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Cheese Board Tutorial – How To Assemble a Cheese Tray

The perfect addition to any holiday party is a cheese board!  Full of fruits, meats, cheeses, nuts, and olives, it is perfect for satisfying all your guests at the same time! Check out all these tips and tricks for making a crowd-pleasing platter for your next crowd!

Overhead shot of a cheese board

A cheese board is the perfect party food and if you feel like arguing with me about it, let me explain myself.  Your friend is having a party.  You are obliged to ask “What can I bring?” even though you don’t have anything to bring, don’t want to cook, and whatever they say will require you to go to the store.  

When you respond with “anything specific?” they just say “whatever” or “an appetizer.”  That doesn’t help in any way shape or form.  Like I tell my hubby, there isn’t a recipe for “whatever!” 

If you really want to take a cheese board and don’t know how to make one read this cheese board tutorial for some tips and some pictures of cheese boards.

What is a cheese board for?

A platter containing 1 piece of every type of food available will please everyone.  Problem solved!  Oh wait, I don’t have a platter large enough to hold 1 piece of every food available, nor do I want to buy all of that.  

Not enough storage space.  I don’t like mushrooms so there is one thing I don’t want to buy, but wait, everyone else on the planet likes mushrooms.  Darn.

How about an appetizer platter or cheese board with a variety of items?  If they can’t find something to eat on a cheese board, they can starve.  Too harsh?  Tell them not to be so picky!  

Can you tell I have a problem with people saying they don’t like stuff, even though I said it about mushrooms earlier in this paragraph?  At a party, I will certainly think it but I will never say it out loud.  Ok, maybe I will but it’s dependent on the number of cocktails I consume.

Never made a cheese board before?

Cheese board ideas

Don’t worry, I am here to help.  I have just started making them and by no means do I know EVERYTHING there is to know about constructing the perfect cheese board, but I know the basics and will share them with you along with a few tips.  

Once you have the basics, you can tailor your cheese board to your needs, or the needs of the picky party guests that will be eating it.  Here are some cheese board idea pictures!

Side angle of meat and cheese trays

First things first in this cheese board tutorial…

What goes on a cheese board?

Duh, cheese!  But how much? What kind?  How many different types?  

All of these secrets will be revealed in due time and maybe a few extra tips, but first, you need to decide how many people are you feeding and then cheese per person.

Also, will it be a party where a full meal is being served or is this an appetizer grazing party?  If it is a small party with a meal being served you can serve a lot less food.

How much cheese do I need for 20 people?

The cheese board in this post is for a party of 16 with dinner being served as well so you can use this as a reference.  It was a tad big, but the party went on for a long time so most of it still got eaten along with dinner.  And I tend to make lots of appetizers because no one leaves hungry if I can help it.

You can see from the pictures that I broke this huge cheese board into two cheese boards.  This is because I don’t have a tray large enough to carry it all and even if I did it would be stupid heavy.  

By placing the two trays next to each other, it makes the cheese board seem like one cohesive platter that can be broken into two cheese boards if there is not enough counter space.

This brings up my first tip.

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close up of pecans on a cheese board

Can you use a cutting board as a cheese board?

I have a long wooden board that I used in my Summer Antipasto Tapas Cheese Board that I absolutely love, but it wasn’t wide enough for the amount of food that I wanted to bring on this occasion.  

My kitchen cutting board has the surface area but it is very heavy so it would weigh 1000 pounds with the food on it.  Also, it doesn’t have sides and sides can be very important when traveling with your cheese platter board.  

In this instance, I used two smaller serving trays that are similar in size and shape to make one large cheese board.

When traveling with your cheese board, think about these things:

  1. Will the food slide off the sides when I carry it?
  2. Can I assemble it at the party or does the host not let people in their kitchen?
  3. Will the plastic wrap or foil you are covering it with actually stick to the board and not let crackers escape?
  4. Will this board actually fit in my car or will I have to strap it to the roof of my car?

These are all important questions to consider when choosing your base.  It wouldn’t be a good cheese board tutorial if I didn’t get you thinking about all the aspects of a cheese board.

In this instance, having it in two separate trays allows for easy carrying, easy covering (even though plastic wrap doesn’t stick to wood), and at the party, I can separate it and put them in two different locations in the room so we won’t have an appetizer traffic bottleneck.  

Use what you have and get creative.  In the past, I have used a cookie sheet, a three-tiered cupcake stand, and even the bottom of a cardboard box. Nothing is off limits here!

*I usually cover my serving trays with parchment paper before I put food on them because they can be a little unsanitary after hanging out in my storage closet.*

Assortment of items to use as boards

What goes on my cheese board and where do I put it?

Duh, cheese!  So we are back to the original questions of what, how many, and how much.  I like to pick 3 different types of cheese for medium and large boards.  

