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Vegan cheese board: How to build one for the holidays

Epic vegan cheese board (5)

Chic cheese boards of epic proportions have been flooding our feeds and winning over our hearts this season. What do we love about cheese boards? Not only are they extremely tasty — they’re basically a cornucopia of everyone’s favorite savory snacks — they also look extremely impressive, bursting with colors, flavors and textures.

They truly are a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. And today we’re here to let you in on a secret: Despite how intricate they look, they are actually incredibly easy to make. And an even better secret: You can make a delicious vegan cheese board, which means everyone can enjoy!

Today we are going to show you how to shop and style an epically chic vegan cheese board for your next holiday party or get together. Now, don’t worry if you aren’t vegan. The styling rules still apply to non-vegan cheese boards as well. But for the vegans out there, we know how tough it can be to live a life without cheese.

For many vegans, cheese is the biggest hurdle to overcome, the last temptation, the final vegan frontier, if you will. And, for all the advancements and accomplishments in the vegan packaged goods industry, vegan cheese is apparently their final frontier as well. We’ve heard vegan cheese called everything from “not good” to “an insult to the name of cheese.” But trust us, there are some gems to be found.

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4 simple rules when shopping for vegan cheese

Inspect the ingredients list. Always check the ingredients when purchasing vegan cheese. The fewer ingredients you see, the better. Most homemade vegan cheeses are made out of some type of nut, water and a blend of spices, and it is totally possible to find cheese in store with ingredients similar to this as well. But it is also possible to find cheese full of extra preservatives, coloring, chemicals and other foreign additives. And you can taste that. The more ingredients you recognize, the better.

Go organic or artisanal. These vegan cheese options are a little on the pricier side, but it usually means that their production involves less processing, meaning the vegan cheese will taste more natural. Over-processed vegan cheese can leave an almost chemical taste on the palate. We’ve found that ingredients for organic and artisanal vegan cheeses are simpler and are, therefore, healthier and tastier overall.

style an epically chic vegan cheese board

Try out different flavors. The issue with a lot of vegan cheese is that it tries to be something it’s not and it ends up being awful at it. It’s just like in middle school: The best way to be cool is to be yourself, not act like everyone else. If you have the choice between a block of vegan “cheddar” or a “garlic and chive cashew cheese,” go for the garlic and chive! At least you know that one is being true to itself. Also, we highly recommend trying a smoked vegan cheese if you can find one. The “smoked” flavor is achieved through the same process regular smoked cheeses go through, so smoked cheese alternatives actually end up tasting very similar to their dairy counterparts.

Reframe your thinking. The reality is that vegan cheese might never measure up to the real thing and that’s OK. The important thing is to go into it with an open mind. A quality vegan cashew cheese may not taste like a block of extra sharp Tillamook, but it can be appreciated for what it is: a flavorful and lightweight spread that tastes amazing on crackers, sandwiches and even bagels.

We’re not saying you have to lower your taste standards — there are plenty of vegan cheeses we’d be happy to avoid forever. We’re just saying that if we’re talking apples and oranges, don’t expect an orange when you pick up an apple.

MORE: Healthier mud pie is the vegan alternative to your childhood favorite

We know selection can be overwhelming, so here are some of our faves.

Miyoko’s — Tomorrow’s Creamery

Miyoko’s products are 100 percent organic and come in a huge variety of flavors, from winter truffle to mozzarella that actually melts and stretches — perfect for vegan pizza. The great thing about these products is that they are so flavorful and come in a variety of textures, making them suitable for cooking or eating raw. We’ve had luck finding Miyoko’s in most major grocery outlets across the country, including Ralphs/Kroger and Whole Foods. For a complete list of store availability, check out their store finder here.

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Treeline Treenut Cheese

Treeline carries a line of soft artisanal cheeses in a variety of flavors. The texture is creamy and fluffy, making them a great replacement for ricotta or cream cheese. Because they are soft, unaged cheeses, the ingredient list is as simple as it gets: Usually just water, tree nuts, lemon juice and spices. We’ve found Treeline in most Whole Foods stores, but check out their complete list of locations here.

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Violife 100% Vegan

Violife isn’t organic or artisanal, but we love these products as an option for vegans who may have allergies to nuts. These products have a potato starch and coconut oil base, and no nuts are involved in their production. Their products melt well, and we’ve found that they actually taste better when cooked. Their cheddar is great for the occasional vegan grilled cheese, and their Parmesan is amazing in pesto.

This brand is based out of Greece, but products recently became widely available in the U.S. last year. Here’s a list of available locations.

Violife 100% Vegan

Building your vegan cheese board

Now, let’s talk styling.

The most beautiful cheese boards are the ones that we look at and think, “What a beautiful mess.” And that is exactly what a well-styled cheese board is: a beautiful mess. Of course, there is some method to the madness, but not much.

As a basic rule of thumb, we are looking for five elements on a cheese board: the cheese (duh), the salty (nuts, mustard, tapenade, olives, cornichons, etc), the sweet (fresh fruit, dried fruits, jams, etc.), the vessels (crackers, crudités), and the garnish (usually herbs). It’s always good to keep these elements in mind when you’re shopping for ingredients at the store. We’ll break these down a little more below.

