Most readers probably know how much I love food, which is a good thing since I am a professional chef. What many may not know is how much I love cheese and charcuterie. For the past 14 years, I have also been a cheesemonger, curating cheese selections for retail establishments and restaurants. One of my favorite aspects of my job is teaching, particularly classes focused on cheese, enjoying cheeses, learning their history, properly serving and storage, and pairing cheeses with wine, beer, and even spirits. I love watching people find new favorites and sample cheeses and meats they might otherwise be too timid to try.
One of the most common requests I've received these past few years for private events is the "grazing table." What we once simply called a cheese and charcuterie board, now has a catchier name, and an emphasis on more creative designs, colors, and textures. These spreads can be small enough for two, or large enough for 200, often serving as the centerpiece for parties and special events. I often integrate other appetizers into the mix, along with cheese, charcuterie, and traditional accompaniments.
For those who have wanted to try their hand at creating one at home, I've compiled some tips to help you build your grazing table.
If you'd rather have the work done for you, my partner Joel Bein and I, collectively known as The Meat and Cheese Show, are happy to deliver and set up a customized board for any size party.
When selecting cheeses, include a variety of milk types. Try to include a cow, sheep, and goat's milk cheese. If there is room, add a buffalo and mixed-milk cheese.
Select a variety of textures and colors. A soft, fresh cheese, an oozy ripened one, a semi-firm, a hard aged, and a crumbly blue make for a nice variety.
Add some jars and spoons to serve accompaniments like olives, tapenade, honey, jam, and marinated cheeses and vegetables.
Cured meats are the perfect match for cheese. Selecting a variety makes the board visually more appealing.
For a larger, more diverse crowd, I like to include a few individual cups with alternatives to accomodate dietary restrictions. Hummus and crudite and chilled sippable soup shots are great vegan and gluten-free options.
Use a variety of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and crackers to fill in the spaces and complete your edible mosaic. Don't forget to have plenty of clean sets of tongs handy!