"I need help putting together a cheeseboard", is one of the things we hear most frequently from customers of The Cheeseworks. The cheese course is where the quality of the produce shines through rather than the cooking ability of the host or hostess, therefore a shop bought "cheese selection" pack from your local supermarket probably won't cut it. Why put effort into cooking a beautiful meal just to end with a poor quality finale.
Cheeseboards as we know them are a very English tradition, we have long thought of cheese as a separate part of the meal. Even since medieval times when meals were rounded off with cheese which it was thought would seal in and mop up any copious amounts of alcohol consumed! However, throughout the rest of the world cheese often features during the course of a dinner in its entirety. With the exception of France who prefer to serve their cheese course after the main and before the desert course. This habit is practised for a simple reason; it enables the red wine drunk with the main to be finished with the cheese. One of the first things to consider when putting together your cheeseboard is whether or not you are going to theme the board. For example, you may wish to favour purely French cheeses or cheeses from one particular region of a country. The winner of the Best British Cheeseboard at the 2011 British Cheese Awards was "The Old Bore", a gastro pub in West Yorkshire who served a cheese course made up entirely of locally produced cheeses. More recently the practise of sourcing produce locally has been in fashion rather than attaining it from far off exotic locations.
The next thing to consider is the amount of cheeses you are going to present and their range. You may wish to stick with a classic combination of three larger pieces of cheese compromising of one soft, one hard and one blue. This can work particularly well at the end of the meal when your diner's palettes have already been subject to many flavours. However, if you are hosting a cheese and wine party a wider selection of cheeses is advised, ideally of no more than seven or eight cheeses. One should start with a light and palette cleansing cheese like a fresh goat's cheese. You may then wish to follow this with a simple crumbly style of cheese or proceed straight onto a creamy, soft cheese with a bloomy rind. Next should come either one or two hard cheeses offering fruity, yet savoury tones followed by a washed rind cheese. Finally, blue cheese should come at the end of a cheeseboard due to its strength of flavour. This order gives a rounded progression of flavours and textures to make the tasting selection truly memorable.
How and what you serve with your cheese is just important as the cheese itself. Pieces of cheese should be unwrapped and placed on the board, covered with a damp cloth and left to come to room temperature naturally, this should take between half an hour to an hour depending. The combination of cheese with celery and grapes is a classic and not to be underestimated, in order to stop your celery drying out place the cut pieces in a glass of iced water. Other fruit to accompany cheese can include figs, apples and pears, however, never citrus or tropical fruits as they are too sharp. Fresh nuts, as opposed to their shelled counterparts, are favoured by Europeans with cheese whereas the English traditionally pair their cheese with sweet home made chutneys. Blue cheeses also benefit from a hint of sweetness which may come from membrillo, quince paste, or some drizzled honey both of which serve to heighten the flavour of the cheese. Soft, tearable bread work wells with cheese as do crackers, however these are another English favourite, the "fast food" of Victorian times they were introduced to add another texture to a simple meal.
Wine and cheese go together like bread and butter, a wonderful reciprocal relationship of compliments. As a general rule the whiter and fresher the cheese, the crispier and fruiter the wine must be. Consequently, the harder and darker the cheese the heavier and richer the style of wine may be. The fresh acidity and clean sharp flavours of white wines suits fresh, soft white cheeses and semi-soft cheeses which would be overpowered by reds. On the other hand, the full body and vibrant aroma of red wines require cheese with good acidity levels, mainly harder cheeses, the stronger the cheese the bigger the wine required. Port is also a classic accompaniment to cheese, partnering stronger cheeses better, especially cheddars and stilton. Washed rind cheeses on the other hand may be paired with either lighter reds or go particularly well with beer.
If you would like to send a selection of cheeses that make the prefect cheeseboard we have designed the prefect cheese gift box, British Cheeseboard.
By Sophie Wilcock