French Cheese Boards (Easy Guide)

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Are you considering making a French cheese board for your next event? With all the photos on Instagram of beautiful boards, it is no wonder more people are jumping on this trend, but standing in the cheese section of the grocery store can be quite intimidating.

But it is easier than you might think! You can get an elegant, sophisticated French cheese board on your table with the following tips and tricks. You and your friends can enjoy your feast without guilt because it is full of protein and healthy nibbles!

What Is On A Traditional French Cheese Board?

A traditional French cheese board is pared down to just the basics: cheese, baguette, and a handful of grapes. It is simple, beautiful, and delicious. 

You will usually see at least three different types of cheeses, but it could be as many as five. They will range in texture and flavor. While the cheese is certainly the star of the show, it is nothing without the baguette.

It is likely that you have eaten a French baguette at least once in your life. It is a long loaf with a soft, chewy center and a crusty exterior. It consists of whole ingredients (water, flour, yeast, and salt), and it is the perfect companion for your cheese. 

When it comes to grapes, a traditional board will include one of the famous French varieties either green or red depending on the cheese selection. The board may contain something like the sweet Sémillon grape from the southwester part of the country or a juicy Malbec from Cahors.

How To Make The Ultimate French Cheese Board

If you have the good fortune to live in Paris, making a French cheese board will be as easy as heading to the local fromagerie and asking for help! If you happen to live somewhere else in the world, you can follow these three tips.

  1. Avoid industrial cheeses. Look for French cheeses that have “AOC” or “AOP” on their packaging as those designations are awarded by the French government because the cheese producers meet certain standards.
  2. Serve it at the right time. Oftentimes, your cheese board is the main event, in which case you should serve it right away. If you are also serving a meal, however, then the cheese board comes between the main meal and dessert.
  3. Include salty and sweet. An ultimate French cheese board will include a wide range of flavors. Be sure to hit all the right notes by including salty, sweet, and even a something a little spicy on your board.

The Platter

When it comes to presentation, the platter you build your cheese board on is very important. There are several different materials to choose from, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Wood

Wood is the classic cheese board material because it is both economical and easy to clean. You are likely to find wood boards in all different shapes, styles, and colors.

One of the reasons that wood is such a common choice is that it makes cutting your cheese choices easy for your guests. Some of the harder cheeses like parmesan need a sturdy surface.

It is good to remember that some species of wood can absorb flavors — especially from foods as fatty and oily as cheese. You don’t want to end up with a foul smelling wooden cheese board because you made a poor wood choice!

You will want to avoid woods like oak, cedar, pine, or cypress which tend to absorb smells and flavors. For sanitary reasons, you will also want to steer clear of porous woods like mahogany and walnut.

Other things that you will want to keep away from your cheeses are lacquer and varnish. These are often not food safe or are in danger of chipping off into your food.

Stone or Marble

Stone boards can be made from marble, granite, or other natural stones, and they are a great option both for their functionality and their form.

Marble, while not as susceptible to absorption as wook, is still a porous material so care instruction should be followed carefully. However, the cool marble surface is great for keeping cheeses the right consistency while you are noshing.

If you will be eating your French cheese board out of doors, especially on a sunny day, stone boards are the way to go! You can even give them an ice bath prior to your event to ensure they will achieve maximum coolness.

Slate

A newcomer to the foodie scene, slate has been gaining popularity in recent years. Kitchen slate is a good choice for cheese boards because it is basically non-porous and thus does not absorb any flavors or odors.

It is important to find a true kitchen slate for your cheese board, however, because not all slates are equal. Some varieties are prone to chipping or flaking, and they can be porous (especially some of the colored slates.)

Another reason slate is such a popular choice is the price. Kitchen slate is often more budget-friendly than marble or even high-end wood charcuterie boards. Slate can scratch easily, so care should be taken.

Glass

Another solid option is glass. Cheese boards made of glass are non-porous, they can be put in the dishwasher, and they require virtually no maintenance. The one downside of glass is that it doesn’t keep the cheese cool in the way marble does.

Many people enjoy a glass cheese board because you can cut hundreds of blocks of cheese on it and will not see a scratch! This means your board will look new for years to come which is a definite plus for people who like to reduce money spent and kitchen items sent to the landfill.

The Cheeses

The possibilities for your French cheese board are pretty much endless. There are so many different types of cheese that you can create combinations for years and never repeat a board!

The best way to ensure everyone is satisfied — and keep things interesting — is to go with a combination of soft, hard, and crumbly cheeses. The softer cheeses and the crumbly cheeses can be added to the board in a wedge or block, while harder cheeses should be pre-sliced for ease of eating.

