The Art of the Cheese Board

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2019 /

Writer: Stefanie Celata / Photographer: Ashley Bilodeau 

The Art of the Cheese Board


Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2019 /

Writer: Stefanie Celata / Photographer: Ashley Bilodeau 

Cheese board featuring locally sourced cheeses and accoutrements

‘Tis the season for gatherings! Eat, drink and be merry with snack boards sourced from Cape Cod and the Islands. Impress family and friends this holiday season with beautiful and bountiful culinary creations of winter fruits, blooming cheese and golden honey, with local ingredients. Here we provide a solution to taking the stress out of the planning and tips to being the President of the Cheese Board!

Designing snack boards is not only a creative way to explore the color and textures of the season but they are versatile and so much fun to curate. When guests arrive, they want to be in a comfortable atmosphere, and the easiest way to achieve that is a relaxed host. Once the items for your board are procured, the assembly is the artful, exciting part!

The culture of the cheese board has evolved past the upscale restaurant with the availability of quality ingredients at the ready. The best part about appetizer boards is that they can be tailored to any theme or event. Ingredients such as cheese tend to be the star of the show, but snack boards can be quite versatile. For example, pastries and fruit breads with accompaniments such as marmalades and fruited cream cheese, paired with smoked salmon or bluefish pâté from Mac’s Seafood with capers and fruit is a colorful spread for brunch.

Adding various textures and colors will help elevate your cheese board to the next level

Inspiration can be found all around. Local farmers markets are a fabulous outlet for hunting and gathering local items such as fresh produce like brightly scented herbs and seasonal fruits including ruby red pomegranates and juicy blood oranges.

It is important to incorporate texture onto a cheese or snack board to accompany the hard and soft cheeses procured. One may utilize locally made items such as the salty crunch of Wicked Walnuts of Yarmouth Port,  Cape Cod Cranberry Harvest jams and jellies of Harwich, or candied jalapeños from StoneLedge farm of Barnstable, which can be found at The Local Juice in Hyannis. StoneLedge also offers classes such as a fermentation workshop where one can learn to pickle and ferment root salsa.

At the Brown Jug in Sandwich, Proprietor, Michael Johnston finds inspiration from his European travels and English upbringing. The store is filled with accoutrements from all over the world, such as Indian chutney, Iggy’s bread, hard-to-find cheeses such as Epoisses de Berthaut, a stinky, cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy  that follows a traditional process dating back to the 16th century, and Taleggio, an Italian semi-soft delicacy with a strong nose and a fruity tang. Johnston plans months in advance to ensure the store is offering unexpected and adventurous items perfect for all types of boards. According to Johnston, his favorite time of the year is the holidays, when “the store comes alive” and when he has, “the most unique and sought after goodies,” many of which are only made once a year, such as  sweet treats like panfortes and turron, “from very small organic produces in Europe.”

At the North Falmouth Cheese Shop in North Falmouth, owner Jennifer Dwyer specializes in offering a variety of  cheeses to enjoy. Her selections hail from all over the world, as well as some local treats. From Martha’s Vineyard, Grey Barn’s Prufrock cheese, and Vermont’s Springbrook Farms’ Ashbrook artisan cheese are just some of the treasures that can be found here. North Falmouth Cheese Shop also offers cured and salty smoked meats to accompany their cheeses. Dwyer, who got her start at Heather Cantin’s Chatham Cheese Shop offers some cheese buying advice. “Find a shop that allows you to taste cheese,” otherwise, she says, “just be brave and dive into the adventure of food discovery by purchasing something new.”

A simple cheese board from North Falmouth Cheese Shop

The Brown Jug, Chatham Cheese Shop and The North Falmouth Cheese Shop all provide services for one to order prepared cheese and charcuterie boards of multiple sizes with appropriate notice. 

