• Fresh cheeses balance out firmer varieties, and Thorpe's homemade ricotta is much fluffier and richer than store-bought (and easier to make than you'd think).
  • Goat's-milk Brie adds a tangy twist to the classic. Try the gloriously gooey Montchevre Cabrie (from $5 for 4.4 ounces; Montchevre.com).
  • The salty-sweet Spanish specialty Manchego helped put sheep's-milk cheese on the map. It's complex enough for expert nibblers, but accessible enough for novices.
  • A concentrated pop of sweet-sour from cherries cuts the heaviness of richer cheeses while balancing the saltier ones.
  • The crunch from roasted nuts, like almonds and pecans, contrasts with and complements your cheeses better than the softer, raw kind.
  • Slicing a crusty bread, like a French baguette, takes a tad more time than opening a box of crackers, but the chewy edges and tender center offer more satisfying texture.

    The Fancy
    A solid board starts with three to five cheeses from a variety of milk types (cow's, goat's, sheep's) and styles (fresh, creamy, firm). You can even make your own, like the luscious ricotta above (here's the recipe). To step it up, add nuts, bread and fresh jam—try Roasted Cherry Compote, from Batch coauthor Joel MacCharles—and serve with sparkling wine. "The carbonation cuts the fat and protein of cheese, cleansing your palate so you can enjoy more," says Thorpe.

    The Fast
    Short on time or motivation? Dried cherries are a fine substitute for fruit puree, and there's no shame in using water crackers in place of a fresh loaf, says Thorpe. They're snappy and mild, so you can focus on the cheese.

    Tool to Try
    The handy Cheese Slicer Monaco received a Red Dot design award for its ability to seamlessly slice firmer cheeses extra thin. ($17; Boska.com)

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