With so much to remember (and so many long lists!) at this time of year one thing that dedicated cheese lovers won’t overlook is the importance of the Christmas cheeseboard. So what makes the difference between ‘some cheese’ and a proper cheese course? Careful selection and exquisite taste, of course!
As a rough guideline, allow a minimum of 150g of cheese per person when serving cheese at the end of a meal. Provide a variety of biscuits and/or breads as accompaniments to the cheese and some fresh fruit, grapes especially, to refresh the palette and complement the cheese.
Never serve cheese straight from the fridge! Cold temperatures can make even the tastiest, ripest (and most expensive) cheeses taste bland; so make sure the cheese has at least one hour to get to room temperature before it is served in order to fully appreciate both its aroma and flavour. When buying cheese bear in mind that the smaller the piece is, the quicker it dries out.
Favourites such as Brie and Camembert definitely have a place on the Christmas cheeseboard but are no longer only made in France – don’t forget that some exceptional British Brie and Camembert is available. When buying two or three days ahead, select slightly under-ripe soft cheeses as this gives them time to mature. Avoid buying over-ripe soft cheeses ‘on offer’ unless you plan to eat them immediately; they do not keep well unless they have been processed. Soft cheese should be soft right through; but not independently crawling away!
Pickled onions and homemade chutneys are old favourites to serve with cheddar on its own. This traditional stalwart is the most popular of all British cheeses. The regional variations provide a wonderful selection but, as defined by the British Cheese Board and Protected Designation of Origin, only those made in Devon, Cornwall , Somerset or Dorset are permitted to bear the name ‘West Country Farmhouse Cheddar’. Clever marketing and packaging may attempt to woo us into believing otherwise…
It is advisable to have more cheddar and stilton than any other cheeses on your Christmas board as they are the two most likely to be eaten, and make the most versatile leftovers!
Stilton cheese – is synonymous with Christmas, perhaps more so than any other cheese. Port and stilton marriages occur all over the country at this time! This is another national treasure that bears the title ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ and true Stilton is made in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
Roquefort – This is another good choice of blue cheese for the Christmas cheeseboard. Crumbly in texture, with a salty but agreeably tart flavour, it is made from ewes’ milk.
Danish Blue -This tends to be either loved or hated – there’s no middle ground with Danish Blue! Also known as Danablu, it was created in 1914 when the importation of Italian veined cheeses to Denmark was stopped. It has a strong salty flavour with a light crumbly texture and sharp aftertaste.
Gorgonzola – This is one of the best loved Italian cheeses, particularly Mountain Gorgonzola which is a creamy, mottled delight.
Other common blue cheeses to consider are: Cambozola; Blue Cheshire; Shropshire Blue and other regional varieties.
If you have a specialist cheesemonger in your area, pay a visit and ask to taste a selection of local cheeses; it’s nice to support local businesses in this way and you may find a delicious product you didn’t even know about!
Serving the Cheese
Any cheese connoisseur in your company will be interested to try something new. Speciality cheeses-such as organic, goats’ ewes’ buffalo and, if you like them, seasonal specials that have cranberries, apricots or other fruits in them.
Serve the cheese on an attractive board with a decent cheese knife. Use two or more boards if you have bought a selection of different cheeses and provide separate knives for blue cheeses. Don’t spoil the effect by plonking packets of biscuits on the table! Serve them (and breads) in a napkin-lined basket and butter in ramekins for those who eat it with cheese.
Don’t forget the port!