How do I put together the best cheese board for Christmas?
The first rule, Sarah, is never to buy cheese too early. “It’s like a bottle of wine – when you open a whole cheese, a lot of those flavours, aromas and textures dissipate over time,” says Andrew Swinscoe, who owns and runs The Courtyard Dairy near Settle, North Yorkshire. “Now you can buy some Christmas wax trucks, but it’s best to buy the cut-outs as close to the day as possible.”
As for the cheese you want, either play it safe with a crowd-pleasing group, be more adventurous or find a happy medium. Whatever your strategy, says Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie in London, “always stick to evolving flavors and textures for ultimate flourishing in the end.” But how, exactly, do you do this? Michelson suggests starting with “a fresh goat’s cheese with a pleasant acidity to neutralize and cleanse the palate, then a light, crumbly cheese like young Wensleydale, followed by a creamy white Camembert crust and flowering or a Brie de Meaux.” Next is a “hard, fruity cheese” (eg, cheddar or gruyere), followed by a washed cheese like epoisses, “has a smooth, rich, and buttery texture,” and finished with blue to “bring the cheese board together.”
Meanwhile, Swinscoe is experimenting with classics, like Brie, Cheddar, and Blues: “Find something different in their family, just to mix it up.” For example, “Instead of going for a stilton, opt for a grainy blue, which is a little more interesting,” while a traditional brie could be swapped out for a “really buttery and creamy” rollright. The trick, however, is not to get carried away. “People buy so many different types of cheese, and they end up with loads of leftovers that dry out,” says Swinscoe. “Four or five great cheeses is your best bet.” You can simply champion one cheese, though: “A majestic cheddar or Stilton alone with a glass of port or Madeira is a classic,” Michelson says, while Ed Smith, author of The Borough Market Cookbook, is part of “a quarter Stichelton And a great wedge of old comté.”
Then, you’ll have the accompaniments you can handle, which could mean anything from jello to nuts and crackers. says Smith, who also adds “one or two” of the following: figs, dried fruits, pickles, jellies, and pastes. A medlar or damask jelly would be Swinscoe’s top pick: “It’s good for cutting off the richness, but you don’t want to overpower the cheese, so nothing more vinegary, sharp or flavorful.”
Perhaps the biggest question is when to serve the cheese. “Sometimes, after a big meal, it’s best to save the cheese board for a few hours later,” Mickelson says. And this tactic comes with the added benefit of being able to nibble on said cheese all evening, preferably, Swinesko adds, with a glass of Kived Berry. “It’s sweet and low in alcohol, so it’ll be fine after all that red wine.”