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Easy Entertaining with a Cheese Board

Now that we're starting to come out of hibernation after that awful winter, we're thinking about entertaining again. One of the easiest ways to put a party together -- especially at the last minute, or when you have precious little time to prepare -- is to assemble a cheese board. There's no cooking required, and you can set it up in advance. If you plan well, you won't need too much else in the way of hors d'oeuvres, and if it's a cocktail party rather than dinner, the lion's share of the work is done!

Start with an attractive base, such as a marble slab, piece of slate, wood cutting board or a pretty platter. Choose three to five cheeses with a variety of flavors, textures, ages and colors. Plan on 3 to 5 ounces of cheese per person. You will want a creamy, soft cheese, like a Brie or Camembert; a hard cheese, like aged Gouda, and a blue, such as Maytag or gorgonzola. Think about varying the country of origin and the animal milk from which the cheeses are made: goat, sheep and cow.

Or, if you prefer, it can be fun to follow a theme, perhaps matched to your beverages. You could try an all-French board with French wines, or American cheeses paired with American craft beers.

Choose accompaniments to complement your cheese selection. Offer a variety of colors and textures, and a mixture of sweet and savory flavors. Rustic breads and crackers, fresh and dried fruit, preserves, nuts, sausages and raw or pickled vegetables all add to a successful cheese board.

To assemble an attractive display, place the largest chunk of cheese as the centerpiece. Space the other cheeses around the board and fill in the spaces with your accompaniments, arrayed in neat lines. It's OK to wrap the lines around the cheese wedges. Add a couple of small knives and spreaders, as needed, and set it out about an hour before the party so the cheese comes to room temperature. You can find plenty of display ideas in cookbooks, on Pinterest or elsewhere on the web. Have fun with it!