How to Make an Epic Holiday Cheese Board
Learn how to make an epic holiday cheese board for all your entertaining needs! You can easily cut back, double, or triple the ingredients for the cheese board as needed. The BEST no-bake, no-cook holiday appetizer tray!
Welcome to my yearly entertaining post! Last year, I shared with you guys my homemade hot chocolate bar for entertaining. This year, I wanted to add a little something to the holiday entertaining menu with this easy holiday cheese board.
I don’t know about you, but up until a few years ago, cheese boards scared me. I mean, not eating the massive variety, but more like assembling a cheese board for a party. How do you know what cheeses go well together? What kind of crackers do I need? What about the board? And knives? Also, fruit/meat/nuts… what? The anxiety of it all basically kept me from making such an easy appetizer platter, but never again. I’m going to break it all down for you and we’re going to make you into a cheese board making whiz.
Whether it’s an intimate dinner or all all-out party, a holiday cheese board is a perfect appetizer to put out that requires zero baking/ cooking and guess what? It’s as simple as piling it all on a tray and letting your guests MAKE their apps. Seriously, this has to be the most polite way of tricking your guests into doing some of the work! Plus, it looks pretty! I don’t know about you, but when I’m entertaining, I like to keep the menu as simple as possible because there isn’t a whole lot of entertaining going on if you’re spending 70% of the time getting the meal together. Making a cheese board, allows you to take some of that pressure off.
What is a cheese board?
A cheese board is just a flat surface loaded up with a smallish variety of cheeses and accented with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, cured meats, fresh veggies, a variety of jams or spreads, bread or crackers, and briny olive bar snacks. Of course, you don’t have to use ALL of these things in your cheese boards either. A good rule of thumb is to use 3-6 cheeses and a handful of pairings. I like to omit the meat when I’ve got vegetarians coming or sometimes, I’ll add hummus for vegan friends.
Let’s start with the basic – the surface you’re going to use. Of course, if it’s just a couple of people, you can easily use a medium sized platter or a smaller cutting board. For larger parties, I suggest a slate (affiliate link), wood (affiliate link), or marble board (affiliate link). Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on a brand new board either. I’ve found french style cutting boards at local flea markets for less than $15 that I’ve kept exclusively for cheese boards. But also, don’t be afraid to use that metal cookie sheet that’s gained a few splatters over the years! It’s 100% free and it adds tons of visual appeal to your cheese board.
For cheese knives:
- Wood-handled (affiliate link): set of 4, cheese knife, shaver, fork, and spreader
- Stainless steel (affiliate link): set of 4, cheese knife, shaver, fork, spreader
- fresh: burrata and mozzarella, goat cheese or chevre
- soft: Brie, Humboldt fog, Neufchatel, Camembert
- semi-soft: Havarti, Port Salut, Munster, taleggio, and fontina (sometimes these are considered stinky)
- blue: Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, and Stilton
- firm: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, and Colby
- very firm: Parmesan and Romano
If you’re hosting a small get together, 3 types of cheeses are more than plenty! Be sure to use at least one cheese that’s familiar to most people, such as, cheddar, goat cheese, or mozzarella. I also suggest choosing a variety, I’d pick: 1 soft, 1 semi-soft, and 1 firm or very firm cheese. For parties of 12 or more, I typically pick 4-6 kinds of cheese. You’ll need about a total of 3 ounces of cheese per guest. So if you’ve got 6 guests, that’s just a little over a pound of cheese (18 ounces to be exact).
Not bad, right?
This is where you can really save! Cheeses need to be purchased fresh, preferably just a few days before your holiday get-together but the extras can be just about anything you like! So when your local market runs a sale on bulk nuts, stock up! Also, fresh, seasonal produce is always a good option if you want to make a cheese board on a budget! Check the pantry for what you’ve already got on hand and pair it with a couple of things from the store.
- Seasonal fruit: tangerines, pears, raspberries, blackberries, sliced apples, figs, and pomegranates
- Nuts: cashews, Marcona almonds, walnuts, candied pecans (affiliate link), salt and pepper pistachios (affiliate link)
- Olive bar: Castelvetrano olives (affiliate link), Kalamata Olives (affiliate link)
- Cured meats (salami etc.)
- Dried fruit: Dried apricots (affiliate link), Dried cranberries (affiliate link)
- Spreads: Honey with Honeycomb (affiliate link), Fancy jams (affiliate link), chutney
- Bread: Breadsticks (affiliate link), assorted crackers (affiliate link), ciabatta, multigrain crackers, water crackers, fig crackers, baguette
The Don’ts of Cheese Boards:
- Don’t overcrowd the cheese board. You want your guests to feel comfortable, so leave plenty of room to slice cheeses, pick up crackers, and grab a bunch of grapes without having your guests feel like they’ll mess up your masterpiece.