If you are inviting guests, you will likely want to include familiar cheeses with the more exotic so that everyone has something they feel safe eating. Familiar cheeses to consider include:

Soft cheeses, like the familiar Brie, are rich and creamy. Other less familiar options in this category include Camembert and Fromage d’Affinois. 

When it comes to hard cheeses, Comté and Gruyère are excellent choices. The longer these types of cheeses are aged, the better they will taste!

If you are looking to add a little distinction in your cheese flavors, a blue cheese like Roquefort packs quite a punch. You can also add more variety with Chèvre, a goat cheese, that has an earthy, tart flavor. 

When it comes to quantities, you want to make sure that you have at least 1 ounce of cheese per each guest in attendance. But of course, if you aren’t serving a meal or any other nibbles, you will want a more robust cheese platter with at least 1½  ounces of cheese per person and lots of pairings.

The Cheese Pairings

If you are wanting a more robust board, instead of the traditional cheese, baguette, grapes style, you will want to find nibbles that pair appropriately with your cheese choices. Consider things like cured meats, fruits, nuts, and various spreads.

Cheeses like Brie are amazing just spread across your crusty bread or maybe drizzled with just a bit of honey. However, they also pair well with nuts, sweet fruits, and preserves. A favorite for many people is fig, berry, or cherry preserves. 

Gruyere goes well all on its own with crackers or toasted baguette slices. Yet, it also pops when you add fruit such as grapes, jicama, or pears to the mix. There are those that will also slather on a bit of sharp mustard or a sweet lingonberry or blackberry jam

Roquefort spread on a baguette will pair well with a drizzle of honey. Plus, the flavors of the cheese really complement nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts. Goat cheese spreads well on toasted bread slices, and it is excellent paired with honey and apples. 

If you aren’t providing a crusty baguette (or even if you are!), crackers should make an appearance on your cheese board. According to the New York Times, there are three basic cracker varieties to choose from:

The one pairing item that you should definitely not forget is wine! Experts claim that the best wine to accompany a cheese plate is one that is medium-bodied with a firm structure something like a Cabernet Franc. 

You also want to avoid any wines with high tannins or acids as they will not complement the cheeses very well.

Tip: Temperature Matters

Food served to your family, friends, and even yourself needs to be kept at a safe temperature so as not to make anyone sick. The easiest thing that you can do to protect people and prevent foodborne illness is monitoring your French cheese board for proper temperatures. 

In addition to food safety, charcuterie should be served at a lightly chilled temperature for best flavor. Take your cheeses out of the refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for about a half an hour prior to your dinner or gathering time as cold neutralizes flavors and keeps your soft cheese from reaching their optimal creaminess. 

To keep everyone safe and maintain the right flavor temperature, you can prepare your cheese board in smaller batches that can be rotated out of the fridge at the proper time.

Tip: Smart Serving Tricks

When arranging your cheeses, place them on the board from mildest to strongest in flavor. If you are serving a particularly pungent variety, you may want to plate that one alone so that it doesn’t overpower your other selections.

Each cheese should have its own knife. Soft cheeses need only a butter knife, firm varieties may need a paring knife, and your aged cheeses will be best with a cheese plane.

If you don’t want to spend the entire night repeating the cheeses on hand, you can add little labels with poetic adjectives to help your guests keep track of what is what. And don’t forget to choose wines that go with your cheese choices!

When it comes to the meat portion of the board, you will want to vary the texture just like you do for the cheese. Have choices like salami, prosciutto, and pate to keep things interesting.
Having a proper amount of meat is just as important as the proper amount of cheese. Consider 1 ounce per person a good starting point, and be sure that you slice the meat while they are cold but not too far in advance of your event.

Don’t forget the other accoutrements, and it is always fun to add a little homemade surprise to the mix! When choosing your wines, getting lower alcohol varieties will allow your guests to make several different pairings without risking intoxication.

Lastly, you will want to ensure that you have enough small plates and coordinating napkins for each of your guests.

Tips To Make A Great Cheese Plate

The aesthetic of your French cheese board is just as important as the flavors. Wow your guests with the following tips:

  1. Start with the larger items on the board such as your small bowls and your cheese wedges.
  2. Once you have the larger items where you want them, fill in your cheese and meat slices, the bread, and the crackers. You can use a variety of presentations such as stacks, fans, half-circles, and other fun shapes.
  3. In the larger leftover spaces, place your fruit and nuts. Bunches of grapes can be broken up into smaller fragments to be spread around the board.
  4. It is always a good idea to toss in some olives. Both green and black varieties pair well with a wide range of cheeses.
  5. If you end up with any leftover spaces, you can easily tuck in a little bit of arugula, rosemary sprigs, or other fresh herbs to add a little green. Plus, your greens can add even more flavor to your bites!

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