Entertaining with Cheese

Your step-by-step guide to assembling a delicious, well-balanced cheese board.

When it comes to crafting a praise-worthy cheese platter, there’s no need to stress. Cheese boards are easy to assemble (as long as you follow some simple guidelines).

The Fresh Market is a great place to start your fromage love affair. We offer an extensive selection of American artisanal and European cheeses—plus, our cheese specialists are always happy to recommend varieties (and share samples) based on taste, budget and seasonality.

Start with the main attraction The cornerstone of any good cheese board is, of course, the cheese. From sharp, firm varieties to pungent blues, we have a wide range of varieties to choose from. We suggest starting with 3-5 different types of cheeses, depending on the size of your crowd. Plan for about 1 oz. of each cheese per guest.

Fill it out & grab a glass A good rule of thumb is to choose one accompaniment per cheese. Try not to overwhelm your spread with too many breads and crackers; opt for a crusty baguette or water crackers when needed. Wine is simple: if you'd like to serve it, keep reading for a handy pairing guide, along with varietals that work across the board.

The Art of the Cheese Board

variety of cheese

1. Fresh & Young

These cheeses are soft, often spreadable and can range from pleasantly mild to deliciously tangy.

Our favorite: Named for the fog that rolls in from Humboldt Bay, Humboldt Fog is a creamy California classic. Each handcrafted goat milk wheel is distinguished by a layer of edible vegetable ash, adding an earthy flavor that intensifies as the cheese matures. Its flavors include buttermilk, fresh cream and herbal notes balanced by a clean citrus finish.

Runners-up: Vermont Creamery Goat Cheese; Cypress Grove Goat Chevre

Wine Pairing: Dry, fruity or crisp acidic whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio complement soft young cheeses.

Delicious Accompaniments: Soft, young cheeses shine when paired with sweet and slightly savory flavors.

  • Fruit chutney or jam
  • Strawberries
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Roasted or sun-dried tomatoes

2. Firm

Stiff in texture, firm cheeses are normally aged and often sharp or salty on the palate.

Our favorite: Produced in the La Mancha region of Spain, Ponce de Leon Manchego is made with whole sheep’s milk from the Manchega breed. This cheese is aged for 8 months and has a distinctly fruity, sweet and slightly tangy flavor. Unlike soft-ripened cheeses, the waxed rind is inedible.

Runners-up: Campo De Montelban; Drunken Goat Cheese

Wine Pairing: Buttery whites like Chardonnay balance sharp, firm cheeses that boast a more intense flavor profile.

Delicious Accompaniments: Strongly-flavored, hard cheeses can stand up to salt and spice, and also complement sweeter flavors.

  • Pepper jelly
  • Kalamata olives
  • Sweet apples
  • Sweet and spicy mustard

3. Semi-Firm & Aged

Semi-firm and aged cheeses become firmer with age, with flavor notes ranging from nutty to smoky.

Our favorite: Raypenaer (pronounced “ray-pen-are”) means “ripening” in Dutch, which couldn’t be more appropriate—this golden-yellow Gouda is carefully aged in a 100-year-old warehouse along the Oude Rijn River in the Netherlands. The texture is creamy, flaky and semi-hard, with a salty, nutty flavor that lingers on the palate after every bite.

Runners-up: Gruyere; Red Fox Leicester

Wine Pairing: Tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or full-bodied whites like Chardonnay stand up to the nutty sharpness of semi-firm and aged cheeses.

Delicious Accompaniments: Enhance the nutty flavors of these cheeses with sugary, tart accompaniments.

  • Dried dark sweet cherries
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Caramelized pecans
  • Fresh pears

4. Soft-Ripened

A soft-ripened cheese is one that has a white, “bloomy” rind on the outside (think Brie). The interior is creamy and delightfully spreadable.

Our favorite: Like other soft-ripened cheeses, Harbison boasts a rustic, bloomy rind and spoonable center. Wheels of young cheese are carefully wrapped in a strip of spruce cambium, or interior bark, to support the softening interior as it ages. This Vermont cheese features sweet, woodsy flavors balanced by zesty notes of lemon and mustard.

Runners-up: Fromage d’affinois, Saint Angel

Wine Pairing: Champagne and Prosecco keep the palate light and lively, perfect for balancing high-fat, creamy cheeses.

Delicious Accompaniments: Sweet, tart, crunchy snacks are perfect for cutting through the buttery richness of soft-ripened cheeses.

  • Honey
  • Apples
  • Marcona almonds
  • Olives with fresh garlic

5. Blue

Pungent in flavor with a blue-gray tinge and crumbly texture, blue cheese can range from spicy and sour to nutty and mild.

Our favorite: An exquisite blend of pasteurized cow’s and goat’s milk, Valdeon Blue comes from the province of Leon, Spain. Each wheel is beautifully wrapped in giant sycamore leaves and cave-aged for a minimum of 2 months. It’s hearty, rich and intriguing, with hints of tobacco and roasted meat and a balance of salt and spice.

Runners-up: Point Reyes; Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue

Wine Pairing: Port, fruit-forward red or sweeter wines like Moscato or Riesling provide an enjoyable contrast to pungent, crumbly blues.

Delicious Accompaniments: Pungent cheeses are best complemented by something sweet.

  • Dark chocolate
  • Quince paste
  • Honey
  • Fig preserves