One of the easiest and most satisfying entertaining tricks is also one of the simplest to master: the cheese board. The key to success is quality, texture, and layering. Making friends with your local cheese monger and asking him or her to help make selections will endear you and make for a seasonally appropriate, masterful selection that takes into consideration your preferences while insuring the broadest array of styles and textures. Brad at Wasik's Cheese Shop (a family run business since 1964) in Wellesley, Massachusetts suggested the cheeses for this platter. When Brad says try it, we eat it!

New England cheesemaking style nods to the eastern seaboard's Mayflower history and deeply rooted cultural identiity as pragmatists with waste not want not values. Rocky shores, hilly slopes, mountains, and cold temperatures make raising cows, sheep, and goats a viable dairy farmstead proposition that turns milk, a highly perishible commodity, into cheese--easily stored cherished edibles.

Almost as fun as eating the cheese is picking a board, platter, or plate on which to serve it:  marble, slate, pewter, copper, or wood each brings a unique attitude to the arrangement. We are particularly fond of pre-1940s bread and cutting boards found in the French countryside. The wounds and scars of many years of use add to the character of a board and set the tone for the cheese platter as a rustic, grazing, pre-dinner chance to share and taste.

The first century Roman gourmand, Apicius, coined the phrase "we eat first with our eyes". The cheese board is the perfect time to set a mood and fill between the cheeses with a cornucopia of seasonal fresh or dried fruits, nuts, breads, and crackers. Regardless of the time of year, we almost always include honey or honeycomb. Visually satisfying, and the perfect companion to all styles of cheese, honey balances flavors. Truffle honey is divine over Parmesan Reggiano, pecorino, or soft luscious triple creams. In summer we generously drizzle lavender honey over a tangy, acidic goat's cheese. All types of honey will add warmth, a touch of sweetness, and an unexpected divine element to the board. Volume matters--fill in all the nooks and crannies for the most impressive visual presentation. Using greens from nearby trees, or annuals in the garden are a professional hack that are free and easy to come by. The prettier the platter, the more guests will gravitate to it. Leave it up to the cheese to get the party started!

cuisine American
difficulty Easy
season Fall & Winter
serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

Wedge Ashlynn with ash line, Springbrook Farms, Vermont Wedge Grafton Clothbound Cheddar, Grafton Village Cheese Co., Vermont 8 ounce round Comanche Queen, High Lawn Farm, Massachusetts Wedge Brookford Blue, Brookford Farm, New Hampshire Concord grapes 1/2 cup dried cranberries 1 cup fresh black mission figs, halved (if dried soak in boiling water for 10 minutes and slice thinly) 1 Comice pear, halved & cored 1 red pear, halved & cored 1 cup mixed high quality dried fruits: apricots, pears, persimmons Honeycomb 1 cup peanut brittle, broken into chunks Sliced baguette and/or crackers for serving Flower garnish, optional

Directions

  1. Decide how many quests will be served and count on 2 to 3 ounces of cheese per person and 3 to 4 styles of cheese for gatherings of 8 or fewer guests. 
  2. Arrange the cheeses around the platter or board more or less evenly spacing them. 
  3. Begin to fill in with color. Mounds of similar colors look best and placing them on tree or plant leaves adds visual interest. Groups of three work well--note the three clumps of grape vines, the three pieces of dried pear, the three handfuls of cranberries (two are side by side), and the three halves of fresh pears.
  4. The peanut brittle stands alone as it is an intense and sweet element that would be overwhelming in greater quantity.
  5. Scatter the figs, both fresh and dried, around the platter as a unifying visual.
  6. Finish with optional foraged flower blossoms.