It’s also good to have a few small dishes to hold the runnier elements like condiments. And they don’t need to be uniform. Different shapes, patterns and colors actually enhance the overall look. Remember, we’re creating a beautiful mess. Other than that, rules do not apply. Don’t overthink it, and just have fun filling up the platter.

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Step 1: The platter

You may think you need to go to Sur La Table and spend a small fortune on a fancy cheese board, but that is not necessary. The beauty of this style of cheese board is that, in the end, every inch of the platter should be covered anyway, so it really doesn’t matter what the base looks like.

You could use a fancy marble pastry board, a wooden cutting board, a plastic cutting board or even a metal sheet pan. Most of it is covered, and the exposed ends of a sheet pan actually end up looking quite rustic, which is totally chic in its own way.

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Step 2: The cheese

What would a cheese board be without the cheese? Well, it would basically be a snack platter. Which is totally fine, now that we think about. But since we’re talking cheeseboards, the cheese comes first. Go for the interesting flavors. We used a smoked cashew mozzarella from Miyoko’s, a classic chive cashew cheese from Miyoko’s, a herb-garlic cashew cheese from Treeline, and a vegan feta made of potato starch and coconut oil from Violife.

Don’t worry about providing large quantities of vegan cheese on the board; you’ll have a lot of other fun things to fill in the gaps.

For the non-vegans out there, look for a mix of cheeses at your local deli or supermarket. Consider a mix of textures (soft, hard, crumbly), strengths (sharp, mild, stinky) and colors/shapes to keep it visually exciting and also to make sure everyone at the party can find a cheese they like.

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Step 3: The salty

Start to build around your cheeses, adding some nuts here, some condiments there. If you’re an omnivore, you could also add charcuterie, but sometimes it’s nice to add that on a separate platter so that the board can appeal to a wider audience.

Again, think about textures and flavors when adding the salty. Marcona almonds are a beautiful shiny almond with a more buttery flavor than their counterpart. Trader Joe’s carries some delicious flavors like rosemary and truffle salt.

Pickles add a nice salty crunch, while condiments like mustard and olive tapenade are nice to layer on crackers or bread before adding cheese. Also, make sure to space things out evenly. You want to leave space so that every time you discover something salty, you find that something sweet is close by. That’s what keeps things exciting!

vegan cheese board - Salty

Step 4: The sweet

For the sweet, we like to add a mixture of dried and fresh fruit, as well as jams, fruit preserves, or honey for the non-vegans. Things like honey or fig jam can be super sweet and they taste amazing drizzled over a salty cheese. On the flip side, dried fruit like apricots or dried cherries can be quite tart, but they taste lovely in contrast to the salty brines of olives and pickles.

Fresh fruit depends on the season, but for fall, think apples, pears and grapes. Grapes should be cut into little bunches so that guests don’t have to worry about picking big bunches apart. Apples and pears look beautiful thinly sliced and fanned out. Just remember to preserve them with a squeeze of lemon so that they don’t oxidize and turn brown over the course of the party.

Making a cheese board vegan-style

Step 5: The vessels

Add things like raw veggies, crackers and bread to put the cheese on. Personally, we’re not big fans of sliced bread on the board. It takes up quite a bit of space and doesn’t do much for the aesthetic. If you want to add bread, we recommend a basket on the side of the board.

MORE: How to make vegan deviled “eggs”

Crackers and crudités are usually a bit smaller and work well to fill out the remaining gaps on the board. Look for a mixture of sizes, shapes, flavors and textures when selecting crackers. Seeded crackers have a nice rustic look to them. Some people like to keep it plain, but especially for the vegans out there, a flavored cracker helps enhance the flavors of the vegan cheese. We personally love the seeded everything flavored Mary’s Gone Crackers.

Cheese board before garnish

Step 6: The garnish

Last but not least, use tiny clusters of herbs to fill out any remaining spaces that still show empty cheeseboard. Not only do they help to eliminate the negative space, but they also look really pretty and give the cheeseboard that extra pop. The herb choice is up to you, but we used parsley, bay leaves and rosemary.

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Extra tips

If you can, try to to assemble the cheeseboard wherever you are serving it. By the time it is finished, there won’t be anywhere for you to grab hold and move the board, so once it is done, it stays put until enough of the contents are eaten off the platter. If you have to move with it, consider a platter with handles to make transportation easier.

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Don’t worry about overcrowding the board. Stacks and heaps will quickly dwindle down as the party goes on. It even looks good when the contents are spilling off the sides of the board. It actually makes it look glamorous and larger than life if you don’t stay within the confines of the serving platter.

Lastly, we know a vegan cheese board can seem like an overwhelming cost when you first shop for all the ingredients to make the cheeseboard look fabulous. But the good news is, once you buy the ingredients, you can likely make four or five cheeseboards using the same haul. All you have to do is buy more cheese!

Looking for the perfect pairing for your vegan cheese board. Check out our craft. cocktail tips from an expert bartender. 

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