• Sam Burgess

Cheese Board for Two

Cheeseboards and charcuterie boards have some kind of irresistible quality to them. One of the most ultimate customizable dishes, they are arguably one of the best appetizers for any occasion!

Some of the best restaurants and caterers put together beautiful boards with all kinds of cheeses, fruits, meats, nuts, and other surprises. Instead of a huge spread, we thought it would be great to scale it down for a guide that serves two for Valentine’s Day. It is something fun that you can do with your special someone before enjoying with a glass of wine (or beer, or whatever your preference!)

When I was on culinary internship in San Diego, CA, at the amazing restaurant Urban Solace, I was tasked with assembling the cheese and charcuterie boards in the garde manger station. The chef taught me to create a landscape with the different cheeses and give the dish more dimension than simply cheese on a plate. We would make our own pickles, mustard, rillette, and much more! Sadly, Urban Solace closed a few years back, but the owner, Matt Gordon, still operates a high-end catering business known as Urban Solace Catering.

But what exactly makes an excellent cheese board? Variety is one thing, but how does one compose the elements into something beautiful and delicious? All important questions, but it comes down to one thing: balance! (And trusting your tastes.)

A variety of cheese make an excellent board, including hard, soft, aged, and blue cheese

To achieve this balance, there are 5 main elements to a cheese/charcuterie board, and then a few more garnishes to bring it all together. The main elements include aged cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, blue cheese, and charcuterie. Then to balance it out, garnishes like homemade pickles, seasonal fresh fruit, fruit preserves, dijon mustard, and some bread. Note that these are all suggestions and it truly comes down to your personal tastes!

A variety of toppings or garnishes are what make a cheese board. Pickled red onions are a delicious addition!

The cheese selection starts with aged cheese. This cheese is a cornerstone of the cheese selection, as you want a full-flavored and nutty cheese to savor alongside the other components of the dish. They are made by coagulating milk protein with enzymes (rennet) and culture acids, then aged with safe bacteria. There is a wide range of aged cheese, but some of our favorites are Atwells Gold, Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Midnight Moon, and Gouda.

The next cheese is on the younger side and normally known as soft cheese. This cheese is usually spreadable or gooey at room temperature and pairs beautifully with fruit preserves or other fresh elements on the board. We used a fresh queso Blanco cheese, which is amazing for slicing into slabs and pan-frying, bringing another layer of warmth to a normally cold dish. Our other favorite soft cheeses include brie, Camembert, whipped ricotta, or goat cheese.

Soft queso fresco fries up beautifully in a cast iron skillet for some warm cheese

Similar to aged cheese, next up is hard cheese. These cheeses are aged for months at a time, giving the final product a low moisture content but high concentrations of amino acids. The end result is an intensely savory flavor and great texture for grating or eating in chunks. Our favorites include Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego, Asiago, and Edam.

The final cheese to round out the selection is a funky blue cheese. These cheeses are similar to the bacteria-aged cheese but instead are mold-aged cheese. They get their distinct flavor from this controlled molding process, lending an appearance of little veins of greenish-blue mold. Sounds weird, but totally delicious! Our favorite blue cheeses include Bleu Auvergne, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton.

Charcuterie is a process we went in-depth with on our previous Test Kitchen recipe, for Star Anise Duck Prosciutto. If you don’t have the time to make your own charcuterie, other selections include thinly sliced salami, Sopressada, Bresaola, and many more! The charcuterie is optional if you are just looking for a vegetarian board.

