cheese board

A well-curated cheese board is a work of art. Whether you’re aiming for crowd-pleasing abundance or preparing a pared-down plate for a party of one, it’s the ultimate appetizer that never fails to satisfy. With so many options to choose from at the cheese counter, coming up with the right elements can seem overwhelming. Therefore, we asked Nadjeeb Chouaf of Flora Artisanal Cheese—and Champion of the Summer 2016 Cheesemonger Invitational—to break down the basics for a well-balanced board. Here are his recommendations:

Aim for variety. “Selecting at least three cheeses gives you options for different textures and flavors,” Chouaf says. “I like to focus on textural variety, i.e. one soft and creamy, one firm, and one hard, but you can also focus on picking one cheese from cow’s milk, one from goat, and one from sheep.” Another route Chouaf suggests is selecting cheeses that show off a particular style from different areas of the world.

Commit to either sweet or savory with your sides. “Unless you are doing a large and intricate platter, focus your accompaniments on either the sweet or savory end of the spectrum,” Chouaf advises. “Fresh fruit, jam, and honey all go well with cheeses, while the acidity of pickled vegetables and olives can help cut the rich fat of cheese. Nuts play well on both sides.”

Keep your carbs un-fussy. “Bread or crackers are best when simple,” Chouaf notes, adding that crusty bread or hearty nutty crackers with minimal spice or sweetener are ideal.

Bring on the bubbles. “Carbonation is your friend when it comes to beverage pairings,” says Chouaf. Beer, cider, and sparkling wine making the best cheese companions. “Saison especially is begging to be poured alongside just about any cheese.”

Conduct a taste test. “The most important tip is to serve items that you love,” says Chouaf. Haven’t identified a favorite fromage yet? “The best way to find out what your favorite cheeses are is to find your closest cheese counter and ask for a taste,” he advises. “Your cheesemonger is there to help you find it.”

Tip 170 from Nadjeeb Chouaf of Flora Artisanal Cheese, located in Timbercreek Market in Charlottesville, Virginia. For the cheese board featured above, Chouaf recommended “I Don’t Even Own *A* Gun” sheep and goat’s milk cheese by Twenty Paces, “Weybridge” cow’s milk cheese by Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, and “Comté” Essex St. cow’s milk cheese paired with sweet accompaniments such as berries and dried fruit.