6 Tips for Building a Ballin' Cheese Board on a Budget
It’s officially a scientifically founded, proven fact that when when consumed together, cheese makes wine taste better. Our friends at Food & Wine recently explained how researchers at the Center for Taste and Feeding Behavior determined that wine enthusiasts preferred the taste of wines when they were served cheese. The study determined that, for most wine, cheese decreased the dominance of astringency and increased the aroma of the wine, making it taste better overall. Also, cheese never negatively impacted the taste of the wine.
Point being, science proves my cheese board obsession is completely warranted. I'm not a cheese glutton, I'm just trying to heighten my wine-sipping experience... i.e. I'm sophisticated. My intense love for a well-crafted cheese collage began when I realized that entertaining is fun, but providing appetizers is a hassle. Running around the kitchen, sweating off your just-done company makeup, minutes before guests come over? No, thank you. I'd rather be chilling with my glass of pre-company wine.
The solution to scrumptious appetizer needs and party planning stress: the cheese board.
I know what you’re thinking. A cheeseboard means different types of cheese and cured meat (if you're really doing the thing right), and fruit, and nuts... all of which get real expensive real fast when you're shopping for group. But listen--a great snack board doesn’t have to be crazy expensive to look/taste impressive. There’s something about a colorful, open platter piled with real, whole foods that is timelessly appealing even if you didn't drop half your paycheck on it.
Here are 6 tangible tips for creating a beautiful board without breaking the bank:
1. Consider making a less expansive board.
I don’t mean use a salad plate as a platter; I mean make a board with a lesser variety of ingredients. After all, if this is intended as a light snack, there's really no need to provide an expansive buffet. You can vary your portions of each depending on the size of you group, but to build a great board, all you need is:
- 2 great cheeses
- 1 firm or semi-firm, such as Asiago, Beaufort, or cheddar.
- 1 soft, such as Brie, Camembert, or a goat cheese (I highly recommend Humboldt Fog).
- 1 cured meat
- Go with something like salami, which will weigh in at a lower price point than something like prosciutto.
- 1 nut
- Try unshelled pistachios. An unshelled nut will help you save significantly and will slow your guests' munching down.
- 1 fruit
- Pick something in season that adds color and volume to the spread, like bunches of red and/or green grapes.
2. Comparison shop within grocery store.
It may seem that meats and cheeses are more expensive when they are sliced in-store, but depending on sales for the week, you may be able to score a great deal on a component or two of your board by visiting the deli. Compare the price of what you can get cut there to a prepackaged 4 ounces of Serrano. And once you make your way over to the specialty cheese case, take a look at what is on sale, as well as the more mainstream brands vs. the cheeses from "artisanal" creameries. Sometimes, they're comparable in price, but not always. Calculate the price per ounce for a comparison, just to make sure.
3. Only pay for what you can eat.
When buying hunks of cheese priced by the pound, only select those with edible or no rind.
4. Aim for texture and no empty space.
This makes for a board that looks bountiful, no matter the variety of ingredients. Cut similarly shaped ingredients in different shapes. Stack some items higher than others for dimension and fan others out a bit more to cover surface area. Add some garnishes, like sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme if you have some on hand, to cover "blank space" on the board.
5. Spread out.
Spreads are a great option for fleshing out your snack board like a pro and there's a good chance you already have most of the accouterments you need for your board in the fridge and pantry. No need to go buy new jars of artisanal preserves; if you have honey, stone ground or whole-grain mustard, and some sort of jam or preserves, scoop some of each into small serving bowls, place throughout the board and you're good to go.
Also, a smart way to add body to a board is to make your own spread that relies on more budget friendly base ingredients (cream cheese still counts as cheese here, people). An herbed cheese spread, bacon jam, or compound butter are all delicious, elegant options.
6. Embrace the bread.
Serve your array of goodies with homemade crostini or just plain sliced baguette rather than specialty crackers. A baguette from the bakery will run you about $2 versus the $5 to $8 you'll spend on that box of fancy-pants crackers studded with seeds and dried fruit.