Our petty knife slicing a fresh Granny Smith Apple

The other elements to round out your selection are to add some savory. This includes our homemade pickled red onions, but could also be olives, roasted red peppers, almonds, or spiced cashews. Then some sweet, such as dried fruits, candied nuts, fruit preserves, honey, or even chocolate. Bread selection such as sliced baguette, breadsticks, crackers, or pita chips all makes a great vessel to carry the cheese. Finish it off with some fresh garnishes, such as sliced seasonal fruit or microgreens. These fresh ingredients can be especially useful for creating height, giving a beautiful landscape on the board. Get playful and experiment with your own style of assembly and B A L A N C E.

top down view of a composed cheeseboard with all the garnishes

From different styles of cheese to sweet and savory snacks to cured meat and crackers, the best cheese boards leave no one behind. Try to stay local with your selection of cheese and charcuterie and have fun with it! Cheeseboards are probably the best because they have something for everyone.

Cheese Board for Two

A beautiful cheese & charcuterie board make a thoughtful and delicious Valentine’s Day treat - or any occasion, honestly! Use our guide for a balanced cheese selection paired with creative additions. Make it yours and share the goodness!

Recipe by Sam Burgess

Forge To Table Knives

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Servings: 2 (makes 1-quart pickled red onions)


Pickled Red Onions

  • 2 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 2 ends of red beet, sliced (optional)

  • 1-½ cup apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 4 tablespoons sugar

Cheese Plate

  • 2 ounces aged cheese: Atwells Gold, Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda

  • 2 ounces soft cheese: Queso Blanco, Brie, Camembert, Goat

  • 2 ounces hard cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Manchego, Midnight Moon, Edam

  • 2 ounces blue cheese: Bleu Auvergne, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton

  • 1-2 ounces charcuterie: Star Anise Duck Prosciutto, Salami, Sopressada, Bresaola

  • 2 ounces pickled red onions

  • 2 ounces seasonal fresh fruit, sliced: Granny Smith Apple, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, figs, strawberries, dates

  • ½ ounce greens: arugula, pea shoots, microgreens

  • 2 tablespoons fruit preserves/jam

  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard

  • Crackers, bread, or breadsticks, for serving


  1. (START PICKLED RED ONIONS) Prepare the pickled red onions by slicing the red onions with your favorite Forge To Table knife, and placing them into a 1-quart sealable jar along with 2 ends of a red beet (optional). Combine the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small saucepot and heat over medium heat until it is steaming and the solids have dissolved.

  2. (FINISH PICKLED RED ONIONS) Pour the hot vinegar over the sliced onions, pressing down with a spoon to ensure all are submerged. Let the onions cool for at least 30 minutes before sealing and placing in the fridge. They will be ready in 1 hour but will deepen in flavor and color over a day.

  3. (ASSEMBLE BOARD) Start assembling your board by finding a beautiful and appropriately sized base, like a wooden slab or tray. Use your Forge To Table Paring Knife to cut your cheese into pieces, starting with a block of aged cheese, like Atwells Gold or Gruyere, and fan it out starting from the middle. Then slice your soft cheese, like brie or goat cheese into a 2-ounce portion and place near the other cheese.

  4. (LAYER FLAVORS) Slice your hard cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Manchego into small chunks and place across from the aged cheese. Slice a 2-ounce portion of blue cheese, like Bleu Auvergne or Gorgonzola, and place to balance out the positions of the other cheeses.

  5. (FINISHING ELEMENTS) Find a place to layout 1-2 ounces of sliced charcuterie, whether it’s just one kind or a few. Place 2 ounces of drained pickled red onions on paper towels before placing the dry pickles on the corner of the board. Place the sliced seasonal fruit around the board, sliced apples are great because they can give height to the dish. Finish the board with some greenery, like arugula or microgreens, some fruit preserves, and dijon mustard.

  6. (SERVE) Serve the cheeseboard with some accompanying crackers, fresh toasted bread or breadsticks. Enjoy!

Chef’s Notes:

  • A few splashes of water are great for helping submerge the onions completely, if necessary.

  • I used a queso blanco cheese that was great for slicing and grilling on a cast-iron skillet. Get creative with your cheese additions and don’t be afraid to switch it up!

If you liked this recipe, use Discount Code: TESTKITCHEN at the Forge To Table Shop checkout to support more amazing recipe content!

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