- Don’t go all out: remember how we talked about three kinds of cheese for a small gathering and 4-6 for a crowd larger than 12? Hint: you’re doing it wrong if you put out more variety of cheeses than the actual number of people attending your soiree.
- Don’t wait until the last minute: Unlike what usually happens with cold apps, make sure to give your cheese plenty of time to sit at room temperature before your guests arrive. I suggest setting up your cheese board about 45 minutes to 1 hour before you plan on serving.
- Don’t pair things for your guests, let them do it! You know that fantastic jam that your bestie brought back from France that you love with Brie? I know you think it’s the perfect accompaniment, but someone else may not. Instead, grab a cute glass jar, add the jam, maybe a small spoon, and give your guests the freedom to make it their own.
- Don’t be afraid to break the rules: Seriously, listen to your gut! If you feel passionate about something that I’ve said is wrong, do it! There isn’t just one right way to do things!
- Don’t wrap leftovers in plastic: Many wedges of cheese have been sacrificed this way. Instead, grab a square of wax paper to pack the cheese in, then cover with foil. The cheese will last much longer in the fridge this way!
Step-by-step cheese board making:
- Cheese: arrange the cheese first! Make cubes of cheddar cheese, slice a wedge out of the brie if you’ve got a wheel, thinly slice the parmesan, and face the rind of the cheese away from the guests, so it’s easier to get.
- Meat: use presliced meats as this makes it much easier. Fold and twist the circles, so they look almost like little flowers and tuck them near the cheeses.
- Fruit: Get colorful here! Grab grapes, figs, a pomegranate wedge, scatter small bunches of grapes and balance them out with berries on the other side.
- Olive Bar and Spreads: small ramekins or handmade bowls are great to load up with olives, jams, and chutneys. Place them randomly to draw more interest to your board. Look at the picture above or below, see how things placed in the bowls just jump out at you?
- Bread: this is a great chance to add some height! If you’re using breadsticks, grab a mason jar, add a few sticks to it and place it where you need the board to stand out a little more. Pile grilled bread or petite toasts near the veggies or fruit.
- Nuts and Herbs: fill in all the small holes with nuts or a sprig or two of rosemary.
- Finishing touches: last step! Place the cheese knives where it makes sense. Add small spoons (affiliate link) to the jams and spreads and a honey dipper (affiliate link) to the honeypot. For cheeses that are difficult to identify, you may want to add labels.
And that’s it! I hope you find this post helpful and I’m hoping I’ve inspired you to put together an epic holiday cheese board of your own. I also want to say that cheese boards aren’t just for the holidays. It’s a great way for people to mingle and help themselves, plus they look super fancy and require minimal effort on your part. Plus, people get really excited when they see a cheese board, or at least that’s been my experience.
Remember, these are all just guidelines, in the end, this is YOUR board, and you should make it how you like; the idea is to minimize the stress of holiday entertaining! Start with the cheese and work with what you’ve already got in the house. Pair a handful of accompaniments, and there you go.
Cheeseboard your way through the holidays!
- 4-ounces chevre
- 8-ounces Brie
- 8-ounces sharp cheddar cheese
- 8-ounces port salut
- 8-ounces gorgonzola
- cured meats, sliced (optional)
- fresh fruit: berries, grapes, tangerines
- dried fruit: apricots, cranberries, cherries
- nuts: almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts
- 1/2 cup kalamata or Castelvetrano olives
- jam, chutney, or honey
- 2 types of crackers (artisan or water)
- breadsticks or sliced baguette
- fresh rosemary, for decorating
- start with cheese: Start by arranging the cheese where you want it. Cube the cheddar, face the rind of the cheese away from the guests and slice a wedge out of the brie if you've got a wheel. Arrange the meat near the cheese, if using.
- add some color: Scatter the fruit in bunches next. Place small bowls around and add the olives, spreads, and honey to them.
- add the crackers and bread: Place crackers near the cheese (parring them as you think would work best with the cheese).
- final touches: Fill in any small holes with nuts or sprigs of rosemary. Place cheese knives where it makes sense, add spoons to jams and spreads. Add labels if you feel the cheeses are difficult to identify.
- Keep in mind you don't have to feel limited to the cheeses listed here. See the full post for tons of other options!
- Fruit, meat, nuts, dried fruit, jams, and crackers are all suggestions. You don't have to use all of them if you don't want to!