Everyone loves a big beautiful cheese board brimming with charcuterie, figs, and Marcona almonds—I bet you’ve pinned a few, right? There’s no denying they’re gorgeous, but anyone who’s put together a cheese board for a party can tell you: that stuff gets expensive! If you’ve been wondering how to make a cheese board that is as delicious as it is affordable, then you’ve come to the right place.
As someone who’s crafted her fair share of cheese boards (starting back when I worked in catering and for frequent wine and cheese nights with friends) I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than you think to create a delicious one on a budget. The secret lies in finding a few select ingredients that elevate the cheese plate and interspersing them with more affordable elements. Chances are, you already have most of what you need for a delicious and elegant cheese plate waiting in the kitchen.
Scroll on for a few pro tips that will make it look like you splurged on the high-end stuff without breaking the bank. And leave a comment letting me know if you have any cheap-chic secrets to add to my list!
Include just one expensive type of cheese.
I always choose one cheese to be my splurge and make sure that everyone has a chance to try it–everyone will be so wowed by that one unforgettable cheese that they won’t notice if the others are a little less standout.
Pro tip: ask the person working the cheese counter about their favorite cheeses to serve for a party. They’ll likely choose something that’s really special but won’t break the bank.
Be sneaky with quantities.
Ask the cheesemonger to cut smaller portions from the more expensive selections, then stock up on larger portions of the more budget-friendly cheeses so your board looks full and abundant. The key is to have a little knowledge about what varieties to spend and splurge on. I can usually find cheaper types of brie that are really beautiful and still delicious, so I’ll buy an entire wheel. Then maybe I’ll go for a pricier goat or blue and just include a very small piece of it on my board for guests to sample.
Focus on variety and texture.
For a $25 budget, I’ll choose three or four different types of cheeses: a hard, sharper cheese (cheddar, parmesan, or gruyere), a stinky soft cheese (gotta have a blue), and creamy cheese (like brie or goat.) It’s also fun to incorporate at least a couple of different kinds of milk (cow, goat, sheep, or nut milk) to keep things interesting and make you look like a pro.
Create a slicing strategy.
Depending on its texture, the way that you present a certain cheese can make it feel fancier and more substantial. Serve parmesan in a long skinny wedge that takes up a lot of real estate on the platter. Cut a more affordable cheddar into long thin slices that can be stacked up or fanned out (and keep it from looking like a grocery store block of cheese.) And as mentioned, I like to serve brie in a whole wheel and surround it with pear slices and drizzle the top with honey.
Go crazy with garnishes.
This is the real secret to styling a knockout cheese board without breaking the bank. Slice up a baguette, scatter a few toasted walnuts, fan out some apple slices, place a little bowl of olives, and nestle a few pieces of affordable salami into any empty spots on the board. These accouterments total just a few dollars and go a long way in dressing up the final look.
Add one “wow” factor.
This is the pièce de résistance, and it doesn’t need to be expensive—just use a little creativity! It could be a beautiful serving platter or an unexpected way of serving. For example, why not cut a wheel of brie in half horizontally, slather it with yummy jam, and replace the top of the cheese to form an elevated “sandwiched” effect that guests will want to dive into?
Set it out early.
This is really more of a general tip for serving cheese at all price points: set out your board with the cheese on it about 20 minutes before guests arrive. Taking the chill off really brings out the flavor of each individual cheese, then you’re freed up to get ready and have a pre-party glass of wine. Most importantly, remember that both cheese boards and parties, in general, are about fun and enjoyment, not impressing your guests. So don’t stress over how much your cheese cost, instead focus on filling people’s wine glasses and set the right vibe by relaxing and having a good time. (And enjoy the fact that you saved some money for those shoes you’ve been eyeing instead of spending it all on cheese!)
This post was originally published on July 29, 2016, and has since been updated.
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If only this had been posted a few weeks back! We did a bread board shoot with cheeses and I was in shock when I went to check out at Whole Foods. I wound up returning the bulk of it and found that, like you said, variety is key. Plus, it’s more fun for your sampling guests.
Sprinkling pomegranate seeds was that extra touch that elevated it from the average board. Oh! And pappardelle peppers that complemented the red waxy edge of one of our cheeses. Got me hungry for a French style charcuterie breakfast!
Yes!! Love the pomegranate seed idea AND the pappardelle peppers… such great, affordable additions. Thanks Molls!
I loved that you brought up using jams. I work for a catering company and I am totally obsessed with Apple Garlic Jam! When using a less expensive brie or goat cheese, smear some of this on top of it and its heaven! Also, if there are any left overs the next day (I realize this is a stretch) you can make the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich using that jam and left over cheeses. Om nom nom!
omg — DROOL!
Everything is better with cheese. EVERYTHING! I love making cheese plates for entertaining (and sometimes just for my family). My favorite displays are on a wood cutting board made by my deceased brother-in-law. So special. I would love to see some of your suggestions for other creative display ideas. Thanks for sharing these excellent tips.
Best & Bisous,
Michelle from Simply Santa Barbara
I use a piece of bamboo tree I found at the keys. Cleaned an oiled it. Flat ones hard to find and on the ground. Still has a little curve but very different.easy to embellish.
These all look amazing. Taking ideas from all the photos. Taking it out 45 min ahead of time~ won’t the meat get warm and greasy? Love the idea for time but curious.
I love a cheese board! Some great tips here – definitely going to just splurge on one v tasty cheese and be sensible on the others next time! I’ll also try your tips on serving! Thanks for sharing!
Trader Joe’s has a great selection of cheeses and much better prices than Whole Foods. Try their Cambozola Blue (a blue Brie) or the Toscana which is a very tasty hard cheese.
Some interesting suggestions. I find these boards all over internet. I’m more interested in serving suggestions…utensils, plates, serving pieces…ways to present that give guests directions as to protocals. The fingers dipping into the cheeses and olives are certainly not appetizing and out of touch with our current situation.
I also add several small mild peppers like Peppercinis and banana peppers, artichoke hearts (just a small jar spread around), small jar of pimentos, mini mustard jars (wash out, re-use and refill with variety flavors because they look cute) and several olive choices, as well as the flavored round and triangle crackers (a $2 box holds a lot) which pretty up the tray. And I found some amazing, very inexpensive but cute trays in seasonal colors at the dollar store. For summer trays, I also add veggies (green onions, raw asparagus, etc.)