Don’t forget the canvas on which to build an epicurean masterpiece! The beauty of creativity is that the artist has the liberties to make unique choices, it is no different when creating an artful piece with food. Take in your surroundings. For example, a pizza peel might be an interesting base, or a shellfish or tea sandwich tower, especially if space is an issue. Local craftsmen make lovely boards for purchase, such as the handsome multi-grained hardwood cutting boards of B&B Woodworking in Dennis. 

Assembly required! Although in art, rules are made to be broken, some basic rules can serve as guidelines. Place your largest food items first, then group the pairings. Cheeses will serve as anchors on your plate, give them plenty of room and place accompaniments closest to the cheeses that pair best with them. Try pickles and a smear of coarse ground mustard cozied up to a mound of crumbled farmhouse cheddar, or torn up crusty Pain d’Avignon bread skirted around a heavenly soft, tangy, bloomy rind of a La Tur cheese. The scattering of Marcona almonds, briney olives, winter vegetables and dried fruit encourages your guests to embark on their own adventure since those nibbles will work in any combination.

A shellfish tray is an unexpected but perfect cheese board display

The Cape has an abundance of locally-made accoutrements to procure for guests to enjoy. Spend time seeking out the ingredients beforehand, then the assembly will be swift, allowing time to connect and discuss the curation of the masterpiece when guests arrive!

Ready to make your own cheese board? Check out our Best Of to find markets and craftsmen near you!

An interview with Eric & Molly Glasgow, Owners, The Grey Barn & Farm

What’s the history of the creamery?

On a cold and snowy day at the beginning of 2009 we rode the ferry and first stepped foot onto this farm. My husband, two boys and I fell in love. We built our creamery in 2010 and made our first cheese in 2011. We have been certified organic from the soil all the way through every end product since 2012. 

How did you become interested in cheese?

When my mom would make grilled cheese. The way the cheese would ooze out—that was the best. Now I make grilled cheese with Prufrock and THAT is like heaven on a plate.

Prufrock from The Grey Barn, Chilmark

What is a typical day like?

We bring fresh milk into the creamery from our farm early each morning. It is warmed and cultured and rennet is added for coagulation. At this point, the curd is cut and slowly, carefully stirred. Hand-ladled into molds and flipped several times, the cheeses spend the night resting in the creamery. Once brined or hand salted, they are transferred into the cave where each cheese is lovingly flipped, washed and cared for every day before leaving the farm.

How many types of cheese do you make? 

We ship four different cheeses off-island all over the continental United States. If you visit us here on our farm, we sell up to seven different types of cheese at any given time. Prufrock, a washed-rind cheese, Eidolon, a bloomy-rind cheese, Bluebird, a blue cheese and Bluebird Reserve, a long aged blue cheese are the four cheeses that can be found though your local cheesemonger.

How do you come up with the names of your varieties?

Our cheeses are all named for poems. Prufrock, for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eidolon for Eidolons by Walt Whitman and Bluebird by John Burroughs. 

Do you have a favorite cheese? Or pairing?

Grab a salty & hearty cracker, Bluebird Reserve, orange marmalade and a chocolate covered espresso bean. It’s delicious —trust me!

Where do you find inspiration for your varieties?

Living on Martha’s Vineyard with its salty sea air inspires us to produce cheese that reflects the place we call home.

The Grey Farm is home to hundreds of animals, including almost 50 cows

What should a novice cheese buyer look for?

Buy what you love. Buy something that you can’t stop eating. Buy it because you like the shape or the color. I know people always say put one hard cheese, one semi soft cheese and one cheese of a different animal like sheep or goats on a cheese platter. I say, if you love triple cream, then only buy triple cream and do a taste comparison with your friends. Make yourself happy!

What is your most unique cheese? 

I’d have to say Prufrock. It’s an acquired taste—strong and funky but at the same time buttery, and it’s a bit pudgy so that makes me smile. In fact, it just received the silver medal at the World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy, judged by 260 experts against 3,800 cheeses from around the world.

What is a favorite item to serve with your cheeses? 

