The Ultimate Trader Joe’s Cheese Board Guide
A stacked presentation of cheese, meats, fruit, and crackers is, in my opinion the key to any great party. A cheese board is the ultimate, zero-prep appetizer. Trader Joe’s makes it easier and more affordable than ever to create a stellar selection you’ll love. Below I share my favorite TJ’s picks, as well as my tips for assembling an impressive cheese board.
1. When building your cheese board, think about the items you select like you’re packing for a trip. You want every item to be multifunctional, meaning each cheese, cracker, jam, fruit, etc. should be able to pair with multiple items on the board. That smoky bacon jam might be delicious, but if you only want to eat it with one specific item, you’re better off picking something more versatile.
2. Make it easy for your guest to get started. I always leave my cheese in block form, which makes the assembly easier and gives people a sense of what they’re eating. However, I like to slice off a few pieces of each cheese. Sometimes people are afraid of being the first one to cut into a picture-perfect charcuterie board. Having a few pieces ready to grab encourages people to dig in. This also demonstrates the way each cheese should be cut.
3. Use an actual board. Cheese board > Cheese plate. Unless you’re individually cutting up each item into bite size pieces, a board that guests can actually cut on, will be a better option than a platter or plate.
4. Get creative. When selecting items for your cheese board aim for items with a variety of taste, texture, and flavor. Consider how a spicy jam will compliment a savory piece of cured meat or the way a tart and creamy goat cheese will spread on a crusty slice of bread.
A Gateway Cheese
Shockingly, not everyone is that comfortable diving into a pile of assorted cheeses. In the interest of making your cheese board approachable and ensuring there is something to please everyone, it’s essential to include what I call a “Gateway Cheese”. I almost always use a sharp cheddar on my cheese board. It’s a fan favorite and pairs well with a wide variety of accoutrements, especially a sour slice of granny smith apple or a buttery wheat cracker. Don’t underestimate cheddar just because it falls on the mild end of the cheese spectrum. Trader Joe’s Black Diamond 4 Year Aged Cheddar is one of my favorite cheeses of all time. It’s sharp and deeply savory with the most beautiful salt crystallization throughout. Their English Coastal Cheddar is also consistently delicious and a great value at $7.99 a pound.
Soft and Creamy
In my research on cheese boards over the years I’ve encountered a consistent result. My user group (read: friends and family) always devour the soft, creamy cheese first. Whether it’s an ultra-rich brie or sweet chévre, people love a soft cheese. I tend to err on the sweeter side of the soft cheeses, pairing Trader Joe’s Double Crème Brie with tart cherries, smoky almonds, and of course Raisin Rosemary Crisps. The Wild Blueberry Vanilla Chévre is as beautiful as it is delicious and should really be considered dessert.
I find that hard and semi-hard cheese provide the greatest diversity of flavor and pair beautifully with cured meats. I love how the Asiago with Rosemary and Olive Oil from TJ’s is salty, creamy, and lightly floral all at once. Trader Joe’s offers a variety of Toscano cheese, a nutty hybrid of parmesan and cheddar that’s both flavorful and approachable. The slightly spicy Toscano with Black Pepper is my personal favorite.
This is your opportunity to do something interesting and unexpected. If I were a fan of blue cheese, I’d use the robust and creamy Cave Aged Blue or the more mild and sweet White Stilton with Apricots. For an intense smoky flavor, you could the 1,000 Day Gouda or the melt-in-your-mouth Havarti with Dill. You could also get creative and make something yourself, like this Mediterranean Feta Dip.
I have had my fair share of charcuterie boards and can safely say the Columbus Peppered Salami from Trader Joe’s is my absolute favorite option for cured meat. I find that meats like prosciutto, salami, and sopressata are difficult to deal with on a cheese board. Thick rinds or oversized pieces make it tough to gracefully cut. However, the peppered salami is individually sliced into thin pieces, making it simple to add to a cracker or pair with cheese. The peppered crust adds a delicious bite to the otherwise mild salami and creates an excellent savory addition to any cheese board.
As someone with a serious sweet tooth, a jam with a complex flavor palate is my favorite way to elevate a cheese board. Trader Joe’s Hot & Sweet Pepper Jelly serves this purpose and does so at an attractive price point. The Marcona Almonds with Rosemary are another steal and make for an elegant addition to your spread. I almost always add fresh, seasonal fruit to my cheese board to create some dimension. I like pairing tart Granny Smith Apple with sharp cheddar or going the classic route and adding a bunch of Seedless Grapes to my assortment of cheese.
Crackers and Such
Crackers are the quiet heroes of every cheese board. They get none of the glory but play a vital role as a vessel for cheese and other delicacies. I try to provide at least two option for crackers, to suite the various cheeses on the board. As stated above, crispy crackers like the Raisin and Rosemary or Fig and Olive Crisps at Trader Joe’s are an excellent pair for soft cheeses.For more substantial combinations, like a piece of Asiago with Rosemary and slice of Salami, I think the Stoneground Wheat Crackers are ideal. If I could only choose one cracker, I’d go with the Multigrain Crackers for their versatility and buttery crunch.