadent, gooey outer edge; and a dense creamy center. Production of the artisanal cheese, which takes place only in select regions of western and central France, is standardized and strictly controlled. The flavor is relatively mild and crowd-pleasing, ranging from nutty, savory, and buttery to bright, acidic, and sweet. Soft enough to be scooped up with a sturdy cracker, Chabichou is also heavenly when spread onto warm crusty bread with a drizzle of honey.
–Matthew Fairman, Senior Editor
Torta del Casar
I love sheep’s-milk cheeses for their pungent, tangy funk. One of my favorites is Torta del Casar, made from raw sheep’s milk in the Extremadura region of Spain. It’s curdled with a coagulant extracted from cardoons (wild thistles) and shaped like a little cake. Slice off a circle of the rind from the top and scoop out the gooey deliciousness. It’s so good with dried fruits, dried apricot compote, and almonds.
–Nicole Konstantinakos, Deputy Food Editor
I’d describe the flavor of spruce-wrapped Harbison as pungent sweet cream combined with assertive saltiness. The texture is one of the main selling points, though. Left out for a couple hours before serving, the cheese takes on a gooey, partially melted quality that smears easily on crostini and allows its richness to coat the mouth with each bite—perfect with a glass of chilled rosé. But the most important thing about Harbison is knowing how to prepare it. You cut a thin layer of the rind off the top to expose the inside, then dig in with a small spoon or cheese knife. Sometimes when no one’s watching, I just dip my crostini right in there. For my birthday, I eat a whole wheel of Harbison by myself. It’s the best birthday gift I’ve ever given myself.
–Bryan Roof, Editorial Director
Some Helpful Cheese Board Tips
- Plan on 2 to 3 ounces of cheese per person; for a party, it’s always better to have too much cheese rather than too little. We recommend storing leftovers by wrapping them first in parchment or wax paper, and then in foil. Or you can buy specialty cheese bags or paper.
- Let the cheese sit at room temperature, covered, for 1 to 2 hours before serving so that its full flavor can develop. In a pinch, you can quickly soften creamy cheeses such as Brie by placing them in a tightly sealed zipper-lock bag and submerging them in 80-degree water.
- Select mostly neutral breads and crackers that won’t compete with the cheese; one or two flavored options can add extra interest, but don’t go overboard.
- Fill in the gaps with carefully chosen extras, making sure to include something sweet (honey, dried fruit, yogurt-covered pretzels, or chocolate squares), something snacky (nuts, olives, cornichons, fresh fruit, or crudités), and something spreadable (mustard, jam, caramelized onions, or pesto).