For MacKenzie Aivazis, cheesemonger at Urban Radish in Los Angeles, making picture-perfect, tantalizing cheeseboards is her form of artistic expression, and her cheese boards exude the building blocks of composition – lines, shapes, colors, patterns, textures and forms.
“Creating cheese boards allows me to not only share my passion for cheese, but also to express myself,” shares Aivazis.
When curating cheese boards, Aivazis recommends three things: 1) select the right cheese; 2) embrace color; and 3) experiment with patterns and shapes.
“Cheese should always be the star of your board,” stresses Aivazis. “If your cheese board is beautiful and artfully-arranged, but doesn’t have the right collection of cheeses, it’s going to feel incomplete.”
For this board, Aivazis selected a variety of domestic and international cheeses including: Emmi Tête de Moine AOP, Emmi Der sharfe Maxx, Roth® Sriracha Gouda, Grand Cru® Surchoix, GranQueso® and Roth® Buttermilk Blue®.
“Make sure you’re selecting a variety of cheeses to offer not only different flavors, but textures. Remember, guests may be initially captivated by the presentation, but they won’t fall in love with the cheese until they’ve tasted it.”
For styling cheese boards, Aivazis suggests adding pops of colors using interesting edible and non-edible fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs such as rosemary and sage. To create striking focal points, she suggests creating patterns of congruently cut triangles or tiles of cheese.
“Beautifully arranged cheese boards truly are works of art,” shares Aivazis. “Fortunately, the boards don’t just hang on the walls in galleries, we get to enjoy them.”
Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms. For Liz Dueland, inspiration comes from the natural landscapes she surrounds herself with.
“I am moved by natural images like flowers nestled along a winding river bank, by migrating birds or undulating waves. When creating cheese boards, I keep these images in mind as I’m planning and arranging. I like my boards to evoke a sense of natural movement, giving the spread a sense of organic rhythm and romance.”
Dueland not only surrounds herself in beautiful landscapes, but also with her favorite cheeses and accompaniments. As the co-founder of Culture with Madison Cheesemonger and a chef at Metro Market, an upscale grocery store in Madison, Wisconsin, Dueland has copious options for creating cheese boards making it often difficult to narrow down selections.
“I am continuously looking for new cheeses and pairing combinations,” says Dueland. “But Alpine cheeses are always included on my cheese boards. These cheeses lend themselves to a wider variety of accoutrements including astringent companions like pickles and mustards, sweeter pairing like fresh and dried fruits as well as savory elements like caramelized onions and fermented garlic.”
Dueland’s cheese and charcuterie boards usually feature three to five vignettes that encourage guests to explore and enjoy new pairings. Each of her pairing vignettes showcase the nuances of the featured cheeses.
For this cheese board, Dueland serves:
Roth® Grand Cru® Surchoix nestled among sweet and savory options with a quick pickle and beet-infused pearl onion, fermented black garlic along with honeycomb.
Roth® Buttermilk Blue® framed by Quince & Apple Fig and Black Tea Preserves, dried Black Mission figs, dried pears, and Underground Butcher Sopressata.
Emmi Kaltbach™ Le Gruyère® AOP paired with Italian Castelvetrano olives and Peruvian Sweety Drops.
Emmi Emmentaler® AOP in a deconstructed appetizer with Quince & Apple Pear Mostarda, stacked Bosc pears and Underground Butcher Fiocco.
“While I like my boards to be composed of small vignettes, it’s important that the entire spread is harmonious and works well together,” explains Dueland. “Think of your board as a playground. You want your guests to explore all the areas and play with different combinations. Everything, to a certain degree, should work well with all of the other items on the board.”
When it comes to curating cheese boards, Jessica Lawrenz, cheesemonger at Venissimo Cheese in San Diego, doesn’t mess around. Her motto for a holiday cheese spread – “The more the merrier!”
“An elaborate cheese display can completely set the tone for an event,” says Lawrenz. “The flavors, textures, colors and garnishes should work together to communicate a story and entrance guests.”
With a keen attention to detail and innovative pairing and styling choices, it’s no surprise that Lawrenz claimed the title of Best Cheesemonger at the Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco earlier this year.
“I love being a cheesemonger,” said Lawrenz. “Cheese is such a versatile food that is universally made and enjoyed throughout the world. The beauty of cheese boards is that they are each uniquely their own, offering a one-of-a-kind experience for people.”
When creating cheese boards, Lawrenz always starts with the stars of the show – the cheese. After selecting her cheeses, Lawrenz opts for an assortment of sweet and savory pairings, focusing on textures, colors, and smells.
“Cheese boards should be a journey for guests. You want to make sure that you touch all of their senses to give a complete experience.”
Lawrenz’s robust spread features a few of her favorites:
Nestled seamlessly into the larger display, Lawrenz created a smaller cheese board featuring Little Belgians Speculoos cookies with Roth® Buttermilk Blue®, sage, edible crystallized roses, honeycomb and a garnish of Pomegranate.
