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The one addition to take your summer picnic or backyard cookout from good to “oh my gosh" rave reviews? A decked-out, totally awesome cheese board. Not only will it make you the hit of the gathering, whether you’re the host or guest, but it’s also the perfect platform for exploring and showcasing some of summer’s most wonderful flavors. That’s right—just like fruits and veggies, cheeses have seasons, too!

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to build the ultimate cheese board with pro tips and pointers from Whole Foods Market experts and tasting notes on some faves.

Step 1: Visit the Cheese Department (and Stay a While).

The magic starts in the Whole Foods Market Cheese department. Here, you’ll find a carefully curated selection sourced from farmers and producers all over the world. Take in the sights, smells and colors—there’s plenty to explore. You probably have questions, too. What’s the difference between cow, sheep, goat, or buffalo cheeses? How much cheese do I need per person? And what is this thing called charcuterie?

Relax. Your cheese-ology is about to get a boost. Whole Foods Market has over 350 Certified Cheese Professionals across their stores, nationwide, along with countless trained cheesemongers. Passionate? They’re crazy into curds and wild about wedges. Seriously, ask them anything. They’re happy to answer any questions about your selections or point you toward their favorite cheeses.

Step 2: Pick the Cheeses.

Depending on the size of your gathering, plan for 1 to 2 ounces of cheese per person. Pick 3 to 4 varieties that include an array of milks, styles, and textures. As you’re perusing the Cheese department, keep these categories in mind:

  • Milk types: Common types include cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, and mixed milks.
  • Styles and textures: Look for firm-aged, soft-ripened, fresh, and blue cheeses.
  • Seasonality: Ask your cheesemonger to show you what’s in season currently.

Whole Foods Market’s expert picks below cover the three major milk types (cow, goat, and sheep milks), showcase multiple cheese styles, and are at peak season during summer.

Tangy & Nutty: Cabot Catamount Cheddar
Complex and delicious hand-selected cheddar with rich notes of tangy parmesan and nutty, sweet Swiss notes.

Rich & Earthy: MonS Mary dans les Étoiles
Decadent and rich French Chabichou style with ash-coated rind. Rich notes of earthiness are balanced beautifully with the bright grassy citrus notes in the finish.

Creamy & Bright: Mitica Wickedly Woolly
Creamy, soft, fluffy sheep milk cheese enriched with the fresh, bright flavor of chervil. The cheese is rich and flavorful with slight hints of sweetness to start, then finishes with a mild earthy flavor.

Buttery & Balanced: Rogue Creamery Organic Enraptured Blanc
Young, creamy, buttery blue cheese washed in organic white wine. Balanced blue with refreshing fruit-forward notes.

Once you’ve made your selections, don’t forget to ask your cheesemonger for tasting notes. Keep these handy in case your guests have questions (or you just want to show off your cheese IQ).

Step 3: Select Your Pairings.

Complementary nibbles can help bring out the flavors of each cheese. Include a favorite accoutrement with each guest in mind—fiery jams and spreads for the spice lover, pears and dates for the fruit lover, prosciutto and rillettes for the carnivore. Select something from each category. You can’t go wrong.

Expert’s pick: Dalmatia Organic Sour Cherry Spread

Expert’s pick: Naturalissima Jamon Serrano

Expert’s pick: Rustic Bakery Organic Black Sesame Seed Flatbread

Expert’s pick: Vosges Haut-Chocolat Manchego Cherry Bar

Step 4: Serve and Enjoy.

Unwrap cheeses one hour before serving. This allows for “breathing time,” which brings out the cheese’s aromatics and nuances. Arrange your cheeses and accoutrements on a rustic board or natural stone. Label each cheese and have your tasting notes handy so you can share them with your guests.

Step 5: Store with Care.

Cheese is alive! So handle it with care. Remove from plastic wrap once your cheese is back home and store in cheese paper (or wax paper) to avoid the cheese drying out or picking up other flavors.

Looking for more artisan and specialty cheeses in your store? Click here to see all Whole Foods Market has to offer.

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