How do I put together a Christmas cheeseboard?
With everything else you have to get ready for Christmas cheese can be an afterthought - a hastily grabbed block of cheddar, a Stilton or even a pre-selected assortment of supermarket cheeses. But given cheese can make an entire meal when appetites are flagging (and save you having to cook yet again) it’s worth giving it a bit more thought.
The classic way to put together a cheeseboard is to have a selection of different types colours and shapes of cheese such as a goats’ cheese log, a Camembert or Brie, a hard cheese like a Lancashire, a ‘stinky’ washed-rind cheese such as Epoisses and a blue. Many would also want to include a flavoured cheese like a garlic and herb-flavoured wheel or a cranberry-studded white cheese (of which purists tend to disapprove). It’s a pretty safe strategy but carries a downside which is that younger softer cheeses can either be unripe and not have a great deal of flavour or, if you buy them perfectly matured, won’t last more than a couple of days.
Cheeseboards don’t, of course, have to feature six or seven cheeses. I personally think it’s much better to select two or three really good ones that will see you through the Christmas period - a Stilton or Stichelton, an unpasteurised version of Stilton (all Stilton has to be made from pasteurised milk these days), a good West Country farmhouse cheddar which you can also use for cooking and perhaps a gorgeous gooey Vacherin Mont d’Or, a cheese to serve warm on its own with breadsticks or rustic chunks of sourdough bread. (You can bake it in its box.)
A brightly coloured orange cheese like a Red Leicester or Mimolette always looks really festive. You can make a beautiful plate of dried fruits and nuts like brazil nuts, figs and dates with shards of either cheese. There are lovely exotic fruits around at this time of year which you can use to decorate a cheeseboard. The other day I made one up with a spray of rosy red crab apples, a bright orange persimmon, a halved pomegranate and a big hunk of Stilton which looked quite stunning. (I used the pomegranate seeds afterwards to make a Stilton salad with chicory, clementines and walnuts. It’s always good to have things in mind to use up leftover cheese.)
It’s also worth bearing in mind that at least some of your guests may be intolerant of cows’ milk so it might be worth having a goats’ cheese and a hard sheeps’ cheese like a Manchego or Berkswell in the selection.
And make sure you have a large chunk of parmesan in the fridge. In the unlikely event you actually run out of cheese you can always serve jagged shards of it as a cheese course. One of the best cheeses to pair with red wine or, as the Italians often enjoy it, with prosecco!
What goes on your Christmas cheeseboard? Do you think you could get away with a couple of good cheeses or would the family rebel?
For other ideas for serving cheese consult Fiona’s blog The Cheeselover.