Our Essential Guide to Cheeseboard Etiquette
Cheeseboards have never been more popular, perhaps because creative cheeseboard designs are all over social media. A cheese and charcuterie board makes a dramatic and beautiful centerpiece, and it adds color and panache to any table. Before you dig in, however, it's helpful to know a bit of cheeseboard etiquette. We spoke to cheese experts to find out how to make cheeseboards like a pro, as well as partake in one without committing any faux pas.
Don't go overboard with your offerings
Choose a small handful items, rather than a dozen, to keep your cheeseboard from overwhelming your guests. "Abundance is lovely, but 'kitchen sink' cheeseboards can slow down the process of guests deciding what they'd like, which means everyone behind them grows impatient while they're mulling over their options," says cheesemonger, writer, and Hungry Passport blogger Carol Penn-Romine. "
Be strategic about where cheeses go
Think about how to make the board accessible to guests. "When you're composing a cheeseboard, start by placing the whole wedges and large pieces of cheese on the edges of the board," advises Penn-Romine. "This way guests don't dredge their knuckles and sleeves through the other items when they're cutting pieces for themselves. Then fill in some of the empty space with complementary items, such as nuts, meats, olives and fruit."
Christine Clark a cheese educator and writer, adds it's important to not clutter your board with flowers that aren't edible and "messy and/or spreadable condiments like honey, jam, or mustard directly on the board." Place them on the table instead.
Set out all the proper tools for guests
A spreading utensil is great for brie, whereas you'll need a sharper knife for a hard, aged cheese," says Penn-Romine. "A perforated cheese knife makes it easier to cut neatly through denser soft cheeses like gouda," she adds. It's also helpful to include signs that tell guests the names of each cheese. "And, write the type of milk, such as cow, sheep or goat," she says. "This will be helpful for those who may have tummy issues. Include if it's a raw milk cheese, which is helpful for a guest who is pregnant and wants to avoid raw milk."
Be mindful of how you serve yourself
A cheeseboard is for sharing, it's not your personal plate. When helping yourself to some cheese, use good etiquette. "Taking the point of a wedge may seem like the sensible thing to do, but this is the heart of the cheese, the most delectable part, and you're claiming it all for yourself," says Penn-Romine. Instead, she advises slicing a bite off the side, taking a bit of the tip but not the whole thing. "If you're the first one to delve into that wedge, you'll be setting a good example for everyone else," she adds.
Encourage everyone to eat with their fingers
Cheeseboards are informal and meant to be enjoyed. "I generally use my fingers to pick up individual pieces," says Clark. "Cheeseboards are by nature communal and if someone is comfortable gathering and eating with their friends, I don't know that sharing a cheese board adds much extra risk from a public health perspective." For maximum enjoyment, Penn-Romine recommends setting the cheeseboard out at least an hour before the party as cheeses at room temperature yield up all the full, rich flavor that you'll miss out on if the cheese has just come out of the fridge.
Relax and enjoy the evening
A lot of faux pas can be anticipated and avoided by smart hospitality—offering enough utensils, and giving folks a quick tour or primer on the board that you prepared when they arrive, says Clark. If someone slips up, let it go. "Hopefully most of the time we're hosting, we have invited people that we care enough about that we can offer them a little grace if they make an etiquette mistake," Clark adds. "It's rarely on purpose."