With swooping stacks, creative cuts, and inviting accoutrements, a cheese board can become the centerpiece of a party. The perfect platter pops with color and exciting elements, bringing people to the table and inviting conversation. But with all the options out there, it can be tricky to figure out just the right cheeses to take your board over the top.
We tapped three cheese experts (including two Cheeselandians) and entertaining obsessives to explain how they put together the most eye-popping, crowd-wowing, and Instagrammable cheese boards imaginable. These creatives look to one place for their star ingredients—Wisconsin, The State of Cheese, where rich international influences meet. Each of our curd connoisseurs walked us through picking a theme for their board, choosing their favorite must-serve Wisconsin cheeses, and selecting sweet and savory snacks to go alongside them.
Read through the tips from these innovative influencers and copy their style—or get inspired to come up with your own idea for a stunning spread.
The California Cuisine Cheese Board
“The ideal board is full of variety, color, texture, and both congruent and complementary flavors,” says San Diego-based photographer, cheese expert, and Cheeselandian, Stephanie Arsenault. For her, the best board comes from thinking fresh and local—and from shopping at her neighborhood farmers market.
Arsenault chooses cheese by category, looking for buttery, creamy, crumbly, fruity, and fresh options. She starts with a block of mild Roth’s Butterkäse. “It will please even the pickiest of palates while pairing perfectly with nearly anything.” She also likes the crunch and saltiness of Sartori’s aged cheddar, MontAmoré, and the creaminess of BelGioioso’s burrata.
From the market, Arsenault likes to add fresh figs, berries, kumquats, halved passionfruit, mini cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, dainty radishes, and a few sprigs of fresh herbs (both for decoration and pairing).
And for her, no California-inspired board is complete without olives—ideally a trio of them, she says, suggesting a mix of sweet, meaty Castelvetranos, sun-dried black olives in oil, and pimento-stuffed manzanillas. “Don’t forget to add some pickled vegetables, too.”
She finishes her arrangement with what she calls “those edible spoons that deliver the deliciousness to your mouth”—quality sourdough flatbreads, nut-based wafers, and multi-grain crisps—then fills in any empty spots on the board with nuts, chocolatey bits, and a few edible flowers, “if you’re feeling fancy.”
The Tex-Mex-Inspired Cheese Board
One of the ways Cheeselandia council member and Austin resident Sara Kim stayed connected to far-away folks during the pandemic was through virtual cheese parties. For one such gathering, Kim celebrated the Tex-Mex spirit of her home state with a wide array of Latin American-style cheese. She looks to Wisconsin to fill her board, because the state leads the nation in Latin American-style cheese production, and is home to nearly one third of the Latin American-style cheeses produced in the U.S. She begins building a board with shreds of queso Oaxaca from Cesar’s Cheese. The creamy, mild, string cheese, Kim explains, “melts easily and pairs effortlessly, making it a friendly introduction to Latin American-style cheeses.”
Then she adds slices of the semi-soft, slightly sharp Queso Chihuahua from V&V Supremo Foods, a company founded in 1964 by Gilberto Villaseñor Sr. and Ignacio Villaseñor. The Michoacán, Mexico natives started their business to serve fellow Mexican immigrants hungry for the cheeses they missed from home. Today, the Villaseñors’ sons Gilberto II and Philip run the company, which distributes this Wisconsin-made cheese around the country.
Kim also includes Deer Creek’s The Rattlesnake for the aged cheddar’s smooth texture and the bite. Though not a traditional Latin American-style cheese, Rattlesnake is infused with premium gold tequila and habanero peppers, so its inventive flavor profile fits the theme nicely. Finally, she adds a soft wheel of queso fresco wrapped in a plantain leaf from La VacaRica. This fresh cheese’s fragrant protective wrapping even inspired Kim’s preferred pairing: plantain chips. “Any good cheese board should include a variety of snacky items,” she says, and having a theme helps to guide her—in this case, toward tropical fruit, a combination of fresh and pickled peppers, Tajin corn nuts, Mexican sweet breads called conchas, and crispy chicharrones de harina. Plus, of course, hot sauce.
Dessert Delights Cheese Board
A mentor once told SAVEUR Editorial Director Kat Craddock that “the best desserts are an exercise in the art of complements and contrasts.” Now she applies that rule—and inspiration from her pastry background—to guide her in building a sweet, extravagant dessert cheese board.
Layered confections with a little bit of crunch like fig jam or candied nuts make pungent blues—like the Deer Creek’s The Blue Jay—shine, she explains. Craddock considers the piney notes of the juniper berry-infused quintuple-crème blue cheese a bold but elegant after-dinner move, “especially if you and your guests are martini drinkers.”
For pairing with darker post-dinner drinks like bourbon and Scotch, she places a nutty aged gouda from Marieke alongside foods that bring out the cheese’s more subtle notes: dried fruits, hazelnuts, and almonds.
Salty Mediterranean-style cheeses play nicely with a drizzle of runny buckwheat honey or date molasses, Craddock finds. She likes the salty-sweet, almost caramelized flavors of Roth Canela, and warns purists not to be put off by the cinnamon-rubbed rind. “The whiff that remains after aging is subtle and warming—without veering off into pumpkin-spice territory.”
Sartori’s wine-drenched cheddar-parm mashup, Merlot BellaVitano, brings color to Craddock’s spread. A dunk in jammy merlot gives this wheel its pretty purple hue, while the plum and berry notes in the juice bring out fruity nuance in the cheese.
The star of her cheese board and Craddock’s gold-standard of soft-ripened cheese, Upland’s Rush Creek Reserve, is made only in the fall and winter, when Andy Hatch and Scott Mericka’s cows transition from fresh summer grass to dry hay for the season. “If I’m going with just one cheese for dessert around the holidays, this is my go-to,” she says. But with the short season, Craddock suggests Crave Brothers’ satiny mascarpone as an all-season creamy dessert, “served in a pretty dish with a swirl of fruity jam.”
For Craddock, the most important element of building a cheese board comes from serving great cheese. She looks to Wisconsin cheeses to build her board because she finds imported versions of delicate, softer cheeses sometimes suffer when they get held up in shipping and customs. “Buying directly from a Wisconsin producer—or from a reliable cheesemonger stocking their products—is a great way to ensure that you’re serving cheeses at their absolute peak in ripeness, quality, and flavor.” Look for the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge and discover your next favorite cheese today.