For any gathering big or small, a well-appointed cheeseboard has always seemed like the height of sophistication. Arranged just so over a distressed wood plank, discrete piles of sweet and savory morsels sparkle like jewels in a treasure chest, waiting to be plundered. Carefully curated selections manage to dance in step no matter the pairing, as if they were all destined for this stage. How is it possible to create such a winning cheeseboard at home, with little experience, limited budget, or particular tastes?
If you’ve ever enjoyed cheese and crackers together, believe it or not, you’re already an expert. Putting together a selection of snacks for grazing isn’t rocket science. Start small and keep building as the occasion demands, breaking it down into five distinct categories for easy execution.
1 – 3 Types of Vegan Cheese
This is the star of the show here so don’t hold back. Plan on at least 1 – 2 ounces per person as an appetizer or snack. For a small party, it’s perfectly fine to focus on just one superlative cheese, but it’s always nice to offer different options to compare and contrast. Think of them in three categories while shopping or cooking:
- Soft/spreadable (cream cheese, herbed cashew cheese, brie)
- Medium/sliceable (Havarti, cheddar, provolone, gouda)
- Hard/crumbly (blue cheese, Parmesan, feta)
Personally, I wouldn’t go with desserts like cookies or truffles, but a more moderate, natural source of sweetness. The idea is to help balance the savory notes of the cheeses, rather than overpower them. That means relying on nature’s candy with no added sugars:
- Fresh fruit (grapes, sliced apples or pears, berries)
- Dried fruit (apricots, dates, figs)
- Jam or preserves
There’s a lot of potential overlap in this category with the following, so you can pick one or the other for a smaller spread. For concentrated pops of salty contrast, I’d suggest at least one of these:
- Marinated artichokes
Texture is critical! It’s especially important to have something crispy when you have a soft, spreadable cheese on deck. There should be a vehicle for any schmear, and maybe even a crunchy topper to finish it off:
There’s a whole lot going on with the rest of the board, so it’s nice to provide some blank space as a palate cleanser. These are also great options for those that really want to put the cheese first, but not just shove a whole plain wedge of it in their mouths. Use these as fillers when you have blank space:
- Soft bread
- Carrot or celery sticks
- Cucumber slices
If this was a genuine charcuterie board, you’d want to go heavy on the sliced plant-based meats. That, however, is a whole separate topic in and of itself. Consider it a wildcard addition if you want some extra protein to make it more of a meal.
There’s plenty of overlap that exists and you shouldn’t let these simplified lists restrict your creativity! Consider candied nuts for a sweet, salty, and crunchy component, for example, or a spicy pepper jam that’s more hot than sweet.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with paring it down to the bare essentials; all you need is a really great cheese and hearty crackers to start a party on the right foot. Perfect for the holidays or everyday entertaining, a plant-based cheeseboard offers a little bit of something for everyone.
You can’t live in Austin without developing a taste for queso. I do believe that at a certain point in your residency, if you don’t profess your undying love for the gooey cheese dip, the authorities will come and escort you out. Queso is a Tex-Mex staple that’s as abundant as the bats under Congress Bridge. It’s the glue holding together every menu, sometimes literally, as a stand-alone appetizer, side dish, and topping. Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that it would be blended into frosty margaritas, too.
All you need is liquid cheese with a bit of spice to have a passable queso dip. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, consider stepping up your game with Queso Compuesto.
Compuesto translates as “compound,” which means “made up or consisting of two or more existing parts or elements.” As such, queso is still the main attraction, but now you have a dollop of guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream in the same dish. Go all the way and hide a layer of cooked taco meat at the bottom, and you can basically call that a balanced meal.
How do you serve Queso Compuesto?
- Queso is always a stellar party starter, served as an appetizer with thick, crunchy tortilla chips.
- Pro tip: Warm the chips first to make them seem freshly fried and extra crispy. Just spread them out on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 5 – 6 minutes, until warm to the touch. Transfer the chips to a bowl so no one burns themselves on the hot pan.
- Ladle or spread queso over tacos, inside burritos before wrapping, or use as instant quesadilla filling.
What are some tasty variations on Queso Compuesto?
- Mix and match your favorite components to make this queso your own. Don’t like sour cream but love extra avocado on everything? Double up the guac and ditch the crema.
- When you’re in a rush, there’s no shame in taking shortcuts. Use prepared guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Heck, you can even use ready-made vegan queso, if you just want to use this idea as a template to color by numbers.
- Instead of meatless taco-seasoned grounds, stick with more whole foods like black beans or refried pinto beans for protein.
- Switch out the pico de gallo for any other salsa, hot or mild, red or green, smooth or chunky.
What can you do with leftover Queso Compuesto?
This is definitely a party-sized serving, so if you want to have a fiesta for one or two, don’t worry about the extra going to waste. It’s an incredibly versatile addition to…
- Pasta bakes
- Baked potatoes
Alternately, you could always divide the components into single servings. This is a great approach for portion control, planned leftovers, and simply preventing anyone from hogging the dish!
Some people still refer to this as “Bob Armstrong Dip,” attributing the creation to the former Texas land commissioner who allegedly asked for something different, off the menu, at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin, Texas. I think you can confidently name this one after yourself for improving upon the concept by making it far healthier, vegan, gluten-free, and even more flavorful.
Cheese still looms large as a barrier for otherwise open-minded eaters dabbling with veganism. It’s not just because it tastes good, as they claim, but it’s a genuine addiction. Casein, the most abundant protein found in dairy cheese, triggers the brain’s opioid receptors exactly like hard drugs. Fragments of that protein called casomorphins attach to the same brain receptors as heroin and other narcotics, producing a hit of dopamine with every bite.
The first step towards cheese freedom isn’t necessarily abstinence. No one needs to live without cheese entirely; in this day and age, there are nearly as many plant-based options on the market as conventional wheels, slices, and shreds. No longer can anyone claim a lack of flavors or accessibility as their excuse. Of course, whenever possible, homemade is still always best.
This herb-encrusted cashew cheese is a decadent and creamy homemade dairy-free cheese alternate. Spread it on toast or crackers as thickly as you please! The most-difficult part of the process is waiting for the cashew-based ‘curds’ to solidify. You’ll want to throw a wine and cheese party the moment your prize is ready, but you’d be forgiven for wanting to save every bite for yourself.
Unlike its dairy-based doppelganger, cashew cheese is a genuinely beneficial whole food, packed with vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and is also a good source of protein and fiber. In fact, it is actually higher in vitamins and minerals than standard cheese! Now you can indulge in good conscience and good health.