I love cheese. Hard, soft, strong or mild it is one of my ultimate indulgences that I will happily eat at any time of the day. Whilst I have been known to eat a whole block by myself for ‘dinner’, a cheese board is perhaps a more socially acceptable way to indulge in your addiction and makes the perfect accompaniment to any picnic, wine tasting or dinner party.
For me, the best boards include an assortment of cheese and charcuterie and whilst many people prefer to create a board that’s overflowing with snacks and other treats, my personal preference is to keep it simple and a little more refined.
Follow this simple guide for the perfectly balanced board (read – creamy, salty & sweet) and you’ll be surrounded by cheesy grins every time.
Step 1 – The secret ingredient is always cheese
I like to start all my boards by selecting my cheeses first, not only because it’s my favourite part, but because it gives you a good base to start picking and paring with your other accompaniments.
When choosing what cheese to include, it’s best to pick a variety that range in flavour from mild to strong and that are a mix of different textures. It’s also nice to include a selection of different milk sources (goat’s milk, sheep’s milk etc.) as this will add to the depth of flavours. Bloomy Rind or Mould-Ripened:
Fresh: Soft and moist cheese with a creamy texture, these generally have a mild flavour. I tend to use these less often on cheese boards but when I do I generally choose a Chèvre or Mozzarella. Other types of cheese in this category include Ricotta, Feta, Burrata, Halloumi and Mascarpone.
Bloomy Rind/Mould-Ripened: Smooth, rich and buttery, these cheeses become more intense in flavour (and generally become ‘oozier’) as they age. I almost always use one of these on my cheeseboards, classic examples include Camembert, Brie and Brillat-Savarin (one of my all-time favourites).
Washed Rind: Often noted as being the most ‘stinky’ type of cheese, they characteristically have a slightly sticky surface and pinkish-orange hue. They can be somewhat controversial on a cheeseboard, so I tend to only pick this type of cheese when I know it’s a favourite amongst guests. The most well-known cheeses in this category include Talggio, Époisses and the aptly named Stinking Bishop.
Semi Hard: Buttery and often relatively mild, they typically have a delicate blend of savoury and tangy flavours (think ‘sharp’). As the name suggests, they have a firm yet slightly springy texture which compliments the softer cheese on your board. Typical semi hard cheeses include Cheddar, Gouda, Emmental and Gruyere.
Hard: Dense, crumbly and savoury, these cheeses are known for their distinctly umami taste (hence why they are often used to finish off soups, sauces and stews). Whilst the rinds are generally too hard to eat, this type of cheese adds another texture to your cheeseboard. Look for cheese such as Grana Padano, Parmesan, Pecorino and Manchego.
Blue: Easily identified by its blue mould, these can range from mild to an almost spicy taste and can also vary in texture. Another staple on many of my cheeseboards, you might want to choose a milder cheese if you are looking to please a wide range of palates. Notable cheeses in this category include Gorgonzola, Cabrales, Stilton & Roquefort.
Above everything however, make sure you take your cheese out of the fridge with enough time for it to come up to room temperature because ultimately cold = less flavour.
Step 2 – Pass the salt
Now that you’ve chosen your cheese, it’s time to start layering flavours with some salty accompaniments. My three go-to picks are:
Charcuterie: As mentioned earlier, I’ve always felt that cheese and charcuterie are true #couplegoals. As with your cheese selection, you want a balance of flavours and textures ranging from lighter cuts to denser, more seasoned varieties. Pâté & Terrines are another good way to introduce savoury flavours and different textures. I regularly use Prosciutto, Sopressa and Mortadella, but other favourites include Jamón, Bresaola, grilled Chorizo and Capicola.
Olives: The juicy flesh and slight bitterness of olives adds yet another dimension to your cheeseboard and make a delicious one-bite morsel. Just be sure to choose the pitted variety or otherwise ensure you’ve got a bowl handy for pits.
Nuts: Not just for the salty, savoury flavour but also for the crunch! Nuts are a great way of getting a crunchy texture onto your cheeseboard, Whilst I generally opt for the saltier variety such as Pistachios, salted Walnuts or Pecans, you can also try sweeter versions such as candied Walnuts of honey roasted Almonds.
Step 3 – Sugar, spice and everything nice
To balance out all the creaminess from the cheese and saltiness from our charcuterie we need to add something sweet. I love using pastes, jellies and jams, especially Quince Paste and Pear Jelly as they have such a concentrated flavour and are easy to add to your piece of cheese. Honey is another good option but it’s hard to beat the aromatic spices that come through in a good quality paste.
Fresh fruit is another must have as it adds brightness and a fleshy texture. I like to pick fruit that is sweet but still a little tarte to break up the creaminess with some acidity; think Figs, Grapes, Apple, Pear and Blueberries.
Finally, for that sticky and chewy texture you can’t go past dried fruit. Dried Muscatels provide an almost caramel flavour that pairs well with stronger cheeses, such as a sharp Cheddar or a strong, creamy blue. Other options include dried figs, apricots, dates and even apple.
Step 4 – Break bread
I like to keep the crackers/bread separate to the board to keep from overcrowding and to make it easier to cut a slice of cheese or ‘untangle’ a piece of prosciutto.
As with cheese, there are lots of different options for your board when it comes to carbs. Freshly baked sourdough gives a great, slightly chewy texture whilst raisin crackers or those with other types of dried fruit are another way of adding some sweetness. I also love the pepperiness that a lavosh cracker or poppyseed wafer adds, but at the same time, a plain water cracker is the perfect blank canvas for whatever your cheese choice.