Lilith Spencer, winner of the 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational San Francisco and monger at Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, is quickly becoming known nationwide for her colorful and imaginative cheese boards. For the latest issue of Grate. Pair. Share., she created a special Wisconsin cheese board bursting with beautiful cheeses and accompaniments, and of course some fresh cheese curds.
Want to learn how to build a cheese board like a pro? Check out Lilith’s top tips below, and be sure follow @cheesemongrrl on Instagram for more beautiful inspiration.
ENTER TO WIN: We’re giving away a selection of Wisconsin cheese and accompaniments, plus a beautiful cheese board. Entry details below.
Make sure your accompaniments cover the following bases: Crunchy, sweet, spicy, salty, pickled and fresh. For example, an assortment might include pistachios, cherry jam, hot honey, assorted olives, pickled beets, and sliced radishes. Don’t forget to throw in something unexpected! My favorite non-traditional cheese pairings include red miso, umeboshi plums, dark chocolate and roasted chickpeas. Challenging preconceived notions regarding what is “supposed” to go together makes for great conversation, which I believe is another essential ingredient in any gathering.
Aesthetically, focus more on balance than on symmetry: Think less about the shapes or overall design you are going to make and more about your cheeses and accoutrement in terms of color. Make sure to alternate contrasting colors as you plate, rather than keeping all of the cheesy golds or rose-hued meats next to one another—using nuts, dried and fresh fruit and olives as borders and dividers to frame your cheeses and charcuterie will really make them pop!
Implement an upgrade or two: Olives always look better and stay glossy if they’re given a quick toss in some olive oil; they taste even better if you warm them up a bit. The humble raisin gains juicy confidence from a 30-minute soak in sherry vinegar, chili flake, and a spoonful of whole-seed mustard. Dried figs, plums, apricots and dates can be soaked in whiskey, brandy or port and then baked at 375°F for 20-30 minutes for a decadent addition to your post-dinner cheese plate.
Create an illusion of bounty: You don’t have to have excessive quantities of food to create a lush landscape. Use a space-stealing standby, such as a bunch of grapes, as a dual-purpose centerpiece and prop. An array of cheese triangles can stand up with its assistance, or a wedge of something soft and bloomy can lean casually against those cushiony orbs. Filling in the gaps between the main characters (that would be the cheese and charcuterie, of course) with tasty morsels takes away the negative space and makes a cheese board appear smorgasbord-like, and creating vertical vignettes (such as a stack of Potter’s crisps) lends the platter some depth.
Find more cheesy tips and recipes in the Spring/Summer issue of Grate. Pair. Share.