i don’t know about you, but the thought of creating on e of those beautiful cheese boards i have seen on pinterest and food publications over the years. was enough for me not to ever give one a go. that was until frank and i moved from nyc, to la, had a home large enough to have people over to “entertain”. not only that, but i don’t even really eat dairy-based cheese (sometimes i’ll have an occasional bite), so if i was going to make a vegan cheese board what cheeses do i buy? how many of those teeny forks will i need? what do i serve next to said cheese? and most importantly: what wine does one serve with exclusively vegan cheese?!
i’m happy to report, that over the past few years i’ve done research on the above questions. long gone are the days when vegan cheese meant rubbery, odd tasting little shreds on top of your pasta or veggies. today there are a plethora of nut-based, cultured vegan cheeses that are legitimately delicious. even though dairy-free cheese lacks milk-fat, it does contain fat which lends a richness to it all the same. but that is to say, vegan cheeses are a bit more delicate than dairy-based cheeses, and therefore are best when paired with light or medium-bodied wines.
what are medium and light bodies wines? generally medium and light bodied wines have an alcohol content between 12.5%-13.5%, and commonly have that refreshing, crisp vibe. and that’s what we want - light and refreshing. i tend to love serving chilled rose (even in the winter, controversial, i know!) and white wine, and a light and fruity pinot noir with a vegan cheese board. and since vegan cheeses tend to be a bit more mild than dairy-based cheese, you don’t have to go overboard with the pairing of them with specific wine varieties. think floral or citrusy, crisp wines if you’re serving fruit, dried fruit, or preserves alongside your cheese, as to not overpower your tastebuds with too much sweet flavor.
here, i served a light bodied pinot noir as an option (even if it’s not your cup of tea, a guest may prefer it), a bright and citrusy sauvignon blanc, and a faintly acidic rose pinot noir from one of my favorite online retailers that has a wonderful array of great wines from around the globe, millesima. it’s almost better than going to a store because their wines are beautifully curated, giving you the best of options at all price points. and they also offer a number to call for advice (where you get to talk to an actual human!), which is super convenient.
this post was created in partnership with millesima wine. all thoughts and opinions, as always, are my own.
how to choose which cheese to serve? and what to look for.
first, go with availability. LA is a mecca for plant-based cheese options, but being a life-long new yorker, i know this isn’t the case everywhere.
second, look for cultured cheese. essentially, this means the cheese is going to have more of a traditional cheese flavor. cultured means probiotics have been added, which in turn gives you that cheesy, pungent flavor that is so common with dairy-based cheese.
variety. even if your options are limited and you can only find spreads, look for various flavor profiles - whether that’s chive, herbs de provence, truffle, etc. if you are afforded the option of variety, then i would suggest 3-4 different cheeses: goat-style cheese log, a cheese that slices hard (i.e. a cheese that’s not a spread), a cheese-like dip, and/or a ricotta-style cheese. this gives your guests an assortment to choose from, and gives you more options when it comes to styling your cheese board.
be aware of cheeses that include hard-to-pronounce ingredients, sugar, food coloring, and vegetable oils such as: canola, safflower, soybean, and sunflower.
happy tummy and tastebud ingredients: coconut oil, nuts (if you can tolerate them), tapioca starch, agar, and cultures. the best vegan cheeses i’ve had have the least amount of ingredients. of course, if you’re nut-intolerant it can be quite difficult to find good options out there (sorry!).
what you need to build a vegan cheese board
surface - this is going to dictate your cheese board arrangement. i personally like going with a round cutting board/cheese board, but a rectangular shape works just as well. and gather a few small bowls to hold a softer cheese, preserves, nuts, etc. first i placed my bowls, from there i placed the cheese rounds and cut one into hunks (i think it makes it more visually pleasing, but it’s also easier for guests to pick as opposed to cutting it themselves). slice apple or pear and fan them out, fan more pieces in an opposite direction to get some texture on the board.
1-2 different varieties of crackers - if you’re going with 2, purchase one with a different flavor profile, shape, and texture, just for variety.
add some sweetness - i like to go with seasonal fruit. winter fruit i love to include are: grapes, sliced apples and ripe pears. i like purchasing extra fruit, especially if it’s fresh like satsumas with their leaves still on, or little ornamental pears or crab apples - anything that’s going to add some softness. and i especially love fig conserve to serve with your cheeses (if you can find it, i highly recommend it - i use june taylor’s) , if you can’t find something similar try a cranberry or maybe even a fruit chutney.
nuts - i’m a big fan of roasted and salted pistachios, cracked walnuts, or maybe some flavored mix of nuts.
fresh herbs - i used fresh rosemary and fresh bay leaves here for just to give the board a bit more of seasonal vibe. but you could also use eucalyptus stems, olive branches, or evergreen/pine tree snips.
lastly, i would suggest some sort of low key floral arrangement. i tend to go less “floral”, and more leafy. this has all to do with your aesthetic, but i generally don’t buy anything too fragrant for fear of it distracting from the food.