I love cooking and hosting events so much that I’ve turned it into a side hobby, sharing my favorite recipes and hosting tips on Instagram at @PaigePlates. When hosting Shabbat dinner or picnicking in the park with my friends, I’m particularly fond of sharing charcuterie or cheese boards, which are fun to both make and eat. And while they’re so beautiful that they always look impressive, they’re fairly easy to assemble – especially with a little bit of forethought and planning.
I always like to choose a theme for my cheese boards, and as it turns out, Rosh HaShanah is a built-in theme! Traditional holiday foods like apples, honey, dates, figs, and pomegranates are all perfect for cheese boards, and each pairs nicely with various cheeses.
Here’s how to go about creating your own Rosh HaShanah cheese board, whether to serve as a holiday appetizer or a lunchtime indulgence during the Yamim Noraim.
First, choose your cheeses. Lots of varieties of cheese pair well with apples and honey, so you have plenty to choose from. I'm no expert, but I recommend choosing three to four types (depending on the size of your cheese board) that vary in degrees hardness and softness.
I chose three cheeses, two hard and one soft: manchego, which is popularly paired with honey; white cheddar, which complements the crisp tartness of apples; and Brie, a soft cheese that goes well with just about everything. You may wish to use goat cheese, blue cheese, gouda… truly, the combinations are endless, and the good news is that all of them will taste great.
Jewish cooking expert Tina Wasserman explains, “Apples and honey: For Ashkenazi Jews, these words are an inseparable pairing. We dip a slice of apple in honey to express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year.”
For your cheese board, choose whatever kind of apples you like best or find in season – or even pick your own at an orchard! I went with my favorites, Red Delicious, and arranged them in a long, swirling design as the vibrant centerpiece of my cheeseboard.
I put a small bowl of honey on my cheese board, complete with a little honey stick, both for show and for functionality. I recommend getting creative with different types of honey, mixing up the kinds (wildflower, raw, etc.), flavors (spicy, lavender, etc.) and even the hues.
Another special treat, and one that I love using on cheeseboards, is honeycomb, which is completely edible, oozes with honey, and lends an interesting, chewy texture. I purchase mine from a local company (with thanks to Busy Bees NJ) for a special Rosh HaShanah touch on my holiday cheese boards.
Other Rosh HaShanah Fruits
I wanted to add a few other Rosh HaShanah and fall-themed food elements to my cheeseboard, so I turned to figs and pomegranates.
At Rosh HaShanah, we eat “new fruits,” those that have just ripened with the coming of the season. Figs are one such fruit, only in season for a short amount of time in late summer and early fall. They’re delicious and look beautiful on a cheese board board, adding color and texture; importantly, they also pair well with both cheese and honey.
Pomegranates are commonly associated with Judaism because they are thought to contain 613 seeds, the same number of mitzvot (commandments) we find in the Torah. Chris Harrison writes, “This allegory encourages us to fulfill mitzvot and live righteous lives.” Cut open a pomegranate to add color, texture, and sweet, juicy bursts of flavor to your holiday cheese board.
I didn't use dates on my cheese board, but they're often found on the Sephardic seder plate this time of year, and they're another possible addition. Tamar, or “date” in Hebrew, is similar to the word yitamu, which means “to end.” In addition to its sweetness, the date wishes an “end” to those who wish us ill will. Sweet dates make for a great, textured addition to your Rosh HaShanah cheese board.
Cheese and fruit both pair well with a variety of nuts, which fill up space on your cheese board and add a little bit of protein. When the rest of my board elements were in place, I filled up the remaining nooks and crannies with walnuts.
Sephardic Jews often enjoy tispishti, a walnut cake with sweet syrup, to celebrate the Jewish new year, which make walnuts a nice and traditional choice for a Rosh HaShanah cheese board. You can also try pecans, almonds, pistachios, or anything else that sounds good to you.
Jams and Jellies
While I chose to feature honey as the star of my cheese board, other condiments like jams, jellies, preserves, and chutneys can make for a tasty addition, too.
To stick with the Rosh HaShanah theme, consider options like fig jam, apple butter, quince paste, pomegranate spread, or even homemade dulce de manzana (apple preserves). If you want to go in a more Sephardic direction, you can incorporate flavors like pumpkin (k’ra), traditionally consumed at the start of the new year – and also very much in keeping with the autumn season!
Don’t forget to add some crackers to your cheese board to make it easy to create tiny, handheld bites. Simply choose whatever cracker(s) you like best! I went with round multigrain crackers, but you can also add any other type of cracker, pretzel crisps, pita chips, bagel chips, dried fruit- and nut-studded crisps…… whatever suits your fancy.
You can also set out a traditional round challah to use instead or in addition to crackers.
Once you’ve chosen all of the elements of your cheese board get to work assembling it in a way that’s creative and beautiful – and then go wild creating your own small bites with various combinations of ingredients. Here are a few I love:
- Pile a fig with manchego, some walnuts, and a little bit of honey on top.
- Top a slice of Brie with a small piece of honeycomb and an apple slice.
- Layer a cracker with an apple slice, a cheddar slices, and a few pomegranate seeds.
What combinations will you choose? If you create your own Rosh HaShanah masterpiece, be sure to tag us on social media (we’re @ReformJudaism on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) so we can ooh and ahh over your creation!