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When you dine out, is there anything more decadent sounding than starting your meal with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board? I'll answer that for you -- no, there isn't! Not only are the presentations usually out of this world visually, but the meat/cheese/jam pairings are a fool proof way of getting a little bite of just about every flavor profile under the sun. (Image: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/ DC Refined)

A beginner's guide to assembling the perfect summer cheese and charcuterie board

When you dine out, is there anything more decadent sounding than starting your meal with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board? I'll answer that for you -- no, there isn't! Not only are the presentations usually out of this world visually, but the meat/cheese/jam pairings are a fool proof way of getting a little bite of just about every flavor profile under the sun.

Why not take your summer entertaining up a level this season by perfecting this art form rather than merely throwing a handful of crackers, whatever cheese you have on hand and some salami on a cutting board and calling it a day! We teamed up with Butchers Alley in Bethesda to break down how to assemble a balanced cheese and charcuterie board. So, invite your friends over, follow the easy steps below, and wow them as the hostess with the mostess!

1. Select your cheeses

Consider the setting and number of folks you'll have attending your summer gathering. Three to six cheeses is a great basic guideline to follow - that way you can offer a variety of textures and flavor profiles. Choose your textures first; include a hard cheese, a soft cheese, a spreadable cheese, and a semi-soft cheese. Then, move on to your flavors. For summer, choose a light, nutty cheese, a tart cheese, a funky or bold cheese and a creamy cheese.

Don't forget, if you will be outdoors you want to stay away from the really soft cheeses (like Brie) that just don't hold up well in the heat.

We went with:

  • Spanish Manchego Cheese Aged 1 Year: A sheep's milk cheese, Manchego is both buttery in flavor and firm in texture. It's a well- rounded cheese, a crowd pleaser and pairs well with the Jamon Iberico for a great bite.
  • Point Reyes Blue Cheese: Made in Northern California this blue cheese is a great choice for folks who love blue cheese, as well as the hesitant. Made with raw cow's milk, it offers layers of creamy flavors, like sweet fresh milk and a medium punch of blue flavor. Pair this flavorful cheese with a strawberry compote for a whole new flavor.
  • French Epoisses: This creamy, decadent cheese is a French classic made in Burgundy. This spreadable cheese is perfect for easy summer eating, spread on bread, veggies or crackers. We paired it with a delicious calabrese salami from Olli.
  • Monte Enebro: Spreadable, bold and delicious, this Spanish goat cheese is perfect for pairing with the sweeter white wines of summer. We paired it with a spicy Chorizo Revilla to balance the creamy notes.
  • Mimolette: Tart, nutty flavors explode in this French hard cheese. Its distinctive cantaloupe color will wow your guests and its bold, familiar flavors will keep them coming back for more.

2. Select your Charcuterie

Again, consider the number of people you will be entertaining, but we'd suggest two to three great meats to add color and the smoky flavors to your plate. The smoky/salty balance is really critical when it comes to cheese and charcuterie pairings, and besides, variety is the spice of life.

We'd recommend:

  • Calabrese Salami: Butchers Alley carries Olli's calabrese salami, which offers a great kick from fresh pepper and pairs nicely with any cheese.
  • Jamon Iberico: Probably the most classic charcuterie offering, this Spanish cured ham is nutty, salty and melts in your mouth.
  • Jamon Serrano: Butchers Alley's Spanish jamon serrano is lighter in flavor than their Iberico offering, and a bit more budget friendly.
  • Chorizo Revilla: This Spanish classic has bold and original Spanish flavors and also plays well with a myriad of cheeses.

3. Select your pairings

We like to pair a fresh baguette, several cracker options and fruity, sweet flavors (like a strawberry compote or quince paste) to balance out the smoky meats and salty cheeses. Butchers Alley recommends their Kii apricot and orange crackers for sweet summer flavors.

4. Assemble your cheese board.

We like using slate cheese plates for great color contrast, but you can use any wood cutting board you may have on hand too. Cut your cheese into manageable portions and stick small cheese knives in so your guests can cut their own bite size pieces. Pile your charcuterie selections around your cheeses and finally, plop a schmere of your fruit jams with a small knife for spreading.

The best part of creating a cheese board for summer gatherings is that you can't mess it up! Keep it simple and have fun with it, and we guarantee it will be as delicious as it is beautiful!

Visit Butchers Alley (4961 Bethesda Ave, Bethesda, MD) for all of the cheese and charcuterie offerings listed above for your summer cheese boards.

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