8/11/2022 12:00:00 PM

One question we often get asked by customers in our cheese chalet retail shop is which cheeses are best for a cheese board. With so many cheese options available, they find choosing the right cheese to be challenging.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Armed with the right information and the right approach, putting together a delicious cheese board is not as difficult as it seems.

To start with, we suggest you only need 3 to 4 cheeses across a range of textures and flavors. The French have a rule that says cheese must be served as an assortment of three. But, we’re Swiss and we like things in even numbers. So, we’ll leave the exact number of choices on your board up to you.

Here is our simple guide that will make you look like a cheesemonger.


Step #1: Choose a Range of Textures

The simplest way to think about organizing a cheese board is to select the cheeses on a continuum from soft to hard. The conventional cheese categories are:

  • Soft

  • Semi-soft

  • Semi-hard

  • Hard

Many of the most popular gourmet cheeses fall in the semi-soft or semi-hard categories. But, keep in mind that the line between these categories is fluid. Sometimes a cheese like gouda can come in softer or harder versions depending on how long it is aged and other process factors. Here are more detailed descriptions of the texture categories.



These are primarily fresh, unaged cheeses that include everyday cheeses that you typically find in the refrigerated case like cottage cheese, cream cheese and mozzarella. You find them there because they have the highest amount of moisture and will spoil quickly without refrigeration. These soft cheeses are considered more spreadable than sliceable and with the exception of burrata or chévre (unaged cheese from goat’s milk), we typically don’t put fresh cheeses on our cheese boards.


Pasta Filata (soft cheese sub-segment):

This is a unique Italian only segment of soft cheese that is made with a “stretched-curd” preparation method. In this process, the curds are steeped in hot water then stretched, spun or kneaded into different shapes. Classic Pasta Filata cheese include mozzarella and burrata. Most non-culinary people don’t use this classification and just refer to these cheeses as soft or fresh, which they are. But, if you want to impress your friends, by all means call them out this way.



As the name suggests, these cheeses are firm enough to be presented on a board and sliced with a knife, yet soft enough to still have a bit of spreadability. To be classified as a semi-soft cheese, the water content must be under 45% and above 36%. In the world of gourmet cheese, this is a large and highly differentiated segment that ranges from brie to blue. It also includes the “stinky” cheeses like the infamous limburger cheese.



These cheeses are hard enough that they’re difficult to serve without using a knife, but still somewhat springly and not so hard as to feel brittle when you bite into it. Semi-hard cheeses are by nature aged longer with lower moisture content. They’re typically aged anywhere between one and six months depending on type. Cheeses in the category include Swiss, gouda and cheddar.



Cheeses in this category are often pressed and aged for several months to several years and therefore contain the lowest moisture content of all the cheeses. Some are so hard that they need to be grated rather than sliced. One such example is Parmigiano-Reggiano. We suggest avoiding these cheeses. You also will find that some semi-hard cheeses like Swiss or gouda move into the hard cheese category when they’re aged extra long and even more moisture is removed. Aging also determines the intensity of the flavor. A well-aged cheese will be more flavorful, less creamy and grainier in texture.


Step 2: Look for a Range of Flavors

Cheeses are also categorized according to strength and character of the flavor. Descriptions like Mild, Medium, and Strong are often used, as are more exact descriptions like Nutty, Earthy, Tangy or Creamy. However, there is no objective measure here. Strong flavor to one person may be medium flavor to another.

To understand how to choose for flavor, it’s helpful to know more about the variables that go into the cheesemaking process. By knowing and selecting cheeses by these variables, you can add even more complexity to your cheese board by introducing flavors that run from classic to adventurous. Categorizing by flavor is also important if you’re interested in arranging a wine and cheese tasting, where guests need the classification information to work their way through a bigger range of cheeses. The most widely used classifications for flavor are:


Type of Milk

The milk options are cow, sheep, goat, and mixed milk cheeses. The type of milk used in the cheese will make a big difference in the taste profile. For example, cheese from goat milk often has a tangy, tart, and grassy flavor compared to cheese from cow’s milk. It can also be polarizing. Some people love goat cheese, others not so much.


