A full cheeseboard is the ultimate treat for any cheese aficionado. I also believe that a cheeseboard is an amazing vehicle for creating connection and unwinding. Just think of the times when you lingered over some cheese and conversation at the end of a meal. A cheeseboard makes us slow down and enjoy each other’s company.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to composing a cheeseboard (remember, there’s no such thing as the cheese police), but I’d like to offer you some guidelines to enhance your enjoyment, raise your cheese game and impress your friends and family.
- Think “Variety”
Include at least four to five cheeses, as there is more scope to showcase different styles. Three cheeses can make up a cheeseboard for a small group of people, but there is less scope for variety. Arrange the cheeses from mild to strong, which generally means start with the soft and finish with the blue.
In case you would like more specific ideas around creating a fantastic cheeseboard, I’ve created a few formulae you can follow to make the process a bit easier. They come with specific cheese examples too to serve as a baseline you can build on.
Soft + semi-firm + firm/hard + blue
Bloomy rind + washed rind + natural rind + blue
Semi-firm & crumbly + firm & smooth + soft & blue
- Don’t forget the condiments
I’ve heard from some of my customers that in the 1970s cheeseboards were especially fashionable and it was common practice to serve the cheeses with some grapes, celery and plain biscuits. It seems this fashion hasn’t changed much and the majority of British people still opt for this classic condiment combination. There is nothing wrong with this preference but if you’d like to vary your condiment game, it’s worth thinking a bit more broadly. Condiments are a matter of personal taste so there won’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. It’s worth experimenting and finding the combinations that work for you.
Broadly speaking, if you’re serving a cheeseboard with a variety of styles and flavours, my recommendation is to opt for neutral crisp crackers like Buttermilk Damsels or a baguette, which will not overpower any of the cheeses and will serve as a useful palate-cleanser between the flavours. The better the quality of your crackers, the more sophisticated and delicious the experience will be, so I would urge you not to skimp on the crackers but to go for the good (artisan) stuff.
Being a bit of cheese purist, I tend to not have my cheese on a cracker. Instead, I use crackers as a palate-cleanser between my cheese bites, but it is a matter of personal preference so whatever works for you is the way to go.
In Scotland, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to the variety of oatcakes – they come in all shapes, sizes and thicknesses. I love oatcakes, but for me they work only with certain varieties of cheese, mostly firm British cheeses, for instance Isle of Mull cheddar, Dunlop and Caerphilly.
Quince paste (also known as membrillo) is a superb condiment that can work across the board with most cheeses, so if you are ever in doubt, go for this classic condiment. Other accompaniments, such as flavoured crackers, chutneys, fresh and dried fruits and nuts, may be chosen based on whether they match or contrast with the flavour of the cheese. For instance, the nutty flavour of Comté can be matched by walnuts, whereas a salty Pecorino can be complimented by the opposite sweetness of honey.
- Work out your quantities
While it is nearly impossible to give a definitive answer applicable to every group of people and every dining situation, there are some strategies.
Cheeseboard for four to ten people
If you’re planning to serve a cheeseboard at your dinner party, arrange 250–400-gram wedges on a board and cut at least one slice off each cheese to show how they should be cut. Place a medium-sized knife next to every cheese as this will help to avoid cross-contamination of flavours. A nice versatile cheeseboard would include four to five different styles varying in texture, flavour, milk and aroma.
Individually plated cheese course
If you intend to serve individual cheese plates with four to five cheeses, allow 30 grams of each cheese per person. Remember to opt for a variety of styles to give your guests a fuller and more exciting dining experience and arrange the cheeses in a clock-like fashion starting with a milder one at ‘twelve o’clock’ and finishing with the strongest one at ‘ten/eleven o’clock’.
Small celebration cheeseboard for two
A small cheeseboard is a great way to slow down and savour life with your other half. It can be enjoyed every week so the key is not to overindulge at any one time. I recommend using three to five cheeses and cutting them into small wedges or even cubes, which will help you to enjoy them slowly and mindfully. In total, 40–100 grams of cheese per person is a good amount you can enjoy every week.
- Serve cheese correctly
Farmhouse and artisan cheeses taste best at room temperature when their flavours are ‘open’. Take your cheeses out of the fridge at least 30 minutes or even an hour before
they will be served. Cut as much as you will need off the wedge and put the rest back in the fridge. Arrange the cut pieces/wedges on your chosen board, slate or plate and cover with a cloche so that cheeses can come to room temperature without drying out. This will prevent them from losing their aroma and, as a result, flavour to the elements. In the absence of a pretty cloche, cover your cheeseboard loosely with a wax wrap or foil.
- Use cheese intensity wisely
When planning a cheeseboard, consider the time of day it is going to be enjoyed. Lunchtime cheeses should be a bit lighter on flavour and aroma than their night-time counterparts. You also may choose to serve cheese before or after the meal. If you feel that you never get to fully enjoy the cheese course because you are just too full after a meal, it is completely acceptable to serve it as an appetiser, especially at a function with finger foods.
Young and creamy cheeses will be perfect as they will beautifully match light and sparkling pre-dinner wines. I especially recommend burrata, La Tur, Délice des Crémiers and young goat’s milk cheeses. However, if you are serving red wine throughout, you may want to opt for firmer cheeses such as semi-mature Pecorino, Gruyère, Comté, or even farmhouse cheddar.
- Beverage selection
The after-dinner cheese selection should be dictated by the wine you’re planning to have with it. Putting in a little bit of thought and planning will pay huge dividends here. The correct wine combination will elevate your whole savouring experience. When deciding on the wine, first consider its intensity and then its texture and weight. Not everyone will have a professional wine education so it is completely acceptable to use the blurb on the label to guide you. If the wine is described as a ‘light’ wine, it will be more appropriate for lighter, younger cheese, in contrast to the wines that are labelled ‘full-bodied’ or ‘complex’, which will require a more mature and sophisticated cheese. And if you are ever in doubt or need a hand with selecting your wines and cheeses, don’t hesitate to talk to your cheesemonger (or have a browse through our wines here). We are always happy to help!
I hope you found these tips useful and they’ll help you take your cheese game and your enjoyment of cheese to another level!
Your Cheese Lady x
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