5 tips for building a better cheese board, according to an expert

It doesn't get much easier (or cheesier) than this

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published January 25, 2023 11:00AM (EST)

Assortment of cheeses and fruit (Getty Images/The Picture Pantry/Lisovskaya Natalia)
Assortment of cheeses and fruit (Getty Images/The Picture Pantry/Lisovskaya Natalia)

Cheese is a truly marvelous food. No matter if it's soft or hard in texture, grated over a bowl of fresh pasta or enjoyed as is atop a salad or sandwich, there's a cheese for everyone. Stinky or fragrant, Italian or French, yellow or off-white.

You might like an ooey, gooey dish with lots and lots of cheese pulls (like this kale and three-cheese pizza), or perhaps you're more of a fan of a bronzed, crisped cheesy dish (such as this red pepper baked chicken parmigiana pasta).

Picking up some shredded cheese for a lasagna or one of our 10 other cheesiest recipes isn't a huge effort, but selecting the best options for a cheese board is a little more of an undertaking. The nuances, flavors and complexities of cheese are deepened when this food is savored on its own, without any application of heat or the inclusion of other ingredients to muddy the waters.

I recently spoke with Craig Gile, a famous cheese judge who is also the northwest regional sales manager at Cabot Creamery Co-operative. He took Salon Food readers behind the scenes of the worlds of cheesemaking and competitive cheese.

Gile is a former Cabot cheese grader who tasted up to 200 cheese samples a day. In addition to judging competitions, he presents "sensory presentations" on how to pick the best cheeses to retailers.

If you've participated in a wine tasting, the experience may sound somewhat familiar.

"I like to get people thinking about what they are tasting first. The vast majority of the time, we're not treating eating like a cognitive exercise," Gile told me. "I get people to look at the cheese, feel the body of the cheese, chew slowly, think about what they are tasting. Just focusing on the basic tastes is a great place to start. How salty do I think this cheese is? How sour or acidic do I think it is?"

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Have you ever shopped for an antipasto or mezze platter or charcuterie or grazing board and wondered how to buy better cheese at the grocery store? If so, you're in luck: Gile also shared his expert recommendations for putting together a cheese platter, pairing tips included.

First and foremost, Gile stresses one thing. Do not — I repeat do not — be intimidated.

"I have seen way too many people overthink and stress about building cheese platters," he said. "Have fun."

Now that you're ready to have some fun, here are Gile's five basic tips for building a better cheese board:



"Try to have one impressive, larger chunk of cheese as a 'centerpiece' that you build around."
"Embrace variety. You don't have to worry about cheeses going together unless you're going for a theme. Go with a variety of ages, textures, appearances, milk types. Give your guests options, and don't be afraid to think outside of the box with something like Cabot Habanero Cheddar Cheese."
"Add-ons: Look at dried meats, nuts, mustards, chutneys, jams, flake salts."
"Try to keep the cheese packages and labels. You'll have guests that discover a new cheese they love. Having the label/packaging handy is helpful to them if they want to purchase the cheese in the future."
"Cheesemongers don't bite. Cheesemongers are the most passionate and engaging retail workers around. They live to give advice and cut samples. Even if you have no idea about cheese, they can help."

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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Antipasto Charcuterie Cheese Cheesemongers Dairy Food List