How To Put Together The Perfect Cheese Board
Photograph courtesy of Neal’s Yard Dairy
Impress your guests this Christmas with an expert selection of cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Ms Estelle Reynolds.
As much as it pains us to admit it, given that it’s the middle of November, the festive season has officially begun. Holiday adverts have hit our screens, the halls of many a public place have been decked, and Mr Michael Bublé’s media machine is whirring into action. Whatever you take from this most joyful time of year, one activity we can all enjoy is over-indulgence. And no celebratory spread would be complete without a few choice chunks of cheese. However, for every spectacular arrangement of hand-churned artisanal varieties and homemade chutneys is a sad little plate of mild cheddar, stale Jacob’s crackers and soggy grapes.
In our minds, putting together the perfect cheese board is like assembling the perfect outfit (stay with us here). It takes a certain amount of personal flair, some careful planning and a little bit of expert advice. Which is why we consulted Ms Estelle Reynolds – a cheesemonger at Neal’s Yard Dairy, London’s foremost cheese shop – for her advice on the matter. Scroll on to discover her quick, expert guide to creating the perfect cheese board.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
“Always buy cheese you enjoy eating. It’s a luxury food, so treat yourself. If your preference is for big, bold, pronounced flavours, then select more mature cheeses such as Isle of Mull Cheddar, Coolea (reminiscent of Dutch gouda), St Cera (an intense, soft, cow’s milk cheese) or Colston Bassett Stilton. Or if you prefer more delicate flavours, choose younger fresher cheeses such as Innes Brick goat’s cheese. If you’re entertaining, it’s great to have a variety of textures and intensities – that way you’re sure to please everyone. Make a selection which includes a hard cheese, a blue cheese and a soft cheese and you’re likely to cover most people’s tastes – a good combination would be Montgomery’s Cheddar, Beenleigh Blue and Baron Bigod – a characterful brie-like cheese. Presentation-wise, it just needs to be easy to get to and easy to cut so people can get stuck in and enjoy themselves.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT
“There’s a big focus on raw milk cheeses now. Farmhouse cheese makers want to make cheese that expresses the flavour and quality of the milk their animals produce. This means we get more exciting cheeses to eat that change seasonally and vary batch to batch. Try Stichelton, Appleby’s Cheshire or Kirkham’s Lancashire for a taste. At Neal’s Yard Dairy, we offer our customers a taste of each cheese they buy to help them select and be sure they are making the right decision. So make sure you do the same.”
CHOOSE QUALITY AND QUANTITY
“The most common mistake is buying too many cheeses and the pieces not being big enough for everyone to taste – less variety on the cheese board but bigger pieces and better quality will have a greater impact. I’d recommend three to six cheeses – that way you get variety without overwhelming people, and you'll be able to buy enough of each cheese for everyone to taste. Select the size of the wedge based on the number of people you’re catering for – we recommend allowing 70-100g per person. Having too much cheese is always more desirable, and it will keep for quite a while after your meal [see below].”
PICK THE PERFECT PAIRINGS
“Sweet, fresh fruits complement cheese well and can be refreshing: sweet black grapes, apples and pears are this season’s popular choices. There are endless options for accompaniments, but some of my favourite pairings are honey with goat’s cheese, quince paste with ewe’s milk cheese and fig chutneys with blue cheese. When I select bread and crackers, I'll pick something I enjoy the flavour and texture of, but which isn’t too overpowering and won't dominate the cheese.”
MAKE IT LAST
“Before and after serving, keep your cheese wrapped in wax paper. A good alternative is baking parchment. You should avoid cling film and tin foil at all costs as they dry the cheese and can taint the flavour. The ideal temperature for storing whole cheeses is around 13ºC, so a cellar, garage or pantry is an ideal location. For cut pieces, I keep cheese at the bottom of the fridge in the salad crisper or in a Tupperware box to maintain humidity. Personally, I've found cheese is fine here for a couple of weeks. Before eating, take it out of the fridge, unwrap it and let it get to room temperature – an hour and a half to two hours should suffice.”