Tip #1: Three to Five Cheeses, Max
Less is more when it comes to building a balanced board. If you have too many choices, you'll overwhelm palates and risk guests filling up on calorie-dense cheeses and carb-heavy breads and crackers. More cheeses are also more expensive. Start with three cheeses, increasing the wedge size depending on your crowd.
Tip #2: Vary Milks and Textures
Build variety with the type of milk used to make the cheese (cow, sheep, or goat) and the texture (firm like Parmesan, semi-firm like Swiss, soft like chévre, and super soft like brie or Taleggio), rather than sticking to one style. A great rule of three: one firm, one semi-firm or soft, and one blue.
Build the board "from mild to wild," Goddu says, so the palate won't be overwhelmed by a first bite of strong Stilton, for instance. "You want to start with the more friendly cheese, and end with the strong ones."
Tip #3: Bring to Room Temperature
Cheese needs time to breathe so that aromas and flavors can reach their peak (just as you'd uncork a bottle of wine a bit before you drink). Remove cheeses from the fridge, unwrap, and let stand at room temperature about an hour before guests arrive (why cheese boards are also a great make-ahead party appetizer).
Tip #4: Go Big on the Board
Beyond the cheeses and their accouterments, you'll need room for knives, small bowls, and multiple hands reaching in at once. Opt for a larger cheese board, cutting board, or platter rather than a smaller one. You could also use a chalkboard: place the cheeses on squares of parchment paper and write their names underneath.
Tip #5: Add Crunchy, Juicy, Tart, and Sweet
Creamy, rich cheeses need a counterpart to refresh the palate. Try crisp, tart apple slices, sweet pear slices, juicy grapes, crunchy sour gerkins, nuts, or plump dried apricots or dates. Floral and sweet, honey is a good topper, says Goddu. It mitigates the funk of a strong cheese like blue. Try both dried and fresh fruits. Dried fruits have concentrated flavors, so they stand up to blues, washed rinds, and the stronger Alpine styles. Fresh fruit is preferred with triple crèmes and bloomy-rind cheeses. Whatever you choose, keep it simple—no candied pecans or chile-spiked pickles. These elements are meant to cleanse the palate, not compete with the cheese.
Don't forget bread and crackers. Goodu prefers crusty fresh bakery bread to crackers on a cheese board. "You've got better texture variety with bread: the crunchy crust and the spongy center."
Tip #6: Go Beyond Basic
Looking to broaden your cheese horizons? Murray's Cheese Expert Adam Goddu shows you exactly where to start.
If you like goat cheese, try…a triple crème cheese. It has less tang than goat and is wonderfully spreadable with a luscious mouthfeel.
If you like brie cheese, try…Taleggio. This cow's milk washed rind cheese has a mildly pungent flavor that's perfect for beginners.
If you like Gruyere, try…an aged Manchego. This is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese that's sliceable with crunchy crystals and a deep, nutty, caramelized flavor.
If you like blue cheese try…a sheep's milk blue. A funkier, well-bloomed cheese like Gorgonzola may be too intense for some guests. Sheep's milk blues are often milder.