If you are doing a small cheese board, I would stick with one good one.  A decorator friend of mine said that it is aesthetically pleasing if you use odd numbers when displaying items. Grouping items in odd numbers on the mantle or while making a centerpiece for a table is better.

The same thing applies to a cheese board.  If you are doing a large cheese board or extra large cheese board I would do 3 or 5 cheese, respectively.

What cheese do I use for a cheese board?

On this particular board, I use 3 types of cheese: one hard, one semi-soft, and one spreadable.  You can go with any combination of these types of cheese board cheeses, but around here people like the spreadable cheese so I grabbed at least one of those.  

Then I chose a hard and a semi-soft to round it out.  You can always go with a semi-soft, a regular block cheese, and then a creamy one like blue cheese.  Here are some great examples for each!

Hard cheeses

  • aged provolone
  • gruyere
  • manchego
  • aged gouda
  • aged cheddar

Semi-soft cheeses

  • blue cheese
  • brie
  • camembert
  • mozzarella
  • burrata

Soft cheeses

  • stilton
  • ricotta
  • goat’s milk cheese
  • feta

I would also include cheese spreads in this category much to the chagrin of a real cheesemonger

Even in my tiny town, I can find at least one cheese from each category.  If you are still feeling lost, ask your cheesemonger at the store.  No cheesemonger?  Just grab three types of cheese that you like to eat.

It doesn’t have to be super-fancy so just have fun with it!  Once you have your cheeses, space them out on the board.  

I like to make sure I have plenty of space around them to add all the other goodies.  In this picture, I used a Camembert (on the top), a garlic herb cheese spread (in the bowl), and a block of mild cheddar that I pre-sliced for easy eating.

 If you are having cheese that needs to be sliced or chunked off a block make sure you have knives to do that and a little space for the slicing to take place.

two empty platters with a few pieces of cheese

I lined my platters with parchment paper for sanitary and ease of cleaning reasons, but feel free to use plastic wrap or foil.

Next up are the meats and fruits.  Is it weird to eat meat on a cracker?  Nope!  Just be mindful of the people that won’t eat it that way and try not to give them dirty looks or roll your eyes where they can see you.

What meats go on a meat and cheese board?

When shopping for meats, choose ones that you can eat with or without a vehicle of some sort.  

I chose these meats for mine.

  1. sliced, cured sausage (good with a cracker or alone)
  2. some small smoked beef sticks (to be eaten alone unless you want to get creative with your crackers)
  3. some thin-sliced salami that can be eaten any way you like!

Pick meats that you like, and that your guests will like or think they will.  If you want to use turkey, roast beef, grilled chicken, smoked salmon, etc., go for it!!  I am a sucker for cured Italian meats so you will always see salami and pepperoni type meats on my cheese boards.

What fruits are best for a cheese board?

Use fruits that are seasonal if you can and if not, dried fruits are a great alternative.

  1. Dried Apricots
  2. Fresh Grapes
  3. Pomegranate Arils (seeds)
  4. Cherries
  5. Blackberries
  6. Strawberries

Dried apricots are a favorite of mine so I always have them in my pantry.  Grapes are available year-round thanks to the wonders of farming and shipping and are easy to pick up and walk around with.  

My third choice for this tray, in particular, is pomegranate arils.  These tart and juicy bubbles are perfect for topping buttery crackers and creamy cheese. Plus they are just fun!  

You can also choose cherries, blackberries, or strawberries.  When you have your fruits washed and ready, spread the fruits around the boards to make them accessible from all sides.

partially filled charcuterie boards

What goes on a cheese board?

Once those are situated on the trays, time to fill in the gaps.

  1. Spreads/Condiments
  2. Olives
  3. Crackers
  4. Pickles
  5. Nuts/Seeds

Next, we are going to add some other spreads and nibbles.  With my meats, a hearty mustard spread is perfect.  I also threw in a sweet fig spread, that can fall under the fruit category if you want, and I just love it with Camembert.

Olives always have a place on my cheese board and my new favorite is Castelvetrano olives which are green Sicilian olives that are not brined or salt-cured.  They have great flavor but they do have pits so be careful when eating and have a small bowl to place the leftover pits.  

No one likes to hold chewed-on pits or have them rolling around their plate touching their other food.  I gave up holding half-eaten chewed food when my kids got older than 3 so you know the people without children will not like this for sure!

two meat and cheese boards side by side

Time for the crackers, or food cars as I like to call them.  Crackers are the vehicles to get the meats and cheeses into my mouth so they are super important!  I chose 3 crackers that I like and will taste great with the three types of cheeses I have.  

Plan to get hearty or thick crackers for a cheese board because thin, brittle crackers will just not do.  You can serve those waif-like sheets of grain at a party where people don’t like to eat.  Those parties are thrown by people who are outside my circle of trust.

