The cheese board is a holiday party staple and while it may seem like a straightforward thing, there are a few things one can do to ensure it’s a world class setup. Expert cheese monger and Vermont Creamery’s head of research and development Gina Martano shares her advice on making the perfect board below, and why she considers goat cheese the “little black dress of cheese.” First things first advises Martano, “start with a cracker or simple baguette that won’t overshadow the cheese and reach for a bottle of Sancerre.” Here’s everything you need to know in creating the perfect holiday cheese board:
Forbes: Do you have a MUST-have cheese that should be on every cheese board? Martano: Not surprisingly, I always have fresh goat cheese on my cheeseboard–a high quality goat cheese like Vermont Creamery’s is the little black dress of cheese. You can dress it up with jams, honeys, fresh herbs, or dried fruits, and you can’t go wrong with spreading it on a rustic baguette.
What kinds of cheese are the most versatile–in terms of leftovers that I can grate into pasta or something? Gruyere is such a versatile cheese because you can melt it, grate it, and bake it, and it adds a salty, nutty flavor and creamy texture. If you are looking for something more approachable, I would recommend a good quality cheddar.
What types of cheese should I include on a cheese board? Choose cheeses with a variety of flavors, textures, ages, and colors. From mild to sharp, soft to hard, fresh to aged, the combinations are countless. I also like a mix of cow, goat, and sheep milk cheeses for my guests to experience. For accompaniments, choose rustic bread and crackers that won’t overshadow the cheese, and fresh fruits—fresh pears, apples, figs, grapes or dried apricots, cranberries and cherries are all good choices. If you want to include berries, they are best served in the form of compotes, jams, and chutneys. Pickled veggies, nuts and charcuterie are also great additions.
What wine pairings go best with goat cheese? A Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, like a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, is a classic pairing. Look for crisp white wines with a little bit of minerality and citrus and/or grassy notes. If you are looking for a red, Cabernet Franc is a smart choice. Balance is key, and Cabernet Franc is a lighter bodied red with a nice acidity and subtle herbaceous notes that won’t overwhelm the cheese.
How much cheese do I need per person? We often recommend 3-5 ounces of cheese per person.
What cheese pairs best with leftover turkey? You can go so many different directions with pairing cheese with leftover turkey, but I suggest a Havarti. The mild, buttery, and slightly acidic profile pairs well with seasoned turkey. Also, turkey, brie, and a generous smothering of cranberry mayo makes the perfect next-day turkey sandwich.
How long can cheese sit out for? Cheeses should not be left at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
What is the best way to store leftover cheese? Remember that cheese needs to breathe. For hard cheeses, I suggest wrapping them in parchment paper and putting them in a plastic bag. I also love Formaticum reusable cheese storage bags because they help to retain humidity so the cheese doesn’t dry out. Some producers, Vermont Creamery included, package soft-ripened cheeses in a rigid container, which is designed to allow the cheese to breathe while also protecting its delicate rind. I suggest storing these cheeses in their original containers. Fresh cheeses like fresh goat cheese should be stored in an airtight container.
Do you have suggestions on what to do with leftover cheese (goat) (Manchego), (Brie) and the stinky cheeses? There generally isn’t any leftover cheese in my house – but when there is, my favorite way to use leftover cheese is in a frittata, quiche, or a pasta dish. You can shred or cube just about any meltable cheese and add it into your mac and cheese recipe for some interesting flavor. Creamy cheeses, like fresh goat cheese or our Cremont make delicious sauces. My favorite recipe is this Cremont Miso Mac and Cheese. And save the rinds of your hard cheeses. They add great flavor to soup stock.
Do you have a preferred cracker…or should we just go with a fresh baguette? Both are good choices. Choose rustic bread and crackers that won’t overshadow the cheese. My favorite crackers are Rustic Bakery sourdough flatbreads and Rustic Bakery shortbread cookies for sweet cheeses, like our Strawberry Spritz goat cheese.