5 steps to a beautiful cheeseboard

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With the festive party season nearly upon us, now’s the perfect time to brush up on your cheeseboard skills. Avoid being intimidated by the hundreds of different cheese varieties in the dairy aisles, with these tips from Kat Judge, head chef at AliKats Mountain Holidays in France. Kat’s award winning menu always includes a cheeseboard, and her philosophy adopts the French approach of keeping it simple and classic.

Less is definitely more when it comes to variety

Resist the urge to try and impress with too many varieties. Choose just four good quality cheeses; anymore can be confusing for the palate and overwhelming for the eyes. Select one from each of the following categories:

  • Soft cheese such as a Brie, Camembert or delicious French or Swiss Vacherin
  • Hard cheese such as an unpasteurised Cheddar, Abundance or Gruyère
  • Blue cheese: Stilton or Gorgonzola
  • Something local, different or interesting: try a goat’s cheese, or better still ask your local deli. A good supplier should be happy to advise on cheese that is currently at its best for eating and let you taste samples.

Be wary of festive novelty cheeses, which are sometimes a poorer quality cheese spiced up with fruit or another flavour. It’s better to serve good quality cheese with accompaniments on the side to bring out the flavours.

AliKats cheeseboard 2

Take care storing the cheese

The length of time you can keep cheese differs according to the variety; in general the harder the cheese, the longer it will last. A plan to buy your cheese a week before you serve it should work perfectly. Store your cheese in the refrigerator until about an hour before you wish to serve it, and then take it out to allow it to breathe; cheese should be enjoyed at room temperature as it helps to bring out the flavours.

If you are buying cheese for the whole festive season, preserve it by wrapping in greaseproof paper after each sitting.

Go for big rather than small pieces

While you don’t want to overwhelm your guests with big slabs of cheese, a few big pieces look better than lots of smaller pieces on the cheeseboard. The cheese you don’t use up will also keep better in bigger pieces. For this reason it’s better to go over rather than under on the amount you buy. As a general rule of thumb 50g of cheese per person is about the right amount for a dinner cheeseboard.

Don’t go crackers on the accompaniments

Olive oil and sea salt; smoked biscuits; roast onion and sesame; chive and rosemary; poppy seed, in recent years there’s been a multitude of inventive cracker varieties springing up on supermarket shelves. A simple, good quality baguette works but if that’s too filling for your menu, an oat cracker for grounding the blue and something a little more interesting like a celery seed cracker works wonders.

Serve simply with some dried dates, a few walnuts and some fresh grapes. Include good quality chutney, if possible something homemade, such as spiced apple and plum or caramelised onion.

Present with several knives so you don’t use the same knife to cut a mild cheese and a Roquefort.


Don’t forget your table manners

Before you dig into your cheese feast it’s worth getting to grips with basic cheese eating etiquette. You may have heard of the forbidden act of ‘cutting the nose off the cheese’. The reason this is considered such as faux pas: most cheese is riper in the middle (dough) of the cheese so it is polite to cut from the middle to outer edge to ensure everyone gets an equal experience of the flavours.

On the subject of flavour; strong cheeses will kill the softer ones. Look like an expert and eat the creamy cheeses first, saving the stronger, more intense flavours until last.

Finally, take a few moments to learn the names and characteristics of the cheeses you are offering; there is something special about personally introducing each cheese to your guests.

Find more of Kat’s culinary hints, tips and recipes visit her blog Need to Feed .

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