So you’ve decked the halls, trimmed the trees and strung up all of your Christmas lights, but did you forget about the food? Don’t miss an opportunity to “up” the festive factor this year by bringing some of that holiday cheer to your cheese board.
A few simple tricks (like busting out the cookie cutters and picking the proper produce) will make your cheese platter the prettiest, and tastiest thing on the grazing table this year!
General Rules of Cheese Board Planning
We won’t say it’s the worst thing you could do to your wallet this time of year (because let’s be honest, holiday gift shopping does some serious damage), but venturing into the grocery store without a plan for your cheese board is dangerous stuff.
To ensure that you don’t get carried away when picking through potential pairings, try to set general rules outlining the flavors, textures, shapes and colors you want on your Christmas cheese board. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
- Always start with the cheeses. When planning your Festive Christmas cheese board, remember that the anchors of your platter will be, as the name “cheese board” implies – the cheese. Using a range of textures (soft to hard) and flavors (sharp to mild) will ensure that there’s a little something to please all your guests. What’s more, selecting different shapes of cheese (wheel, wedge or block) will make your cheese board look more interesting.
- Pay a visit to the produce aisle. When in doubt, start with what’s in season. During the month of December, cranberries, pomegranates, clementines, pears and persimmons are just a few great options that you should be able to find fresh. But don’t feel stuck on seasonal ingredients either. Other year-round, popular cheese pairings include grapes, cherries and berries, which all fill space nicely and are easy to pluck off and eat.
- Raid that pantry. Before you check out with the entirety of the produce aisle, remember that you don’t have to go with all fresh ingredients. In fact, mixing things up by incorporating jams and dried fruits (which you might even have on hand already) will make for a better overall spread.
- Add meat…if you want. There doesn’t have to be meat on every cheese board, so don’t feel forced, but just a little charcuterie can go a long way. Generally speaking, one “whole-muscle cut” (such as prosciutto, bresaol, or jamón) and one “cured sausage” (such as salami, pepperoni or Spanish chorizo) will give you a good balance.
- Don’t forget the carbs. No cheese board is complete without crackers, bread or toasts of some sort. Get a couple with different textures for added interest.
- Give them some salt. Make sure your guests also have the option to grab a handful of something salty from your cheese board. Olives or mixed nuts are two popular crowd-pleaser’s.
Holiday Touches for Your Cheese Board
Small festive touches can make all the difference between an everyday platter and an impressive, Instagram-worthy spread. However, like too much tinsel on a Christmas tree, it’s easy to go from “gorgeous” to “gaudy” when you over-decorate your cheese board. Here are some tips to strike the perfect balance.
- Stay on a color scheme. Normally, it’s great to go wild with color, but to give your cheese board a merry feel, try to stick with colors commonly associated with the holiday, in this case Christmas: various shades of red, green, and white.
- Make use of your cookie cutters. Press a snowflake cookie cutter gently and shallowly into the center of a cold wheel of brie and lift out or use a knife to remove a thin layer. Then, spread jam in the indented area to create a colorful snowflake design. Cookie cutters can also be used to cut shapes out of slices of cheese, which make for fun details with which to decorate you finished board. Snowflakes, reindeer, Christmas trees, snowmen, and mittens work especially well.
- Decorate with mini cheese balls. Mixing the scraps from your cheese cutouts with cream cheese and seasonings creates a great cheese ball base, which you can then divide and roll in herbs, dried cranberries, and chopped nuts. The single-serving cheese balls will jazz up your cheese board like ornaments would a tree.
Putting It All Together
Follow this walk-through to a T if you want your cheese board to look exactly like ours or use it as a rough template to customize it how you want as you go.
- 1 large brie round
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into chunks
- 12 ounces sliced white cheddar
- 1 wedge semi-hard cheese of choice
For the mini cheese balls:
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 bunches chives, chopped, divided
- 1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
- 2 cups mixed seasoned nuts, divided
- 4 ounces prosciutto
- 1 stick black pepper salami, sliced
- Fresh cherries
- White grapes
- Mini toasts
- Fruit and nut crackers
- Honey or hot honey
- Fruit jam
To begin, gather your olive wood boards. (We used one 19.5” board and one 12” board.)
Prepare the Cheeses
Place the brie wheel in the freezer. Meanwhile, stack half of the cheddar cheese slices and cut into even quarters to form small rectangles. Set aside. Use seasonal cookie cutters (like these snowflake cookie cutters) to cut shapes from the remaining slices of cheddar. Place any scraps in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the softened cream cheese, lemon juice, garlic powder and hot sauce to the food processor. Cover and process until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of chives and pulse to combine. Add salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings to taste. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator until firmed up slightly, about 15 minutes.
Slice the semi-hard cheese into triangles and then cut off the bottom halves, creating two shapes: trapezoids with the rind attached and small, thin triangles. Set aside with the cheddar.
Remove the brie from the freezer. Press a cookie cutter slightly into the center of the top of the brie and use a butter knife to gently remove the portion of brie inside of the cookie cutter to create a cut-out snowflake.
Fill the Large Board
Place the brie on the larger cheese board, toward the center.
Place half of the mixed nuts in a small bowl and place at the bottom of the large board. Finely chop the remaining nuts.
Using gloves or wet hands, form the refrigerated cream cheese mixture into small balls. Roll a third of them in the chopped nuts until covered. Roll another third of the cheese balls in the chopped cranberries. Roll the last third of the cheese balls in a mixture of the chopped parsley and the remaining chives. Set aside.
Position the white cheddar rectangles on the large board in an overlapping, S-shaped pattern surrounding the brie and the bowl of nuts. Top with another S-shaped, overlapping pattern of the semi-hard cheese trapezoids.
Fold the prosciutto slices in half, longways, and then roll up to create flower-like shapes. Fill the open area to the left of the bowl of nuts with the prosciutto, reserving some prosciutto for the top. Fill the area to the right of the bowl of nuts with the grapes. Use the mini cheese balls to fill any large gaps on the bottom half of the large board.
Pour the honey into a small bowl and place at the top of the board, just above the sliced cheeses. Fill the space on the left with cherries. Place the remaining prosciutto directly to the right of the cherries. Fill in any remaining open spaces with additional cheese balls. The large board should now be full and awaiting final touches.
Fill the Small Board
Place the mini toasts in an overlapping, slightly arched line that travels down the center of the small board. Do the same with the sausage slices to the left of the mini toasts. Fill the area to the left of the sausage slices with the fruit and nut crackers.
Place the remaining cheese balls in a line above the mini toasts. Then, stack and slightly fan out the small semi-hard triangles in a line above the cheese balls, at the top of the small board.
The Finishing Touches
Use any additional cheese cut outs or triangles to decorate around the nut bowl. Decorate with the white cheddar cutouts.
Spoon a small amount of jam into the cut-out snowflake in the brie. Use a butter knife or toothpick to gently guide the jam towards the edges, making sure to fill in all of the details. Add more jam as necessary, a bit at a time, making careful not to overfill.
Serve at room temperature and enjoy!