The holidays are the perfect time to prepare a cheese board.

Chef John's Holiday Cheese Board

The holidays are the perfect time to prepare a cheese board. "It's always stressful to have people coming over this time of the year," says Chef John. "You want to please and impress, but there never seems to be enough time to get everything done." A well-designed cheese board can save the day!

Here's Chef John's simple approach to preparing an impressive holiday cheese board:

How many cheeses do you want? Chef John recommends three cheeses. Four is too many; two is one too few. The key, though, is diversity. Chef John has chosen cheeses that deliver lots of variety; they're made from different milks and offer varying textures, levels of intensity, and flavors.

As for the garnishes, Chef John is going with a sweet and nutty holiday vibe. But you could easily show your savory side with olives, pickles, and marinated vegetables. Ask yourself what Chef John would do, and here's what he might say:

  • Cheese: Le Mothais sur Feuille (French Goat Cheese) -- This gorgeous cheese comes wrapped in chestnut leaves. It's soft, earthy, and creamy. To serve, slice it in half, revealing the luscious center, and leave the chestnut leaves intact. Garnish: Prunes, sliced Fuyu persimmons (or apples/pears), rye crisps Utensil: Choose an all-purpose knife that's good for spreading, slicing, and stabbing
  • Cheese: Manchego Membrillo (Spanish Sheep's Milk Cheese) -- This cheese has a distinctive waxy rind, with indentations formed by the grass-woven baskets the cheese is aged in. Leave one edge of the unique rind for presentation if you like, and slice the cheese in half to serve. Garnish: Quince paste (a classic pairing partner with Manchego), neutral-flavored water crackers Utensil: For this firm cheese, choose a sharp knife that can slice and stab.
  • Cheese: Stilton (English Cow's Milk Bleu Cheese) -- This is the famous English bleu cheese with intense flavor and soft texture. Garnish: Candied Pecans (or walnuts), fresh grapes, sliced baguette Utensil: Stilton is soft and a little sticky, so use a spreading knife

How much cheese do you need? Allow for at least 2 ounces of cheese total per guest.

Serving Note: To allow the flavors to fully develop, let your cheeses sit out at room temperature for at least an hour before serving.

To enjoy your cheese board, work from mild to strong flavors. Start with the soft, mild, and earthy-flavored goat cheese on the rustic rye crisps.

Next, try the Manchego, which, with its nutty, slightly sweet, slightly tangy flavor, is in the middle range, intensity-wise. Enjoy some Manchego on a neutral-flavored water cracker, garnished with a little quince paste.

Finish things off with the most intense cheese in the mix, the pungent Stilton, served on a baguette. Now refresh your Stilton-pummelled palate with a candied pecan and a juicy grape or two...and start in again!

Quince Paste