Cheese Board Pairings for the Novice

Cheese Board Pairings for the Novice

4 minute read

Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Asiago. You’re not in a foreign country -- you’re in your local gourmet cheese shop!

I get this question a lot in the market: “What cheese board pairings should I serve?” It’s a question without a solid answer because there’s no actual definition of the perfect cheese board pairings. Instead, you have guidelines depending on your palette, budget, and the availability of gourmet cheese in your area.

With these tips on the best cheese board pairings, you can wow your friends and family with the best cheese board ever at your next summer event.

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Know Your Cheese Types

A good cheese board will include a mix of different types of cheeses to play off the textures and flavors of other items on the board. Let’s start with cheese 101! 

There are five main types of cheese:

  • Hard cheese like parmesan

  • Semi-hard cheese, including cheddar, gouda

  • Blue mold cheese like blue cheese or gorgonzola

  • White mold cheese like brie

  • Fresh cheese, including mozzarella and feta

Within each of these texture categories, flavors can range from mild to sweet to tangy. As a general rule of thumb, try these pairings:

  • Pair creamer cheeses (cream cheese and mozzarella) with more savory dishes, vegetables, or olives

  • Hard and semi-hard (cheddar and gouda) can be paired with fresh fruit, red wine, and roasted nuts

  • Blue mold cheeses pair well with apples, honey, pears, and walnuts

  • White mold cheeses taste great with sweet berries, figs, and cherry jam

Your cheese board pairings should have a blend of textures (one hard cheese and one white mold cheese, for instance) and flavors (a tangy blue cheese and a mild cream cheese). Your choices are totally up to you!

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Start With What You Know

You might not be familiar with some of the gourmet cheeses of the world, and that’s ok. Most grocery store chains -- even those with gourmet meats and wines -- don’t carry some more difficult-to-find cheese types.

Frankly, gourmet cheeses can be robust tasting, especially if you’re used to buying cheese at the grocery store.  Jumping into a bunch of fancy cheese will shock your palate, so starting with cheeses, you know is the best way to start.

Begin with the cheeses you’re most familiar with, and then push your taste limits. For instance, if you like mozzarella (and who doesn’t?), try mascarpone instead -- it’s a similar texture to mozzarella but has a richer flavor.

Gourmet Experience vs. Store Bought Experience

There’s a logical reason we don’t see many gourmet kinds of cheese at the grocery store. Gourmet cheese costs a little more, and they have a stronger taste. They are meant to have a little sliver at a time because the flavor is in your face! If you’re used to eating larger chunks of standard cheese, you’ll have to adjust with gourmet!

Also, keep in mind that some gourmet cheese may look a little odd. For instance, white mold cheese has a rind, which doesn’t look all that appetizing (if you can get past the rind, though, it’s so yummy!) 

We’re used to the same experience with grocery store cheeses, but gourmet cheese’s flavor changes over time as they age. This is normal.  You'll see that the description of flavors says, “The brie starts out like this and ends like this once fully aged.” So buying the same cheese but at different times can create a different experience. 

This is not something most shoppers are familiar with.  We typically want the same experience and flavors all the time.

Serving Your Cheese Board Pairings

Here are a few cheese pairings to get you started:

  • Mozzarella and a light cream cheese for a pre-dinner appetizer

  • Blue Cheese, cheddar, and manchego for an after-dinner cheese board

  • Two soft cheeses -- mascarpone and cream cheese -- and two hard or semi-hard kinds of cheese -- Parmigiano-Reggiano and sharp cheddar

  • Similar categories of cheese together: a semi-hard cheese plate with sharp cheddar, gouda, and Havarti

Be sure not to crowd your plate and forget the accompaniments, crackers, bread, olives, fruit, or nuts. These tips will help you design an amazing charcuterie board!

Now you know the basics, so go forth and serve some tasty cheese!

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