Are there any two words that strike joy – or fear – into our hearts quite like “cheese board”? Joy when you hear there will be one at the party you’re attending; fear when you learn you’re in charge of procuring and arranging said cheese board.
Rest easy: we grilled Holly Kenna, the general manager at Manhattan’s Bedford Cheese Shop – aka the holy grail of creamy-salty-tangy-silky deliciousness, as well as classes and goat caramels, among other delights. It’s also conveniently located around the corner from SNOWE’s new office; forget smoke breaks, our team is now addicted to cheese breaks, complemented by Bedford’s smart and fun staff.
Here, Holly, who’s currently all about the spruce-wrapped cheeses (“They’re so rich and satisfying, it’s like they hug you from the outside in!”) shares the only six things you actually need to know about cheese to create a winning plate.
The selection at Bedford Cheese Shop.
1. How Many Cheeses To Buy: Holly’s rule of thumb is three to five different cheeses, to keep the selection varied enough.
2. How To Choose Your Cheeses: Two options here: variation by texture or variation by source. So: a hard, a soft, a supple semi-firm, and a blue; or, a cow’s milk cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese, a goat cheese, and a buffalo. Want a fifth cheese? Go for a wild card. Something you love to add balance and fun. It never hurts to ask your local cheesemonger for a rec – chances are it’ll kick off a fun conversation, and at least a couple samples.
Our friendly neighborhood cheesemonger; Trina Scott at Bedford.
3. How Much Of Each Cheese To Buy: 1-2 ounces per guest (on the lower end for after dinner; higher for pre-meal cheese course). So, a party of eight means half a pound of each cheese. Easy!
Here we are getting prepped for guests, decked in the Chef’s Towel and all propped with the Cheese Board Set and trusty Red Wine Glass (an underrated cheese-plating accomplice).
4. How To Choose Accompanying Snacks: Holly recommends starting with a sweet fruit and a savory snack or spread, then whatever else on top of that is a welcome bonus. Charcuterie isn’t a must but if budget allows, do go for a couple options for enterprising guests to make elevated Lunchables-style stacks. Also: never skimp on crackers and bread (even double up if you like – ”the more the merrier!” says Holly.)
Olives and prosciutto are nice and salty; crisp refreshing grapes provide the perfect foil. Props to both our cheese boards on display here – walnut and oxidized walnut. And yes, all this accompanying yum comes from Bedford Cheese Shop.
5. How To Nail Wine Pairings: “What grows together, goes together,” advises Holly, so when in doubt, go for wines from the same parts of the world as your cheeses. But above all, trust your gut. “Chances are, if you like eating something and drinking something else, you’re going to like eating and drinking them together,” she adds. Hear, hear.
Our chosen cheeses hail from California (Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam and Point Reyes Bay Blue), Holland (Stumpetoren Grand Cru), and Corsica France (Corsu Vecchiu). So we went with a nice French Cab Sauv but could have gone several different ways. Yes, even with a sparkling wine.
6. How To Put It All Together: “Avoid the corners, and think of it like painting a picture,” says Holly, who has officially stolen our collective hearts with her cheese advice. Keep things free flowing – place one cheese down, add a small bowl of olives or jam, rolled or lusciously folded charcuterie, and keep building until it looks lush and inviting. Think loose and guest-friendly – this is no time to bring out perfectly-stacked mountains of crackers or expertly fanned-out meats. It shouldn’t look like such a precious tableau that will be wrecked when someone takes that first bite. In fact, the best cheese plates look better with time. Also: the mini bowls are key here – that way you don’t have to pass the entire board when someone asks for more cornichons.
Hello, cheese coma. Highly worth it.
Of course, no cheese board is complete without, well, a cheese board (or two! Remember: the more the merrier). We’re partial, of course, to the walnut boards you see throughout this story (hello, clever thumb rests, we see and love you!) Luckily ours comes complete with cheese knives to make you look even more like a cheese-plating boss. Our set comes with all the tools you need – one knife each for spreading, tucking into soft cheese, and slicing the hard stuff. So go ahead and put away that stack of butter knives.
Instead, bring out a generous set of appetizer plates so guests can stack ‘em up with all the crunchy, creamy, salty snacks they want, and not feel like they’re constantly hovering above the board.
So: is your blood pressure back to normal? Are you ready to wow your hostess with a cheese plate that has it all and delights every last person? Use this primer to emerge from the holiday season as the most popular person to attend every party. Yes, that will mean a lot more invites in 2017. Say cheese!