In partnership withCheeses of Europe

How to Build the Perfect Cheese Board

published Sep 10, 2020
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Credit: Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats

Have you ever gotten cheese board envy when scrolling through Instagram? We definitely have! Assembling a beautiful, eye-catching cheese board might seem intimidating, but it’s actually a whole lot easier than it looks. What’s the secret to constructing a great cheese board? Variety! If you know what kinds of cheese to buy, you’ll instantly be set up for success.

Jen Balisi of Indulgent Eats knows just how to break down the anatomy of a perfect cheese board full of delicious French cheeses and is here to spread the word. With the help of Cheeses of Europe (and their app of the same name), she’s here to show you how to make any night go from great to magnifique thanks to a killer cheese board.

Credit: Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats

First: What Is French Cheese?

Before you start building your cheese board, it’s helpful to know the basics of French cheese. There are thousands of cheese varieties that hail from France, and they’re traditionally made with three different types of milk: cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk. Beyond the type of milk used, French cheese generally falls into four categories based on flavor and style: mild, medium, bold, and bleu.

Credit: Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats

The Anatomy of the Perfect French Cheese Board

The best and easiest way to build a great cheese board is to lean into variety. Select one French cheese from each category and you can’t go wrong. “I think that people tend to only use common cheeses with names that are easy to pronounce in an attempt to please. But the beauty of offering a cheese board with a wide variety of cheeses is that you can introduce yourself and others to new flavors they may not have thought to try on their own!” Jen says. “By including a cheese from every category, you’re sure to have something for everyone, and it’s fun to add extra food pairings and garnishes to complement each unique cheese.” Here’s how she puts this idea to work:

1. Mild

Selecting a cheese that’s mellow and approachable is always a great place to start when constructing a cheese board. For Jen, what to choose is a no-brainer — it’s Comté, which has a firm, creamy texture and a buttery, toasted flavor. “Comté is one of my absolute favorite cheeses,” she says. “I just love the deeply savory, slightly nutty flavor from the aged cheese. It melts great, too, so I’ve also had wonderful fondues and grilled cheeses made with it.” Other great mild French cheeses to try are Brie, Port Salut, and Délice de Bourgogne.

2. Medium

This category is one notch up on the flavor spectrum. Jen’s favorite choice is Camembert, which is stronger in flavor than Brie, but just as lovable. “For a soft, buttery cheese, it’s hard to go wrong with Camembert,” she says. “The earthy notes of wild mushroom bring it to the next level, and I love how it tastes with grapes and pecans.” Other delicious French cheeses to try in this category are Laguiole, Mimolette, and Bethmale.

Credit: Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats

3. Bold

Next, select a cheese that’s bold. “Époisses is a unique cheese that I’ve only had a couple of times before, so I really wanted to introduce a cheese that people may not be as familiar with for my cheese board,” says Jen. Giving it a try is a fun risk worth taking. “The first time I tried it, the strong aroma hit me first, so I thought it might be too pungent or funky even for me. But one taste of it sold me! It’s a silky smooth cheese — you only need a spoon for it — and its rich, salty, complex flavor goes incredibly well with bread, apples, and pears.” Other great bold French cheeses to try are Pont-l’Évêque, Emmental, and Tomme de Savoie.

4. Bleu

Selecting a blue cheese for your board is the secret to making it special — even if you’re not sure it’s a cheese for you. “I love blue cheese, but I know it’s not for everyone. So I chose Fourme d’Ambert because it’s actually a lot milder than other blue cheeses. It may just change your mind!” says Jen. “Its delicate, slightly fruity flavor is accented by earthy mushroom notes, and it’s delicious with fig jam on a crunchy pear.” If you love stronger flavored blue cheeses, others to French cheeses to try are Bleu d’Auvergne, Bleu de Gex, and Saint Agur.

Credit: Jen Balisi, Indulgent Eats

Rounding Out the Perfect French Cheese Board

While the cheese itself is the most important part of a delicious board, rounding it out with food pairings that double as garnishes is what really makes it extra fun and eye-catching. Baguette slices, fresh fruit like grape bunches or apple and pear slices, nuts like pecans or almonds, crunchy cucumber slices, and French cornichons are just a few great choices. Don’t forget thinly sliced ham or charcuterie, too. Jen also suggests setting out small bowls of honey and fig jam for drizzling on the cheese. This hodgepodge of items really makes your cheese board interactive. There are endless combinations of cheese and food pairings to try — mix and match to find your favorites. Bon appétit!