An empty cheese board is like a blank canvas. You can put whatever you want on it: sweet, salty, soft, crunchy.  But my favorite thing about cheese boards is how artistic they can be. So when I came across @cheesebynumbers on Instagram, I was immediately intrigued. I had the chance to talk to Marissa Mullen who founded @thatcheeseplate and @cheesebynumbers.

About @thatcheeseplate and @cheesebynumbers

@Thatcheeseplate started when Mullen was in college. She was looking for inspiration for the boards she was making for her friends and couldn't find any. Instead, she started posting her own photos and going through hashtags to gain a following. She continued her college studies, but was known as the "cheese plate Instagrammer" on the side. She created a website, merchandise, collaborated with other companies, and began building more original cheese plates.

In December 2017, Mullen wanted to create a book of how to make a cheese plate using the 'paint by numbers' strategy. The book idea didn't work out right away, but she decided to move the idea over to an Instagram account, @cheesebynumbers, with step by step photos and illustrations of how to make the boards.

One year later, she was invited to the Rachel Ray Show, and she gained a following overnight. Finally, Random House reached out to her to write a book. Just last month she quit her full time gig in the music industry to pursue cheese boards full time. She's been busy teaching workshops in NYC, working on her book, and hosting private events. Of course she still runs both her instagrams, and has been working on creating more original boards. 

The 'Must Haves' For a Cheese Board 

According to Mullen, here's what you need to make the perfect cheese board:

Cheese: The cheese needs to be different types of milks and textures. For example, a blue cheese, goat cheese and a manchego would provide a variety of options. 

Meat: Mullen created the 'salami river', which is the idea of folding the pieces so it flows like a river, instead of just plopping it on the board. She adds a variety of different types of meats like soppressata and prosciutto. 

Produce: She pairs cheese with berries and olives, as they pair together nicely. The sweetness of the fruit compliments the saltiness of the cheese. You can frequently find strawberries, blueberries and apples on her boards. 

Crunchy items: Crackers and different nuts help fill the gaps on the board. And obviously everyone loves cheese with crackers.

Dips: Some of Mullen's favorites are fig jam and honey to provide the board with an element of sweetness. 

Garnish: To add to the board's visual appeal, Mullen adds fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary, and sometimes even flowers

Themed Boards

A big part of the board is the aesthetics. With her background in photography, Mullen always keeps her boards looking pretty. Her Instagram account is a work of art itself. Lately she's been getting many requests for themed boards. Some of her favorites have been a Game of Thrones board, Cinco de Mayo board,  and the lovely Valentine's Day board. 

Cinco de Mayo Board

Fresh veggies paired with guacamole made this board a hit for Cinco de Mayo. Mango, lime and avocados brought color to the board while staying on theme. Plantain chips added sweetness, while chorizo added spice.  

St. Patty's Board

With the use of different shades of green, this board perfectly embodies St. Patrick's Day. The fresh broccoli and string beans make the board pop with the addition of the clover shaped cheese. Of course, the classic salami river and beautiful garnishes were still included adhere to the board's roots. 

For even more boards check out Mullen's website or sign up to take a cheese board class in NYC!  And for now, I'll leave you with a cheesy joke: Which is the most religious cheese? Swiss, because it's holy!