I’m not sure if I’ve ever gone on record with this admission before, and I’m a little nervous to let the secret slip. But here goes: I could take or leave Thanksgiving food. There, I said it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love fall flavors. Carbs are my closest pals. Turkey and I are tight (at least when it’s done right). Still, Traditional Thanksgiving dishes often leave something to be desired, don’t you think?
And that “something” is absolutely, positively, cheese.
Is a feast without cheese a feast at all? I say no. So I’m here to save the day by injecting a whole lot of the stuff into your holiday celebration. That’s right, I’ve put together a guide to creating the ultimate Autumn Harvest Cheese Board. I’ll tell you all about how to pick cheeses, meats, carbs, condiments, and all of the other little special additions that bring your cheese board from lackluster spread to over-the-top banquet.
Narrowing down what cheeses to use is absolutely the hardest part of making a cheese board to me, like asking a mother to choose between her children. I just love them all so much.
To relieve some of the pressure, I follow a simple guideline of variety–after all, variety is “the spice of life”. If you give everyone plenty of options and diversity, everyone will wind up happy. Simple as that! Choose cheeses with a range of flavors and textures by picking at least one cheese from each of these categories:
What is it?: Typically, a cheese is considered to be “aged” if it is cured for more than 6 months. These cheeses are usually sharp, strongly-flavored, and often nutty, due to both the conversion of lactose to lactic acid and the breaking down of protein chains over time. Fun fact: after eight months or so, there’s usually no lactose left in cheese, which makes those cheeses safe for people with lactose intolerance to eat! Plus they taste amazing. The cheeses, not the people, of course.
Examples: Aged variations of cheddar, gruyere, gouda, parmesan, or provolone.
What is it?: Cheese containing visible blue mold, which occurs due to cultures of Penicillium that are added to to the milk. Penicillium, by the way, is the same mold that grows on bread, and the same mold responsible for penicillin. These cheeses are usually very salty, pungent, and sharp.
Examples: Maytag, roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, or danish blue.
What is it?: These are the hard cheeses that are usually grated onto or into dishes, or served in thin shavings. They are often pungent and pack a flavorful punch.
Examples: Manchego, mimolette, and asiago.
What is it?: Soft cheeses are creamy and typically spread on bread or crackers. They are often mild and buttery, and sometimes tangy.
Examples: Goat cheese, brie, fresh mozzarella, or ricotta.
If you’d like to get more than 4 cheeses (because the more the merrier, really), double or triple up on categories that are sure-fire hits. For example, I included 2 bricks of aged cheddar, one white and one orange, as well as a wedge of aged parmesan. Aged cheeses tend to be the least polarizing, so having extra certainly won’t hurt.
My picks: Aged Irish white cheddar, aged Wisconsin orange cheddar, gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano, manchego with paprika, and brie.
Vegetarians will be fine skipping this section, but for the rest of us omnivores, there’s no denying that meat and cheese are a match made in heaven. The meats you want for your board will most likely be pig-based, and have tons of flavor thanks to the preservation process. That process, by the way, makes these meats safe to set out for the duration of your get-together without having to worry about them spoiling.
Salami, bacon, ham, pâté, proscuitto, and sopprassata are all great options. For the most impact, pick meats that incorporate seasonal flavors like maple, herbs, and warming spices to make your Autumn Cheese Board truly feel fall-worthy.
My picks: Herb-crusted salami and candied bacon. There also would have been prosciutto if I didn’t accidentally drop the package, open-side-down, while preparing the cheese board.
You’ve just gotta roll with the punches, my friends.
The Bread & Crackers
You know what these are? They’re the vehicles for those creamier cheeses and condiments to go from the cheese board to your belly. As a carb fiend, I feel that it’s of utmost importance to have a variety of breads, crackers, and crisps for people to enjoy. And trust me, they’re almost always the first thing you run out of, so get plenty.
Sturdy crackers of different mild flavors, grilled or chewy sliced breads, and crunchy breadsticks are all welcome additions.
My picks: Grissini breadsticks, sliced French baguette, rosemary raisin pecan “raincoast” crisps, and sea salt crackers.
Here’s your opportunity to really pack in the seasonal produce and spices, round out the flavors on your cheese board, and add in a few new textures. Fruit, nuts, pickles, and condiments all are welcome additions to finish off your ultimate Autumn Harvest Cheese Board!
