Impressive cheese boards are a breeze to serve and prepare when you know how to avoid these common missteps.

By Christine Clark
July 08, 2020
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Credit: bhofack2 / Getty Images

There are almost 700,000 Instagram posts tagged with #cheeseboard and it's no wonder why — cheese boards are a beautiful, fun, and low-key way to feed your friends and family when entertaining.

But, not all cheese boards are created equal. In fact, there are quite a few missteps that are all too easy to make as a beginner. Read on for six ways to ruin a perfectly good cheese board (and how to avoid them).

Using Accompaniments That Don't Pair

When you're making a cheese board, the cheese is the star of the show. Any other condiments or snacks plated with the cheese should make it taste better. You ever had gummy bears with blue cheese? Or fresh grapes with brie? They don't taste good together. In fact, they're terrible together. Why would you include something on your cheese board that doesn't taste good with the cheese you're serving?

This isn't to say, of course, that you can't be creative. Chocolate makes a very nice cracker for blue cheese, as do pretzels. Cheddar and apple slices are dreamy together. Potato chips make an excellent vessel for scooping up your favorite oozy cheeses. Outside-the-box pairings are wonderful; just make sure you've tested them before serving them to unsuspecting guests.

Only Buying One Kind of Cheese

The best cheese boards offer a range of milk types, textures, and flavors. Ideally, people can try a few varieties and discover new favorites. If you happen to be making a board for cheddar lovers and want to stick to something you know everyone loves, no problem — you can still offer a variety of flavors, textures, and origins! Get a young cheddar, a goat's milk cheddar, a clothbound cheddar, and an "Alpine Cheddar," which tends to be sweeter and nuttier. Sticking with one family of cheeses doesn't mean you have to keep it boring.

Serving Too Many Cheeses

Once you start falling in love with the wide, weird world of cheese, it's hard to slow down. Taleggio, Comté, Harbison, where does it end? In general, you should buy and enjoy as many cheeses as you darn well please, but when it comes to putting together a cheese board, keep it simple. Three or four cheeses is plenty — enough for variety, but not so many that your guests get overwhelmed.

Not Buying Enough Cheese

You went to all that work to prepare a beautiful cheese board and you made a masterpiece. Folks will get excited. The cheese will disappear more quickly than you think. In general, you want to buy one ounce per person per cheese, unless cheese is the only food being served. In that case, you can go up to more like two ounces per person per cheese.

Garnishing With Things People Shouldn't Eat

Not everyone is familiar with every cheese. There are hundreds of types of cheeses in the world, and it can be intimidating to dive in to a board full of cheeses you've never tried and furthermore, aren't sure how to approach. People aren't sure if it's impolite to eat the rind or impolite not to (side note: you are always welcome to eat the rind, but certainly don't have to).

Why, then, complicate matters by throwing in sprigs of herbs or other items that aren't meant to be eaten with the cheese? A good cheese board invites people to be adventurous, and if you serve something inedible on your board, someone will likely give it a nibble in the spirit of flavor exploration.

If you want to add color, use local jams, edible flowers, or grass-fed cow's milk cheese, which will always naturally be tinged a beautiful yellow thanks to the presence of beta carotene. You don't need to accidentally poison (or even seriously disgust) people to make a beautiful, colorful cheese board that's Instagram-worthy.

Serving the Cheese Cold

In the United States, we are often concerned about our cheese going bad if it stays out for more than a couple hours. In other countries, though, they often leave their cheese out at room temperature all day, even in cheese shops. That's not to say that you shouldn't refrigerate your cheese, just that it's okay to err on the side of leaving it out for longer than you think you should. Serving the cheese at room temperature means you get to experience all the flavor and texture the cheese has to offer. Aside from very fresh cheeses like mozzarella or ricotta, your cheese should stay out for at least an hour before you serve it, preferably longer.

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