Added Cream

Sometimes a cheese will be labeled double or triple cream (créme). A lot of brie cheese comes in these forms. Double or triple cream means the milk has been fortified with cream to bring the butterfat content up to 60% for double or 75% for triple. As you can imagine, that much butterfat has a big impact on the taste.



All cheeses owe their unique taste, character, flavor, and appearance to the aging process. But, the aging process varies considerably. This can be as short as a never (i.e fresh) to as long as several years. When selecting cheese, remember this simple rule is, the older the cheese, the sharper the taste. Like fine wine, aged cheese will have a more robust and nuanced flavor that can be smoky, fruity, or nutty.


Soft-ripened (Bloomy Rind)

Soft-ripened cheeses like brie and camembert are ripened from the “outside in” with a short aging period. They’re exposed to particular strains of mold that “bloom” and form a white outer rind. Soft-ripened cheeses are often described as buttery, mushroomy, creamy, grassy, or garlicky. By the way, this rind is totally edible and part of the cheese taste experience.



Blue cheese contains various strains of Penicillium mold. This mold allows the ripening to happen from the “inside out.” During the aging process, the cheesemaker pierces the skin of the cheese wheel, which introduces air and accelerates the mold-growing process. This is what creates the blue veins in the cheese. The Blue cheeses segment includes favorites like gorgonzola, stilton, and roquefort. These cheeses are slightly pungent with distinctive salty, tangy and sharp flavors that sometimes have notes of mushroom.



Some cheese is “washed” twice a week or so with seawater, beer, wine or liquor for about two months. This promotes the growth of Brevibacterium linens. Cheeses in this category often have a distinctive orange-red hue and pungent smell. The infamous limburger is ripened with this method. As you can imagine, these kinds of cheese are for the most adventurous of eaters. So you may want to select this type of cheese carefully.



Step 3: Select the Right Accouterments

Crackers vs Bread

Admittedly, we’re purists when it comes to what the cheese sits on. This is why we usually prefer thinly sliced French Baguette (something the Swiss and French both agree on). If you want some texture, you can slice and toast the bread slices ahead of time.

If you feel you also want to offer crackers, we suggest a simple water cracker. Try to avoid the ones with herbs and spices baked in as they may take away from the flavor of the cheese (side note: If you can, look for a whole wheat version. They are generally considered better for you.).


Fruits & Nuts

Fresh or dried fig, pears, dates, apricots, grapes are great additions to any cheese board. These subtle fruits taste great and help cleanse the palate between cheese bits. You may also want to put out some roasted almonds and walnuts. The crunch of nuts is a tasty contrast to the creaminess of the cheese.


Quince Paste or Jam (optional)

Some people like to provide quince paste, marmalade, honey, or fig jam along with the cheese. A little dollop of quince paste along with one of the more pungent cheese varieties is a nice contrast. But don’t overdo it. A true cheese aficionado may find this disrespectful to the cheese (some people are just no fun).


Bonus Step: Pick a Cheese Theme

When you’re ready, you can raise your cheese game and arrange your board by specific themes. Two theme ideas that we often explore are:


Category Variations

While the flavor and texture of cheese ranges widely across the various categories, you may find that there are big differences within a category. For example, not all Blue cheese tastes the same. Depending on the cheesemaker, you may love one and hate another. The same applies to aged hard cheese and all the other categories of cheese. At our cheese chalet, we often help people explore the range of Swiss cheeses including baby, lacy, emmental and others.


Country of Origin (French, Italian, German or Swiss)

Each country has a slightly different terroir and cheesemaking traditions that can greatly affect the flavors and textures. So, you may have fun exploring cheese by country. You could also use the country of origin theme to explore within a category as above.



We hope you find this simple guide useful and will give you the confidence to put together an exciting and delicious cheese board that your friends and family will love. And, hopefully you will feel one step closer to becoming a cheese connoisseur in your own right.

For your shopping convenience, we have also included a dandy cheese chart that lists popular cheese varieties by type.


Cheese Shopping List

The spreadsheet goes here.