Serving a cheeseboard before or after a meal is one of the simplest ways to elevate a dinner party. It's also the quickest way to break the bank. Have you seen how much fine cheese can go for these days? My feelings about cheese could be seen as borderline obsessive, but even I draw the line at cheese that maxes out my credit card or smells like it's been sitting in my laundry basket all week.

Whether you want to assemble your board in minutes or take your time crafting the perfect spread, we've got a foolproof choose-your-own-adventure guide for making a drool-worthy (and Instagram-worthy) cheeseboard.

1. Grab a board


Your board is the foundation for all of the cheesy goodness to come, so pick a good one!

  • The 5-minute board: Grab the nearest wooden cutting board you can find. If it looks a little worse for the wear, flip it over to the other side or drape a clean napkin or dishcloth over it.
  • The 1-hour board: Make a quick stop at your local thrift store to find a vintage board or tray.
  • The 5-hour board: Got a wooden cutting board that could use a face lift? Use this tutorial from The Moon and Me to burn your family's monogram onto the board with a wood burning tool.

Other tips:

  • You can turn pretty much any flat surface into a cheeseboard, but wooden (or other dark-colored) boards will make the paler cheeses pop more.
  • A rectangular board is more pleasing to the eye than a circular board. The rectangular shape leads the eye around the board, while a circular board tends to draw the eye to the center.
  • Opt for a smaller board! The prettiest cheeseboards are the ones that appear to be overflowing with deliciousness, and if your board is big you'll need a lot more stuff to get the filled-to-the-brim look.

2. Select your cheeses


I won't pretend that this step is easy. There are so many delicious cheeses to choose from, and if you're like me, you're going to want to take them all home with you (and eat them before your guests arrive).

  • The 5-minute board: Grab literally any cheeses you have in your fridge. (Skip the moldy ones, unless you're into that kind of thing.)
  • The 1-hour board: Head to the specialty cheese section of your nearest grocery store and try not to spend an hour debating between Gruyère and Asiago. (They're all goud-a!)
  • The 5-hour board: Make a trip to your local cheesemonger to get recommendations for the best spread.

Other tips:

  • Opt for a variety of cheeses–soft, hard, white, yellow, smells like feet, doesn't smell like feet... Doing so helps balance the flavors of the board and ensures that everyone finds something they like to eat.
  • Don't blow your entire budget on cheese! Trust me, none of your friends can tell the difference between a $20 cheese and a $7 cheese.
  • When arranging the cheeses on the board, space them out evenly and slice a few pieces of each to indicate to your guests that they should dig in.

3. Add crackers and meats


I think of crackers merely as vehicles to get more cheese into my mouth, but your guests may genuinely like them.

  • The 5-minute board: No crackers on hand? No problem! Thinly slice a baguette and pop in the oven to toast. Or, better yet, try this quick recipe for Parmesan crackers (because the only thing better than cheese on crackers is cheese on more cheese).
  • The 1-hour board: Pick out a few different types of crackers and a smoked sausage or two at the grocery store. Choose crackers and meats with interesting textures and colors to add visual interest to your board.
  • The 5-hour board: Your local cheesemonger should be able to point you in the direction of perfect cheese/meat/cracker pairings.

Other tips:

  • Lay the crackers out in lines that curve around the cheese and draw the eye from one end of the board to the other.
  • Keep the meats sequestered on one side of the board if you're expecting vegetarians for dinner, or leave them off the board altogether.

4. Throw in sweetness and crunch


Think of these as you would extras in a movie. They don't say or do much, but if they're not there, it looks like a ghost town.

  • The 5-minute board: If it's small and edible, throw it on the board.
  • The 1-hour board: Pick out 1-2 in each of the following categories: fresh berries, dried fruit, pickled vegetables, nuts, spreads.
  • The 5-hour board: Do some homework before hitting the store. Spend a few minutes on Pinterest looking at (and envying) other people's cheeseboards and seeing what ingredients pop off the board.

Other tips:

  • Place the sweet and crunchy ingredients right up against the cheeses, meats, and crackers. The key to a beautiful cheeseboard is to fill it up completely to the point of overflowing.
  • Aim for inviting, not perfection! Don't spend too much time arranging almonds in a perfect spiral or erecting a delicate house of crackers. If your cheeseboard looks too perfect, your guests may be hesitant to mess it up by digging in.
  • Assemble your board where you expect to serve it to avoid the perilous trip from kitchen to table.

5. Embellish


One or two inedible finishing touches, and you're done!

  • The 5-min board: Pick fresh rosemary or other herbs from the garden and use them to frame the board. And don't forget a cheese knife!
  • The 1-hour board: Grab toothpicks, paper, and tape to make instant cheese labels. (Like these ones fromLily the Wandering Gypsy.)
  • The 5-hour board: Find a unique set of reusable cheese markers or make your own with this tutorial from A Beautiful Mess.

6. Serve and enjoy!

Be sure to place your cheeseboard where guests can easily admire it. Oh, and eat it, too.