Cheese boards can make a meal special
Cheese boards have become an art form.
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension
“What’s that smell?” I thought to myself. I was just a child at the time.
I decided to investigate. I followed my nose into the kitchen and found my dad and uncle huddled at the kitchen counter.
They were enjoying saltine crackers spread with Limburger cheese. They were relishing their snack, and the scent was wafting through the house. They grinned and offered me a sample.
I exited the kitchen. Actually, I think I ran.
Limburger is definitely in the “stinky cheese” category. Limburger was kept in a tightly closed glass jar in the refrigerator. My dad always had access to his favorite strongly flavored cheeses, especially during holiday celebrations.
My mom went in the kitchen, opened the window and closed the kitchen door. I think she was a bit amused by her husband and brother bonding over cheese.
Although I did not develop an appreciation for Limburger cheese, we always had other types of cheese in our refrigerator.
From childhood to the present, cheese has played a role on our menus, snacks and holiday celebrations.
Cheese appeals to the food scientist and nutritionist in me. Cheese is a fermented food. It is a combination of milk, salt, fermenting agent (such as bacteria) and rennet (an enzyme).
Cheese also is a good source of calcium, protein and phosphorous, which help us build strong bones and serve a range of other functions in our body.
Keep in mind that good nutrition is a balancing act. Cheese contains varying amounts of sodium and fat. We all need to limit sodium and fat to some degree. Highly processed cheese, especially the type sold at room temperature, usually is higher in sodium than natural cheese.
In this column, I will explore how to make a cheese board with a range of cheese, meat, vegetables, fruits and grain items on the side. This blend of ingredients encourages our family and friends to balance their food choices while enjoying delicious foods.
Cheese boards can make a meal special, especially as we celebrate the holidays after a challenging year.
We could use a “fancy” word and call them “charcuterie boards” because of the range of meats, fruits, vegetables and crackers they include.
Although any type of plate or platter will work, more recently I have acquired bamboo and slate cheese boards.
Cheese types vary from fresh to soft-ripened to hard or semi-hard cheeses. When introducing “new” foods to your family, we often suggest pairing “new” foods with familiar foods. Explore the range of cheese types. You may want to introduce mild varieties before sharp flavors.
Have you tried Havarti, feta and mascarpone cheese? These are fresh, high-moisture cheese types that vary in their texture and flavor.
Brie or camembert are soft-ripened cheeses with an edible rind. This type of cheese can be warmed and served with crackers or French bread. Bring to room temperature before serving. Brie can be baked in a puff pastry crust and served with some dried fruit or jam.
For a bolder flavor, try some stilton or blue cheese. Both have complex flavors, so a small amount will suffice as an accent to recipes.
Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss and Parmesan cheese types provide distinctive flavors that make them delicious additions to a cheese board.
Cheese boards have become an art form. We eat with our eyes before we take the first bite of food, so making food attractive is part of the dining experience.
Instead of a recipe, I am pleased to share information on how to make a cheese board. I have adapted this information from a publication created by the Midwest Dairy Association and a local caterer, Milk Made. I appreciate their inspiration for this column.
- Choose a “stage” for your assortment of food. A wooden or slate board adds visual interest and a color contrast to the food you place on it. Slate boards provide the option to label the board using chalk. If you do not have a board, a cutting board or other platter would work.
- Select the cheese. Use the rules of odds. You may want three or five different types of cheese, depending on the size of your gathering and your budget. Aim for a variety of flavors and colors.
- Select the meat or other protein sources to feature. Cured meat pairs well with cheese. Try salami, prosciutto or any favorite cured meats (or meat alternative, if preferred).
- Add a variety of side items. Add some fresh fruit, such as red and green grapes or strawberries. Add some dried fruit, such as a dried cranberries or apricots. Feature some nuts or seeds, such as walnuts or pistachios. You might like to include some olives. Add some jam or jelly in a small bowl. Complete your side items with a basket of whole-grain crackers.
Here’s a note from me. To save some money, I often pick up a package of dried fruit and nut mixture available in many grocery stores. I then separate them on the board into individual groups.
- Arrange your platter artfully. See https://www.midwestdairy.com/resource/cheese-pairings-cheese-boards-guide/ for more details, cheese pairings and enticing photos.
- Say cheese and smile as you enjoy a delicious and beautiful cheese board. As my dad and uncle showed me long ago, you can bond and celebrate with cheese.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson)