Sponsored by Arla USA Foodservice
Cheese boards, like the holidays, bring people together. An outstanding board can be a gathering place, a conversation starter, a beautiful centerpiece and, of course, delicious to eat. Now, a major food trend, cheese boards are a must-have for restaurants as an appetizer, bar snack or on a catering menu — especially during the holiday season.
While cheese boards are popular with all generations, they are a particular hit with millennials. This highly social generation likes to share food, experiences and photos, and is partly responsible for cheese board having its own hashtag on Instagram.
Follow these simple steps to achieve holiday cheese board success:
Step 1. Start with premium cheese
Hands down, the most important item in a well-executed cheese board is, not surprisingly, the cheese. And not just any ripened milk curds, but the good stuff — cheeses of exceptional quality and value. Depending on the number of guests being fed, featuring three to five cheeses on a single board is optimal. Variety is key, so choose cheeses with different textures (semi-soft, creamy, firm) and flavors (mild, tangy, sharp).
Here are five premium cheeses to try:
- Havarti. Every board needs an anchor, a cheese that is guaranteed to please a crowd. Always a favorite, this semi-soft, tangy Danish cow’s milk cheese is on the order of a Swiss cheese, only better. Similar in flavor and texture to Gouda or Emmenthaler but with a lighter touch, Havarti is loved by young palates and mature cheese eaters alike.
- Mimolette or similar firm cheese. This French cheese is intensely fruity and nutty, with subtle notes of caramel. It has a vibrant orange flesh and rind, which makes it perfect for adding a pop of color to any cheese board.
- Blue Cheese. Nothing beats a blue for adding zing to a cheese board. This class of cheeses, known for having distinct blue-grey spots or veins and an assertive flavor, is wildly popular. Tops on restaurant menus, blue cheeses are second only to such types as Parmesan, cheddar and mozzarella. Blue cheese varieties include Danish blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort, just to name a few.
- Smoked Gouda. A little indulgence goes a long way on a board and smoked Gouda delivers it. This famous hard cheese has an edible, brown rind and a buttery, creamy and smooth center that provides sweet and salty notes.
- Fresh Mozzarella or Burrata. To please more delicate palates, add one of these two types of semi-soft Italian cheeses made from either cow’s milk or water buffalo milk. Familiar mozzarella has a springy and dense consistency with a light and subtle taste of cream. Lesser-known burrata is similar to mozzarella on the outside, but when split open reveals a rich-tasting, gooey soft center.
Step 2. Add accompaniments
Once the cheeses are selected, it’s time to pair them with an array of fresh, salty, sweet, tangy and crunchy food items. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s all about choosing the foods your customers love to pair with cheese. Here are a few favorites to try:
- Nuts and seeds add salty crunch. Think marcona almonds, roasted cashews, salted pumpkin seeds, spiced roasted chickpeas.
- Olives are always popular. Mix up a few varieties of green, black and red for visual impact.
- Pickled foods, such as cornichons or veggies add tang to a board.
- Seasonal familiar fruits, including grapes and berries, provide color and volume.
- Fruits from further afield, such as pomegranates, persimmons and fresh figs, help spark consumer excitement.
- Spreads such as quince paste, grainy mustard, honey or hummus can be tasty additions to your board.
- Freshly sliced baguette, herbed crackers, toast crisps and mini pretzels add texture and flavor.
Step 3. Make it look good
After the ingredients have been chosen, it’s all about the plating. One way to go is to serve the cheeses and accompanying food items on a beautiful wooden board, a veiny marble slab or a hunk of raw-edged slate. Or, to create an elevated holiday cheese board with a maximum “wow” factor, try one of these suggestions:
- Arrange ingredients on a unique serving platter in a festive color scheme or holiday pattern. Serve with sauce dishes and utensils in the same or complementary colors.
- Decorate a basic board with festive garnishes, such as rosemary sprigs, herbs and leaves, and whole flowers, like poinsettias or amaryllis.
- Boldly embrace the holiday spirit by arranging ingredients in a seasonal shape, such as a tree, wreath or bell.
Whether serving as an appetizer or bar snack on the regular menu or as a party tray for a few dozen or more guests, a premium cheese board is the perfect way to attract customers, boost sales and generate buzz during the holiday season.