Crackers with seeds or nuts in them not only provide a great texture contrast but they bring out the flavors of the cheeses and meats.  A plain cracker is a necessity for the boring people at the party, so have at least one because there is always one boring person at each party.  

If you can’t find that person at your next party, it’s probably you.  Just saying…  Throwing in a cracker with a different shape or with herbs on it is always a good thing.  You can think outside the box and use pita chips, bagel chips, or even pretzels.  People like the salt and the crunch of those, for sure!

Your crackers should be spaced out and around the existing cheeses, meats, and fruits.  Grouping them close to the intended topping is a great way to introduce people to new combinations.  

Joe Shmo at the party might not think to put pomegranate arils on his garlic herb spread covered wheat cracker, but now he will!  You might even get a thank you note from him for the introduction.

Crackers are the last big thing to add to your cheese board

Time to fill in the gaps on the board.

We are almost finished with the cheese board but it’s not a cheese board tutorial if I don’t show you how to finish it out.  All the gaps you see on your cheese board need to be filled to make it look complete and full so what do we use? Well, what else do you have in your fridge?

Pickles? Nuts? Herbs?  More olives?  Toss them on there too!  Blank spaces on cheese boards make them seem unfinished or already picked at (and possibly sneezed on) so be sure fill them in. 

My go-to additions are my Buttery Toasted Pecans, a jar of blue cheese stuffed green olives, some small pickles (dill, of course), and some fresh herbs like sage, rosemary, and parsley.  Just be sure that the add-ins and garnishes are edible! 

Don’t laugh at this tip because people will try to eat anything in my experience, even fake greenery.

The garnishes I place on my cheese boards are more than just pretty, I tuck fresh herbs in the transition spaces for two reasons.

  1. To break up items that have similar colors or textures to make them stand out more and
  2. To keep wet pickles and olives off my dry crackers.  No one wants a soggy cracker using too many bowls on the tray makes it look like a condiment stand at the local fast food joint.  So not classy!
Fill in gaps on the with fresh herbs

There you have it!  With the help of this cheese board tutorial and all these cheese board ideas, you finished your winter holiday party cheese board and it looks fabulous. Party on!

overhead picture of charcuterie platter with meat and cheese and nuts

Cheese Tray Images

They look great together or on their own in separate areas of the party.  They might miss each other in the beginning but they will get used to it.

If the two separate trays look TOO thin, you can always combine the uneaten items onto one tray and “fluff” it up again as the party continues.

alternate setting for cheese board

One last tip in this cheese and meat board tutorial…

If you are assembling ahead of time and some things need to be kept cool before adding to the board, try adding placeholder items in the spaces where they will eventually go.  

Empty bowls/plates, stacks of napkins, and small tumblers work great too, just remove the empty vessel and add your bowl of mustard or cheese spread when ready to go.

The pickles and other items that are not going in bowls you can store in small zip-top bags on the trays in their designated spots and then empty onto the tray when you are ready to chow down.

Close up shot of meats and cheeses

I see a few gaps in the tray but that was just my mandatory quality control tests before I left for the party. I do have to make sure that everything tastes good, right? 

Despite being decoratively-challenged, I think my mother in law would be proud of her daughter in law for this creation, for sure.  She taught me everything I know and just shared with you here.

Now that I have armed you with some basics and a few tips in this cheese board tutorial, go forth and cheese board the hell out of your next party! 

When you make one be sure to tag me on social media with @TakeTwoTapas #TakeTwoTapasCheeseBoard so I can see your creations and send you some virtual props:)

Other party tutorials

Other party platters to make

If you love this Easy Cheese Board Tutorial as much as I do, please write a five-star review, and be sure to help me share on Facebook or on Pinterest with the “tried it” button – you can now add pictures into reviews, too!

image of meat and cheese board with text "how to make a cheese board that doesn't suck"

@TakeTwoTapas.com. Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing of this recipe is both encourages and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.

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Vicky M.

Sunday 8th of December 2019

I just saw this cheese board idea post while looking for hearty appetizer recipes for an upcoming Christmas party and I have to say "WOW!!" I love all your suggestions, and the presentation is fantastic. I too have combined cheeses with meats and fruits and crackers, but hadn't thought of putting spreads on the same tray. Using empty bowls as place holders ahead of time is genius. And the little sprigs of herbs add so much to the overall look. Using parchment lined wood trays with sides is also a great suggestion.

Thank you for all the wonderful ideas.

Jennifer

Sunday 8th of December 2019

Thank you so much!

Michele Hall

Saturday 17th of November 2018

I love how beautiful your cheese board is. Mine always look so empty and sad. I like how you have so much going on in the trays. Im bookmarking this so I have it for the holid