Bubbles. I like to say bubbles because that can really open up thinking on traditional wine and cheese pairings. Think about your favorite drink with bubbles—could be plain seltzer or it could be a sweet prosecco. Then think: ‘Would I like this flavor with that flavor?’ I like prosecco, so I would lean toward Eidolon but I also like a delicious dark English style ale so then I would head over to Prufrock. 

Do you find there is seasonality with cheeses? 

Yes! When the cows are out on pasture the color of the paste is so intensely yellow in our Bluebird Reserve. The flavors also vary more in the summer seasons when our dairy cows are grazing our beautiful pastures.

You are so much more than cheese!
Tell us about the animals on the farm.

We have a dairy herd of 50 cows, a few heifers and a bull, about 10 beef cows, 500 laying hens, six sows, one boar, about 40 sheep, a few ducks and a few dogs. We are a small, certified organic New England farm with a backbone in dairy, and we have a certified organic bakery too!

Where can readers find your cheese?

Their local cheese shop, Whole Foods, and now Wegmans. Or just ask your cheesemonger and they can bring it in for you!

Learn more at thegreybarnandfarm.com and follow them on Facebook and instagram at thegreybarnandfarm

Sadie Hill, Cheesemaker, Two Goats Creamery

How did you become interested in cheese?

I began raising goats in the spring of 2017, purchasing two immensely entertaining and snuggly Nigerian Dwarf sisters we named Cheddar and Gouda. As anyone who has had goats knows, somehow the number of goats you own grows at an alarming rate, and so I started adding to our little backyard herd with the third goat Eleanor, who was already in milk. I made my first raw goat milk feta shortly after and was hooked on cheese making. I read every book I could find and experimented with goat milk and raw cow milk cheeses. I traveled all of New England visiting micro dairies of small artisanal cheese makers. I began breeding and selling Nigerian dwarf goats and  collecting milking bloodlines from some of the top breeders in New England. Less than a year after purchasing my first goat I was in the backyard delivering them. The farming part of cheese making however was short lived, and due to some big life changes, I closed the farm. In the fall of 2018 I began teaching cheese making classes to homesteaders, foodies and chefs alike. 

How many types of cheese do you make? 

I have tried my hand at many, but some popular varieties are:

“Chevre Spreads” (honey and fig is one of my favorite combos)  

“Rock Harbor” (ash aged goat cheese aged 60 days)

“Fresh Chevre”  (selectively made in the spring and summer)

“Goat Milk Feta” (a seductively creamy feta)

What should a novice cheese buyer look for?

Be adventurous when selecting new cheeses! If you like bold and spicy flavors, you’re going to like stronger cheeses such as cheddars, gruyère and blue. If you are more of a mild flavor person you will probably lean towards brie, fresh goat and Havarti. 

Some of your favorite items to serve with your cheeses? 

Wine, of course! Hard cider and brie also pair very well. On a cheese board, I always have a cured meat, dried or fresh fruit, and a jam. I also like star fruits and figs for visual appeal. Cheese boards are all about variety and texture. 

Do you find there is seasonality with cheeses? 

Absolutely! Every cheese has a time of year when it is at its peak. Factors include the milking cycle of the animals, grazing patterns and maturing times. Spring cheese, like soft goat cheese, is fresh and young. Summer is peak milking season of rich milk, so think blue, mozzarella and 12-month aged cheddar. Fall is best for semi-mature cheese with the spring milk, like cheddar aged over one year. Winter is perfect for stilton. 

Tell us about your classes.

Classes are held in Wellfleet in a beautiful open concept house. They are three hours long and I pick what cheeses people will learn that day. It is a hands on class and you will leave with the skills and knowledge to make cheese at home. A small recipe book is included with some helpful tips and a list of good resources for sourcing different kinds of milks and other supplies. Classes are complete with a small artisan cheese tasting paired with a wine or other beverage. It’s a laid-back, homey feel where people are free to jump in and get their hands dirty, ask questions and mingle. 

Learn more on their Facebook page and on instagram @twogoatscreamery

Stefanie Celata