How to Make a Cheese Board That Won’t Break the Bank — Really!

Everyone loves a big beautiful cheese board brimming with charcuterie, figs, and Marcona almonds—I bet you’ve pinned a few, right? There’s no denying they’re gorgeous, but anyone who’s put together a cheese board for a party can tell you: that stuff gets expensive! If you’ve been wondering how to make a cheese board that is as delicious as it is affordable, then you’ve come to the right place.

As someone who’s crafted her fair share of cheese boards (starting back when I worked in catering and for frequent wine and cheese nights with friends) I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than you think to create a delicious one on a budget. The secret lies in finding a few select ingredients that elevate the cheese plate and interspersing them with more affordable elements. Chances are, you already have most of what you need for a delicious and elegant cheese plate waiting in the kitchen.

Scroll on for a few pro tips that will make it look like you splurged on the high-end stuff without breaking the bank. And leave a comment letting me know if you have any cheap-chic secrets to add to my list!

Include just one expensive type of cheese.

I always choose one cheese to be my splurge and make sure that everyone has a chance to try it–everyone will be so wowed by that one unforgettable cheese that they won’t notice if the others are a little less standout.

Pro tip: ask the person working the cheese counter about their favorite cheeses to serve for a party. They’ll likely choose something that’s really special but won’t break the bank.

Be sneaky with quantities.

Ask the cheesemonger to cut smaller portions from the more expensive selections, then stock up on larger portions of the more budget-friendly cheeses so your board looks full and abundant. The key is to have a little knowledge about what varieties to spend and splurge on. I can usually find cheaper types of brie that are really beautiful and still delicious, so I’ll buy an entire wheel. Then maybe I’ll go for a pricier goat or blue and just include a very small piece of it on my board for guests to sample.

Focus on variety and texture.

For a $25 budget, I’ll choose three or four different types of cheeses: a hard, sharper cheese (cheddar, parmesan, or gruyere), a stinky soft cheese (gotta have a blue), and creamy cheese (like brie or goat.) It’s also fun to incorporate at least a couple of different kinds of milk (cow, goat, sheep, or nut milk) to keep things interesting and make you look like a pro.

Create a slicing strategy.

Depending on its texture, the way that you present a certain cheese can make it feel fancier and more substantial. Serve parmesan in a long skinny wedge that takes up a lot of real estate on the platter. Cut a more affordable cheddar into long thin slices that can be stacked up or fanned out (and keep it from looking like a grocery store block of cheese.) And as mentioned, I like to serve brie in a whole wheel and surround it with pear slices and drizzle the top with honey.

Go crazy with garnishes.

This is the real secret to styling a knockout cheese board without breaking the bank. Slice up a baguette, scatter a few toasted walnuts, fan out some apple slices, place a little bowl of olives, and nestle a few pieces of affordable salami into any empty spots on the board. These accouterments total just a few dollars and go a long way in dressing up the final look.

Add one “wow” factor.

This is the pièce de résistance, and it doesn’t need to be expensive—just use a little creativity! It could be a beautiful serving platter or an unexpected way of serving. For example, why not cut a wheel of brie in half horizontally, slather it with yummy jam, and replace the top of the cheese to form an elevated “sandwiched” effect that guests will want to dive into?

Set it out early.

This is really more of a general tip for serving cheese at all price points: set out your board with the cheese on it about 20 minutes before guests arrive. Taking the chill off really brings out the flavor of each individual cheese, then you’re freed up to get ready and have a pre-party glass of wine. Most importantly, remember that both cheese boards and parties, in general, are about fun and enjoyment, not impressing your guests. So don’t stress over how much your cheese cost, instead focus on filling people’s wine glasses and set the right vibe by relaxing and having a good time. (And enjoy the fact that you saved some money for those shoes you’ve been eyeing instead of spending it all on cheese!)

This post was originally published on July 29, 2016, and has since been updated.

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