You might know your Stilton from your Roquefort, but do you know how to assemble the ultimate cheese board? Get up-to-speed with your cheese board etiquette and follow our foolproof guide.
First thing’s first, what cheese do I buy?
Don’t go overboard. You don’t need a giant cheese board, but it’s good to choose a range of cheeses. Fresh to aged, soft to semi-soft to hard. Throw in at least one blue. And mix it up by including goat’s or ewe’s cheeses rather than just sticking to cow’s. Here’s a little help.
1. A soft white. Soft white cheeses vary from mild and buttery to rich and savoury. Brie and Camembert are perhaps the most popular in this category. They’re creamy cheeses with soft, velvety rinds and meltingly soft insides. We love Eve’s goat’s cheese from White Lake Dairy. Wrapped in a vine leaf, it has a nutty, slightly yeasty flavour, and a delicious bloomy rind.
2. A semi-soft. From Taleggio to Munster, semi-soft cheeses are aged longer than soft cheeses and tend to be firmer in texture. They can range from rich, meaty Stinking Bishop to mild and milky Edam. We like Langres; a French cow’s milk, soft-ripened cheese with a wrinkly orange rind.
3. A flavour added. Mix it up a bit with a smoked cheese, like this Quickie’s Oak Smoked Cheddar. Or try fresh, creamy, nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg. The leaves, which attract naturally occurring moulds, impart subtle mushroom and nettle flavours into the cheese.
4. A hard. From Cheddar to Parmesan, these are aged cheeses often with a sharp or nutty flavour. Montgomery Cheddar is a crowd-pleaser. It has deep, rich, nutty full flavours, and is matured for 12 to 18 months in muslin cloth.
5 & 6. A blue (or two). Cashel Blue, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort… there are so many good blues out there. We’ve included two for good measure. Tangy, slightly crumbly Dorset Vinny is delicious. Or for something soft and a little milder, try Isle of Wight Blue.
Anything else? If you’ve got room, throw in a fresh cheese, like ricotta or feta, for something milky and mild. Delicious with honey drizzled on top.
What about accompaniments?
Good cheese board accompaniments are a must. Crusty bread or a chilli cracker? A dollop of something sweet or a salty olive? Don’t go over the top but it’s nice to have a little bit of everything: something sweet, salty, tangy and spicy so you have a spread of flavours and textures. Resist the temptation to dollop or drizzle anything over before serving; serve your accompaniments on the side and let everyone create their own combinations.
Crackers & bread. Think about pairing milder cheeses with a punchier cracker (say, black pepper or chilli), and big-flavoured cheeses with something plainer. Crusty bread for your Camembert won’t go amiss. Fruit and nut breads are great too.
Sweet things. Fresh fruit is a must and arguably the best side to a good cheese. Pears, grapes, apples and melon all work well. Quince jelly and salty cheeses make good friends, as does honey. And don’t forget a couple of your favourite jams or chutneys too.
Salty & pickled. Brighten up your board with a few of the following: juicy Kalamata olives, preserved meats, pickled garlic, cornichons, sun-dried tomatoes… the list goes on…
Slice and dice etiquette? What’s with that?
It’s all in the slice. The rudest cheese habit is slicing off the best bit for yourself. There’s a best bit? Yep. The centre of a cheese is often where you’ll find the most concentrated flavour, while the edges tend to be milder. Just to complicate matters, there are precise ways to cut cheese depending on their shape. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Slice hard and semi-hard cheeses, from Cheddar to Parmesan, crosswise (as above).
Cut round cheeses, such as Camembert, Brie, Reblochon and soft-washed rinds like you would a pie. That way everyone gets a wedge with a nice cross-section of the whole cheese.
This is how you cut veined wedges, like this Dorset Vinny. The same applies for Blue Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola-style cheeses.
The odd ones out. For pyramids and cone-shaped cheeses….
… and logs…
Remember, don’t pre-cut your cheese! This only gives your cheese more surface area from which moisture can escape. Serve it on the board just as it comes and leave everyone to cut their cheese themselves. And definitely don’t cross-contaminate your cheeses by using the same knife to cut them all. Provide at least one per cheese. Use a spoon for runny cheeses straight from the box.
And finally, serve cheese at room temperature. Whether it’s a Brie, a blue or a Cheddar, cheese shouldn’t be served cold. The reason? Room temperature cheese has a stronger aroma than cold cheese, which means you’re much more able to smell (and most importantly, taste) the full range of its flavours. Keep cheese out – uncovered – at room temperature for at least one hour, with the exception of fresh cheese that only needs 30 minutes.
How do I store cheese?
The party’s over, you’ve had your fill and there’s leftover cheese. Rule number one, wrap it! Wrap your cheese properly so it doesn’t dry out or pick up flavours from the fridge. Even better, avoid using cling film. Cheese is a living, breathing thing and closing it off to air will do it no favours. Use cheesecloth or, failing that, wrap it in greaseproof paper.