’Tis the season for entertaining, and it’s not a party unless cheese boards are involved. With its multiple layers of flavor, color and texture, a cheese board can serve as a gorgeous culinary centerpiece for almost any soiree, whether as part of a larger menu or on its own. Even more, a great cheese board can tell a story — be it about its specially curated ingredients or the hostess who put it all together.
“For the past 35 years my mom has thrown a Christmas Eve party, and she always does a cheese board,” says Callie Salls, chef and owner of Meyer & Sage culinary delivery service and Linguine and Dirty Martinis personal chef and catering. “When I got old enough to help her, I started putting them together.”
Earlier this year, Salls added intricate cheese boards to her menu of offerings after persuasion from friends who had enjoyed them at her dinner parties. They are now in high demand for everything from baby showers to bible study groups. The new offering keeps her busy as she prepares each one personally, meticulously selecting only the best cheeses and accompaniments.
“I love putting them together,” Salls says. “I get this big grin on my face.”
Cheese boards are currently all the rage as more restaurants are adding versions to their menus, but the artistic plate isn’t new. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the making of cheese dates back more than 4,000 years. In Europe, cheese even has its own course, which often serves as a follow-up to meals. Whether presented as an appetizer or dessert, cheese plates have a longstanding place in culinary history.
Varying textures and playing with pairings help make a great cheese board, Salls says. She recommends combining high-quality store-bought items with homemade touches, like jam from a farmers market or one made at home. (She uses pesto hummus and autumn fruit chutney on her boards, both available through Meyer & Sage.) Fruit, nuts and crackers are also a must, again with assorted textures like crunchy, brittle, crispy and soft. She also recommends placing items next to each that are meant to go together.
“I like dried figs and currants next to blue cheese,” she says. “English white cheddar goes well with apples. And I’ve always found that manchego is a like a match made in heaven with honey.”
Speaking of honey, Salls puts fresh honeycomb on her boards, just like her mom always has, topped with dried lavender. Other ingredients include everything from blood oranges and pumpkin seeds to persimmons and pomegranates. The gorgeous ensemble starts at $150 (which feeds 8-10 on its own or 12-14 with other appetizers) and comes with the board. Customers should provide at least two weeks’ notice when ordering and availability is very limited.
“It makes a great conversation piece,” Salls says. “Of course, everyone goes for a glass of wine first, but as soon as you have a glass or two, tasting a cheese board is a good way to pass time before dinner. There are a lot of options for different types of people.”
Other cheese boards we love: Max’s Wine Dive
Fruit, honey, charcuterie and fresh bread are just some of the components found on a cheese board at Max’s Wine Dive. Regarding the cheese, food and beverage director Brian Wiegman says a diverse offering is important.
“A great cheese board consists of a great striation of cheese offerings ranging from aged, firm cheeses all the way to soft and creamy cheeses,” Wiegman says. “The Max’s cheese board is special because our chefs hand-select specific cheeses, charcuteries and accoutrements that complement each other, as well as offer a springboard for a fantastic wine pairing. On a given day a Max’s board could feature three exciting, different cheese selections, fresh apples or grapes, and house-made jams or membrillo, as well as specific nuts with flavor profiles that accentuate the cheeses in a delightful manner.”
—2421 West 7th St., Fort Worth, 817-870-1100, www.maxswinedive.com
Other cheese boards we love: Clay Pigeon Food and Drink
Patrons will find pickled vegetables, sourdough chips and fruit preserves or compote on Clay Pigeon’s cheese board. Executive chef Marcus Paslay says a good cheese board should have variety in milk types, such as goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses. Textures should range from hard to soft.
“It should also have a sweet and or acidic component to help cut through the fattiness of the cheese, like jam, compote or pickled vegetables,” says Paslay. “Variety is the key in any good cheese plate.”
—2731 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817-882-8065, www.claypigeonfd.com
Other cheese boards we love: Kent & Co Wines
Wine lovers can choose from multiple cheese board selections at Kent & Co Wines, where boards are available in large and small sizes. Components include a seasonal jam, dried local fruit, spicy peanuts, hummus and baguette slices. Combination boards offer meats like summer sausage, prosciutto and pepperoni along with whole-grain mustard and salted almonds.
— 1101 West Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-632-6070, www.kcowines.com
Freelance food writer and cheese addict Celestina Blok (@celestinafw) has authored her first book, Lost Restaurants of Fort Worth (Arcadia Publishing), available December 4.