The winter holidays are one of our favorite foodie times of the year, but they also present a unique challenge: how do you create dishes that satisfy a range of palates, without spending hours over the stove? Our advice is to focus on one or two of your more elaborate recipes, then fill in with several simple, crowd-pleasing appetizers—like a beautifully arranged cheese board, complete with breads and crackers, nuts or proteins, and sweet berries.
Cheese boards are perfect for the holidays not only because so many people love cheese, but also because they’re a no-cook, quick-to-assemble alternative to party food. If you’ve been wondering how to make a holiday cheese board, follow these easy rules:
1. Choose a large serving platter, tray, or board that will accommodate 3 to 4 cheeses and all their accompaniments without squashing all of the components together. Marble, wood, and slate are classic choices, but any serving surface will work that keeps the cheeses and fruits organized and spaced far enough apart that guests aren’t forced to touch multiple items every time they reach into the platter.
2. Group like items together. For example, nuts and olives in separate heap to one side of the board, cheeses in the center, and fruits on the other end.
3. Choose your cheeses wisely, alternating ages, textures, and level of pungency. Fresh, creamy, soft, and semisoft cheeses are typically appreciated by a wider range of tastes, while aged, hard, and pungent cheeses tend to play well for more sophisticated palates. Select no more than one from each of the following categories, unless you’re making multiple cheese boards:
Goat cheese (chevre)
4. Meats aren’t a must, but if you decide to include them, select ones that can be eaten with or without a cracker or piece of bread. Some good choices: sliced cured sausages or salami, or wafer-thin strips of prosciutto or jamón iberico.
5. Pile on the fruits! Most people love to contrast cheese, especially more pungent varieties, with the sweetness of fruit. Dried fruits like apricots are a common choice, but why not thaw some of your summer berry haul? Serve strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries as is, or simmer them on the stovetop into a single- or mixed-berry compote that guests can spoon over their cheese.
6. Add bread and other accompaniments. We like both crackers and thin slices of crusty bread for a cheese board, to provide alternating crunchy and chewy textures, but you can also include wedges of pita bread (fresh or toasted) or bread sticks. Other great choices for cheese board accompaniments include olives, pickles or cornichons, honey, and nuts (especially roasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans).
Check out this visual how-to for arranging your holiday cheese board. And don’t forget the berries!