Apples, cranberries, dates, figs, grapes, pears, pomegranate, pumpkin, sweet potato, and squash are at their peak this time of year, so either using the actual fruits themselves or incorporating the produce into a condiment will bring extra fall flavor to your spread. You can make chutneys, jams, hummus, and fruit salsas featuring these ingredients or buy ready-prepared versions. Decorative gourds or dried corn husks surrounding your cheese plate can also bump up your fall flair.
My picks: Bosc pears, honey-crisp apples, pomegranate, concord grapes, pumpkin hummus, and bourbon apple butter, and decorative gourds.
In addition to the fruit-based condiments listed above, mustards, honey, vinegar reductions, and maple syrup are all autumnal condiments that pair well with the suggested cheeses, fruits, and meats.
My picks: All of my condiments were fruit-based.
Olives, Nuts, and Seeds
Because my choices for cheeses and meats were very fatty and salty, I didn’t wind up including olives on my board. However, a mix of Kalamata and Castelvetrano would be my pick. You can mix your preferred olives at the olive bar of your local supermarket, so don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety! Just try to make sure that some of the olives have a bit of sweetness to them to offset the briny, salty flavor.
For nuts and seeds, roasted is best. Candied nuts also give you an opportunity to incorporate maple syrup or brown sugar for autumn sweetness.
My picks: Roasted almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds.
– Your cheese board does not have to be as jam-packed as mine. As a rule of thumb, for each person you plan to feed, plan for about 3 ounces of cheese, and that should be plenty. It never hurt to have extra cheese, but if you’re using the cheese board as a pre-dinner snack, you don’t want your guests to be full before the main event.
– Make sure you have a separate cheese knife for each cheese so that the flavors aren’t muddled.
– What you serve your cheese on makes a huge difference in appearance and function. Make sure your guest are able to cut the cheeses as they go.
– When pairing wines with the cheese board, the absolute most important factor is picking wine that your guests enjoy. Beyond that, sweet white wines generally go with fresh, creamy cheeses; sweet reds balance blue cheeses; and full-bodied wines are great for complementing firm, aged cheeses. If you have to pick just one wine, Riesling will generally do the trick.
– Labeling your cheeses and accompaniments will make guests more likely to try different components of your Autumn Harvest Cheese Board. People like to get an idea of what they’re about to taste before taking a bite.
– Serve the cheese at room temperature. You should be able to set up your cheese board 30 minutes to an hour before serving.
By following this guide, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you decide to use to build your cheese-filled feast! However, if you want to make your Autumn Harvest Cheese Board just like mine, I’ll include recipes for the Candied Bacon, Bourbon Apple Butter, and Smoky Chipotle Pumpkin Hummus below, plus a recap of my other cheese, meat, and accompaniment picks.
Whether you follow my choices closely, mix it up, or go entirely off-script, take a photo and tag it on Instagram with #hostthetoast so I can check out your Autumn Harvest Cheese Board. It will show up on the You Made It page, to boot, so can show off just how delicious Thanksgiving or your latest get-together was at your house!
After you serve up this glorious board, no one will feel like your Thanksgiving dinner is missing a damn thing. That’s for sure.
- Parmigiano reggiano
- Aged Irish white cheddar
- Aged Wisconsin orange cheddar
- Brie log
- Manchego with paprika
- Grissini breadsticks
- Sea salt crackers
- Raincoast rosemary raisin pecan crisps
- Sliced French baguette
- Bosc pears
- Honey-crisp apples
- Concord grapes
- Decorative gourds
- Herb-crusted salami
- Candied bacon (recipe below)
- Smoky Chipotle Pumpkin Hummus (recipe here)
- Bourbon Apple Butter (recipe below)
- Roasted almonds
- Roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 8 ounces bacon
- 8 medium-sized mixed apples, cored and chopped into chunks, skin left on
- ½ cup bourbon
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a small bowl, combine the sugar, maple syrup, and rice vinegar. Set aside.
- Place bacon slices on a large baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, turning halfway through.
- Remove the bacon from the oven and brush both sides generously with the brown sugar mixture. Return the bacon to the oven and bake another 5 minutes. Brush with the sugar mixture every 5 minutes until bacon is caramelized and crisp, about 30 minutes. Immediately remove the bacon from the tray and set on a rack to cool.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the apples, bourbon, and light brown sugar.
- Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low heat. Cover and simmer for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so to make sure the apples don't burn.
- Remove the lid and blend using a stick blender until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin pie spice blend, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Continue to cook down, stirring often, until thick and browned, about 1 hour. Blend again, if necessary.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
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