Building a better cheese board with WineGoals’ Liz Marsh

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Cheese is, hands down, one of my favorite food groups, and no party at my house is complete without a (practically overflowing) cheeseboard. Because of the wide array of different flavors of cheese out there, it can be confusing and overwhelming to create a cheese board. I recruited my good friend, Liz Marsh, founder of WineGoals and a certified wine and cheese expert herself, to share some of her tips to help create a diverse and delicious cheese plate, sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

How many cheeses should you include?

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According to Liz: “For the perfect cheese tasting at home, I recommend six cheeses. You want to have at least one cheese from each milk type – goat, sheep, and cow – as well as a range of textures from soft to firm and strengths of flavor from mild and milky to bold and stinky.” Liz often includes an ash rind goat cheese like Valencay, which is a little different than your standard goat cheese option and a heavenly pairing with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

“There's always a double or triple creme on my board,” she adds. “Brillat-Savarin and Mt Tam are two crowd-pleasing go-tos. You'll also want to have a stinky washed rind cheese, but most of the time its bark is worse than its bite.”

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Appealing to the nose

Speaking of stinky cheese, don’t forget that the sense of smell plays a hugely important role in our appreciation of the food we eat. When building your cheese plate, take an extra moment or two really to think about the aromas of the cheeses you’re selecting. Pro tip: make sure to take cheese out of the fridge about an hour before serving, as cheeses show of their truest flavor and smells at room temperature.

One of Liz's favorites that you can find at most cheese counters is Taleggio. “It's just stinky enough,” she says, “but won't engulf the rest of your cheese plate in a cloud of delicious dirty gym socks cheese stank.” Gruyère or Comté are always received well, as is Spanish Manchego or a sheep’s milk Gouda. Liz adds, “I also like to include a bold flavored hard cheese like an aged Parmigiano Reggiano or a Clothbound Cheddar. Finish it off with a blue cheese and you've got your perfect cheese plate.”

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For those who stick their noses up at blue cheese, Liz recommends just trying new ones… you may find one made just for you. The luxuriously creamy Italian cheese Gorgonzola Dolce is, as you may guess from the name, sweet and milky. Another trick is is to pair blue cheese with a dessert wine like Port or Banyuls. The combination actually tastes like sweet milk chocolate.

Engaging the eyes: presentation  

When it comes to presentation, the most important thing is to make sure your cheese plate doesn’t look crowded. Choose a board or platter that leaves room for eager hands.

“Slate cheese boards create a really beautiful color juxtaposition of the white cheeses against the black slates. It really just makes those cheeses pop, and makes you notice the variances in color between the different types of cheeses,” notes Liz. You’ll also want to assess whether you want your accoutrements to be on the same platter as your cheeses. If you do, you can either place them all to one side or distribute them in between the cheeses, which adds additional color and texture variety to the canvas. If not, put them into separate bowls and plates and display them around the board in an attractive manner.

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Liz and I differ a bit on whether it’s a good idea to include nuts, fruits, and other bits and pieces on your cheese place. Liz recommends staying away from anything too sweet if you’re pairing with wine but I like to offer a variety of options including dried fruits and jams.

“The sweetness in fresh or dried fruits or honey can often make your wine taste more bitter and tannic,” Liz feels. Where we do agree is on the Marcona almond. These plump little Spanish almonds are fried and salted and have a more delicate, sweeter taste than typical almonds. They're particularly delicious with Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego and Roncal.

Pairing cheese and wine

Just like with your cheese selections, the key with pairing wines is experimentation. A good rule of thumb is to pair lighter flavored cheeses (goat cheese, younger Alpine cheeses) with white wines, and more flavorful and aged cheeses (cheddar, aged Swiss cheeses, and the rest of those “stinky” ones) with reds. Blue cheese is a challenge to pair pretty much across the board but try Rogue River blue with a good Willamette Pinot Noir.

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It is said that the best wine pairing is the one you like the best, and the same goes for cheese boards. Take a chance and move away from your standard options. If you can move a little bit out of your comfort zone, you never know what you’ll find so go ahead, try out a new pairing. Let us know how it went by emailing us at info@fivesensestastings.com.

Liz Yale Marsh is the Founder of WINE GOALS, a wine education and events company based in Los Angeles. Because wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese, she also works as a cheese educator, and is always searching for those magic moments when a wine and cheese are enjoyed together and 1+1 equals 3.