Lawrenz’s refers to her arrangement of Roth® Buttermilk Blue® as a “stairway to cheese heaven,” emphasizing that the steps punctuate the cheeseboard with dramatic height and sharp edges.
“When cutting your cheeses, embrace experimentation of shapes and sizes,” recommends Lawrenz. “The variation provides opportunity to stack and arrange cheeses in a variety of different ways, adding depth and character to boards.”
Touches of holiday décor and international specialty items like cookies and candies give her cheeseboards even more personality and draw warm, fond memories for many of her customers.
“Specialty holiday times can evoke memories of travel, family traditions or home,” suggests Lawrenz. “These special touches really stand out to customers and bring a unique quality to the board.”
When it comes to cutting the cheeses, Lawrenz recommends leaving a few cheeses that require guest participation.
“I love when guests not only try new foods, but get hands on with cutting and preparing their bites,” says Lawrenz. “Adding a fun tool like a girolle is a perfect interactive component to add to any cheese board or display.”
To add a finishing touch to cheese boards, Lawrenz incorporates fresh herbs, ribbons in holiday colors and other seasonal accents she finds at craft stores.
“Don’t feel like you need to use overtly Christmas or holiday colors. I often find that subtle combinations of golds or natural green and whites that are classically beautiful allow the food to remain the star of the display rather than becoming lost in chaos of competing focal points.”
When it comes to selecting cheese and pairings for cheese boards, Ellian Rohrbacher, Assistant Manager in the Cheese Department at New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon, likes to include a wide assortment of offerings.
“I like to include a variety of cheeses with different milk types and styles on my cheese boards. Try offering a fresh or bloomy cheese, a washed rind cheese, a blue cheese and an aged or harder cheese,” said Rohrbacher. “Everyone has a different palette and taste when it comes to cheese, so I feel that offering more options is never a bad idea. In fact, it almost guarantees that guests will find something they love.”
For this cheese board, Rohrbacher opted for:
Emmi Alter Schweizer
Roth® Buttermilk Blue®
Roth® Grand Cru® Surchoix
Emmi Tête de Moine AOP
Roth’s Private Reserve
“Even though I’m offering more cheeses, I always make sure they work together harmoniously on the board,” said Rohrbacher. “You never want the cheeses to compete with each other.”
When it comes to accompaniments for cheese boards, Rohrbacher also suggests offering a variety of items that complement the cheeses in both flavor and texture.
“I love pairings that mix textures and flavors – try pairing something crunchy with a soft cheese, or an acidic pairing with a rich, creamy cheese,” says Rohrbacher. “For example, crisp, peppery radishes pair well with soft cheeses and pickled red onions are wonderful with the a meaty Alpine-style cheese like Alter Schweizer.”
Rohrbacher selected theses accompaniments for her holiday cheese board:
Photo Credit: Mia Nakano for Cheesemonger Invitational
Creative. Deliberate. Passionate. Champion. These words effortlessly depict Lilith Spencer of Cheesemongers of Santa Fe in New Mexico.
A self-described perfectionist and creative, Spencer has always had a passion for creating beautiful things. She’s also always had a love for cheese. The combination of her passions led her to where she is today, an award-winning cheesemonger.
Working at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, Spencer has a treasure trove of cheeses and accompaniments to choose from when creating boards.
For this holiday cheese board, Spencer selected:
Roth® Buttermilk Blue®
Roth® Grand Cru® Surchoix
Emmi Der scharfe Maxx
Roth® Prairie Sunset®
After selecting her cheeses, Spencer artfully chooses pairings to add to the cheese board.
“Sautéed mushrooms are a favorite of mine for platters,” shares Spencer. “Good at any temperature, just brown them with some butter, garlic, herbs and then marinate with salt, pepper, olive oil and sherry vinegar. You can either eat them right away or refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature.”
Spencer also recommends roasted delicata squash on autumn and winter cheese boards as they can similarly be served warm or at room temperature.
“Delicata rings are not only delicious, but they make beautiful elements for serving. Crumbly cheeses such as a blue cheese fit perfectly inside the rings. Alternatively, other roasted vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, and potatoes work well too.”
When it comes to arranging cheeses, Spencer is deliberate in where she places items.
“Cheeses are the anchors on your board, so space them apart from one another and give them plenty of room,” recommends Spencer. “Next, place accompaniments that pair best with the cheeses. This suggests to guests that they are meant to be enjoyed with one another. Nuts, olives, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables can be spread throughout the board as they work with any of the cheeses.”
As far as the visual aesthetics of the board, Spencer suggests putting contrasting colors next to each other and steering clear of crazy patterns and designs.
“Neatly cut, equally-portioned pieces of cheese shine best when arranged in clean lines. Don’t get crazy with trying to create patterns and designs. Once the cheese board is fully arranged, all the lines will come together in a beautiful, mosaic-like design.”
Her key piece of advice for creating stunning cheeseboards is to be thoughtful in selections from start to finish and don’t rush the creative process of cutting and arranging.
“Take time to soak in the colors you are using and the items you are plating. This will allow you to become a part of the project, creating an overall better-finished project that you can be proud of.”