I always find mid-September to be one of the most exciting times of year. After a somewhat sleepy and very steamy August, even the slightest breath of cooler, fresh air makes me giddy to bust out my favorite booties and start filling my calendar with Fall parties. And when it comes to hosting dinners, tailgates, or happy hours any time of year, there’s one honorary guest I can always count on to be the life of the party: a perfect cheese board. Luckily, Austin is one city that never disappoints when it comes to entertaining or queso downing. So, in typical Texas fashion, we’ve partnered with some of the best party throwers and cheesemongers this side of the Mason-Dixon to give you everything you need to know to build the ultimate cheese board, without breaking the bank. If there’s one thing the pros at Thompson + Hanson, Tiny Boxwoods, and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop have in common, it’s that little details go a long way when it comes to impressing your guests and entertaining in style. 1,2,3, cheeese!
Step 1: Know the secret formula.
The “Do Good. Eat Good.” mission behind Antonelli’s Cheese Shop drives every decision and wow-worthy moment they make for their guests, which is why it came as no surprise that we all had an ‘Aha!’ moment the second we heard the basic rhyme and reason behind Antonelli’s perfect cheese boards.
“One of my favorite ways to remember how to build the best cheese board ever is with a little rhyme that may ring familiar: Something old, something new, something soft, and something blue! With that somewhat appropriated adage in mind and a commitment to using a variety of animal milk types, you cannot go wrong when it comes to building a cheese board that will impress even your foodiest of friends,” says Brenda De Leon Stostad, Director of Events at Antonelli’s. Read on for more of their expert tips.
Step 2: Do as the pros do.
Your something old should be a cheese that’s been aged a while, preferably over a year, so it has time to develop that awesome crunchy, crystalline texture to which so many of us fromage fanatics are addicted. One of my favorites is Black Betty, an amazing goat gouda from Holland that’s only available about eight weeks out of the entire year during the holiday season.
As for your new, I like going a little out of the box here with fresh water buffalo mozzarella. Water buffalo milk is rich and creamy and available in ciliegine, which are tiny cherry tomato-sized mozzarella balls that are as delicious as they are adorable. Don’t be mad at me when you’ve popped twenty into your mouth, but, hey, no carbs!
For your soft, I like a delicious triple creme, brie-style cheese that’s a little rough on the outside but soft, gooey, and buttery on the inside. One of my favorite softies is a beautiful, sheep’s milk wheel called Summer Snow that is delicious when it’s allowed to mature a few weeks extra. The extra time spent aging allows the magical cheese molds to break down the interior even further so that when you finally break into the wheel, it’s turned into fancy queso!
Lastly, the blue. Don’t let blue scare you off! I promise there is a blue out there for everyone. For a cheese board, I suggest a classic that will appease any palate, like Rogue Creamery’s Caveman. No, it’s not going to club you over the head with it’s pungency or funkiness. What it will do is knock your socks off with its delicious fruitiness and sweetness and with how addictive it is!
Step 3: Don’t steal the cheesy thunder.
My last tip would be to keep your accompaniments simple. It’s tempting to pile on the jams, charcuterie, and all the pickled things you can find. However, you want the cheese to be the main attraction. Let it do so, but bring on the baguette, a few apple slices, and some delicious cajeta (aka goat’s milk caramel sauce) to tie everything together.
Step 4: Set the stage.
The team behind Thompson + Hanson and Tiny Boxwoods knows what it takes to give your beautiful cheeseboard the beautiful, detailed backdrop it deserves. Here’s top tips from Tiny’s Chef, Liz Wood, and Elizabeth Jones at Thompson + Hanson.
Remember, cheeseboards are communal so when you when you set your table, aim to capture a causal and inviting dining atmosphere. Don’t overdo it. You don’t need a lot to make a great impression! Keep your board simple with a few great selections.
Arrange your cheeses, charcuterie, and accoutrements on a large serving board and place it in the middle of the table as a centerpiece. Not only does this make a statement, but it keeps all your wonderful options accessible to your guests!
Pro tip: set out your board about 30 mins before your guests arrive. This allows the cheese to breathe and become extra tasty!
Step 5: Dress it up.
Cheese aroma enhances the taste of the cheese. With this in mind, embellish your board with fresh herbs and natural seasonal elements, which have little scent so that they compliment but not compete with the cheese itself. Not only is this budget friendly, it is simply beautiful. We grabbed fresh rosemary and greenery from the nursery for the Entertaining In Style event. Also, always remember to place the sauce on the side—even though you may love a certain spread on top of the cheese, someone else may not. I always put my spreads in small bowls so they can be tasted alone, or guests can go wild and spread it all over their individual plates and cheese portions.
Pro tip: elevate your cheeseboard with one of Thompson + Hanson’s gorgeous handmade maple boards. We suggest offering your guests a decent sized plate too, so they’re not afraid to load up, dig in, and leave you with a cheesy smile.
Step 6: Don’t leave your guests hanging (or finger-picking!)
The perfect board and table scape naturally needs the perfect serving essentials to tie it all together. Here’s the top 5 serving essentials:
1. A large statement serving board.
2. Smaller boards or charming plates for guests to make their own arrangements on. 9-inch round olive wood boards are perfect for this.
3. Knives: Knives are from Laguiole are a Thompson + Hanson favorite. They come in olive wood, stainless steel, or colorful pearlized acrylic.
4. Small spoons and/or spatulas for your sweet toppings (honeys, jellies and caramels).
5. Napkins: One of our favorite, perfectly French lines, Maison de Vacances, will cheer up any table.