When Emily and Geoffrey made the difficult decision to move away from a traditional office space last year, we immediately knew we'd miss the natural gatherings in our kitchen. Some were planned—like potlucks—but others came about more organically, like when we'd call it quits and open a bottle of rosé at 4:30 on a Friday. It's been a long year of Zoom, but we wanted to create an event for our team that felt as fresh and fun as a kitchen gathering, and actually taught us something! In chatting with Emily, we landed on, what else?, cheese boards.
I reached out to Savannah and Shelby, sisters and founders of Sorella Collective, who I first met when they created gorgeous cheeseboards for an event we co-hosted with The Little Market. After putting together the most stunningly crafted baskets for our L.A. team, they walked us through a "recipe" for putting them together over Zoom. The way they tell it, cheeseboards are a miracle meal: They include something for everyone, are an all-in-one meal (complete with meat, nuts, cheese), are easy to put together, provide a great way to support local farmers and play around with seasonal produce, and are conversation starters. As Savannah put her ultimate cheeseboard fantasy, "Harry Styles and me are at a party. I bring a cheese board. He asks me about it. And then we get married."
You can follow the guide below exactly, using the same cheeses to create the exact same cheese board, or do as I did and approximate it with ingredients from Trader Joe's, or even your local farmers' market. There's no wrong way to put together a cheeseboard. Read on for Shelby and Savannah's tips for building your own:
"Always start with the cheese," Savannah said, "It's the most important part of the board, and you want to make sure you and your guests and getting the thing they asked for!"
Buy two to three varieties of cheese that run the gamut on texture and flavor. Something soft and mild, a firmer cheese with a kick (like cheddar), and something stinky or sharp, is usually a safe bet. For our board, we used Cyprus Grove's Midnight Moon Hard Goat Cheese, Plymouth Cheese's waxed cheddar, and Petite Breakfast, a soft-ripened brie, by Marin French.
Begin by placing a grounding moment in the center of the board: Add a small jar of honey (or any sweet addition, like jam) to the center—we'll come back to it later! Then, start with the most important thing: The cheese.
In placing the cheese, think of creating a picture frame around your board. Shelby, who does most of the food styling and cheese plate assembling at Sorella, explained, "You want the cheese on the sides for accessibility, and to keep all the things that could roll off the board from rolling off. Also, it looks great."
If you're following along exactly, open up your Midnight Moon and place it in the top-right corner, with the rind of the cheese facing out, which makes it easier for people to cut into, and serves as a visual indicator that the rind isn't meant to be eaten (many cheeses have edible rinds, but we don't recommend diving into the black wax this one is aged in).
Next, take the Marin French Brie. Shelby prefers to cut it down the middle, into three or four thick slices, then into half-moons (rolling the cheese back and forth under the knife will result in smoother slices). Fan them out, and place them kitty-corner on the board, as Kelly and Jess did above.
Finally, take the cheddar and open it up from the wax it's aged in, and place it in year another corner. If you end up with extra cheese, don't try to squeeze it into the sides Place it near the honey, and around the board to fill it in.
"Salami flowers are one of our signature things," Savannah explained, they "create a nice texture for the board and quick accessibility," since guests (or you!) can easily pick them up. Fold the salami (we used Calabrese-Creminelli Italian Salami) in half, taco-style, then fold in half again so you have a triangle with a rounded edge. Pinch it in the middle of the "petals," then stick it on the board, like a little flower. Repeat until you have a small row of them.
Next, we peeled the rind off of a Finocchiona Salami from Olympia Provisions (the rind is completely edible and some people prefer it—I do!—but most do not, since it can be chewy). Cut it into little medallions, then add them overlapping along two edges to fill in the border and create a picture frame for the nuts, olives, and fruit.
Because fruit is so highly seasonal, it's a great opportunity to play around on a cheese board. We began by taking young stone fruit—in our case, peaches and plums—and slicing the cheeks off, as close to the pit as possible. "You can probably get four to five slices, then create a little accordion of them," Shelby explained, placing hers close to the center of the board.
Next, if available, cut two figs into quarters, and arrange them in little "moments" around the board, with two or three quarters leaning against each other to add some height. Shelby explained that the winter boards they make often feel a bit "flatter," since they're using more citrus that they cut into slices, but summer is an opportunity to really play with a variety of fruits and heights. Next, we placed farmers' market cherums (cherry-plum hybrids), pixie tangerines, and a few strawberries and raspberries, which you can halve or leave whole, around the board.
If your board isn't looking multi-dimensional enough, you can lean the fruit against the honey.
This is the time to fill in the empty pockets around your board! Shelby and Savannah began by using walnuts and pistachios. "You generally want balance, with nuts on opposite sides of the board." They nestled pistachios into one corner—which they love using on their boards because they're as Californian as 'cados.
When it comes to Castelvetrano olives, try to nestle a bunch in a spot that's near nuts, meat, and cheese but away from fruit, as people often don't like having brine next to something that's sweet.
Feel free to use a dry fruit like raisins (preferably golden or flame raisins if you can find them!) anywhere there's a hole that needs to be filled. Continue going back and forth, adding your fruit and nuts until the board feels practically overflowing.
At this point, your board should look nearly complete, but Shelby insists, "You always have to finish with herbs and flowers." While they prefer to use edible flowers on their own boards, you can use any flower that doesn't easily shed and is organic. "You can't just use flowers from Trader Joe's, since those are sprayed with pesticides and you can't have that touching your cheese," said Shelby, though the store often sells lavender or rosemary you can use in the herb section.
We tucked a variety of lavender and purple pansies into our boards, building a little flower crown around the honey and building mini arrangements.
At this point, you've probably noticed crackers are missing! (No? We respect that too—just go straight for the cheese.) Shelby and Savannah don't add crackers to their boards, because they can get soggy. Instead, serve them in a bowl alongside and you're done!
You can make your board ahead of time and store it in the fridge—just be sure to take it out 30 minutes ahead of time in the summer, or 45 minutes ahead of time in the winter to allow the cheese to soften. When ready, place a knife in the cheese to encourage people to dig in!
All photos by Jess, who graciously photographed her cheese board as she and Kelly built theirs!