How To Build The Ultimate Cheeseboard
We’ll start big: what makes the ultimate cheese board?
“There are no hard or fast rules. One of my favourite Christmases was when my dad and I sat with a huge block of cheddar and some pickled onions. There’s a lot to be said for having just one cheese, but make sure it’s big – about 1.5kg. I’d suggest cheddar or a blue. If I have a massive block of blue in my fridge, I’m ready for anything! Blues are particularly good come Christmas: by then, they tend to be 12 weeks old and the milk used has enjoyed the last of the summer grasses to give it lots of flavour.” – Alex James, award-winning cheese maker & bassist in Blur
“You want a balance of flavour, style and texture ranging, from the fresh young goats’ cheeses, all the way through to the robust, savoury blues. There needs to be something for everyone, so just make sure you have a mix of classics, say a cheddar, as well as something more adventurous that you may not have tried before – you never know, it might just become your new favourite cheese. It’s also important to consider your condiments and crackers. Make sure you have a couple of fruit chutneys and relishes to complement the cheeses – they will take any cheeseboard up a notch.” Mathew Carver, founder of The Cheese Bar, Pick & Cheese, and the new Funk cheese shop on Columbia Road
What’s the right balance between hard and soft cheeses?
“It’s really down to personal preference but I personally like an even mix of both. I don’t think you can go wrong if you have a hard cheese, a blue cheese, a soft cheese and a goat’s cheese. If you’re looking to buy cheeses that will last the whole Christmas period, go for a few larger pieces of a firm-to-hard cheese as they will keep better in a domestic fridge.” – Mathew
“If you want more than one cheese – and most people probably do – then I’d go for a brie, a cheddar and a blue. Avoid cheese that is too similar, because the less good one will then taste awful.” – Alex
How many cheeses work best?
“I always recommend 50g of cheese per person. Some may think that’s a little generous, but better to have too much cheese than too little in my opinion. You can’t go wrong if you have four to five cheeses, but there should be a real range of flavours and textures in there to give you enough variation.” – Mathew
“I always think the traditional hard, soft and blue combination works extremely well. You can then add in another more unusual cheese – for example, a fresh goat’s milk cheese or a washed-rind cheese – to add interest.” – Hero Hirsh, head of retail for royal cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield
What are your non-negotiable accompaniments?
“A great cracker – something with a real snap – some fresh fruit to cut through all that fattiness, and a glass of something you fancy!” – Mathew
“There are no firm rules on what to have with your cheese. Some think the combination of pickle and cheddar must never be compromised; others take a purist approach and won’t even have a cracker with their morsel. I prefer apples and pears over grapes and celery. They help reset your palette in between varieties. My ideal combination is fresh bread, cheese, apples, pears and mostarda [Italian mustard fruits].” – Alex
Any storage suggestions?
“Keep your cheese wrapped in the wax paper used by your cheesemonger and keep it refrigerated. To avoid any cheesy odours contaminating your fridge or vice versa you can keep it in tupperware. Just make sure you take your cheese out of the fridge an hour before serving to bring it up to room temperature.” – Mathew
“Letting the cheese warm will improve its flavour. A blue could even be left for 24 hours before consumption. Then it gets creamy, Marmite-y and just comes alive. It tends to just get better and better over time.” – Alex
And what about booze?
“Port is a popular pairing if cheese is the final course. Blue cheese also goes very well with a sweet wine, like a Monbazillac. I often think a white burgundy is a good wine to serve with a selection of cheeses as it has good flavour and body that won’t dominate the palate.” – Hero
“I think drinking something fizzy works best – cider is my number one but also beer and champagne work. The fizziness really helps clean your tongue.” – Alex
Where are your favourite places to buy cheese?
“I’m somewhat biased but Funk, our new cheese and wine shop on Columbia Road, is great for people looking to try more British cheeses. Not only do we serve a range of around 30 British cheeses but also stock craft ciders, beers and a whole host of condiments and natural wines from local suppliers to complement any cheese board. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Neal’s Yard Dairy. Arguably British cheese would look very different if it weren’t for the risks taken by Randolph Hodgson in supporting new cheesemakers back in the latter part of the 20th century. It’s now a pillar of the cheese community and has played a huge part in saving British cheese this year. Many producers are also offering direct sales as a result of the pandemic – some to look out for online are Fen Farm Dairy, The Old Cheese Room and Quicke’s Traditional.” – Mathew
And the all-important question: when should a cheese course be served?
“Lots of people enjoy finishing their red wine from the main course with cheese, so you could choose to serve cheese before pudding. Personally, I serve the cheeseboard after the main course. This means I can enjoy the savoury flavours from the main course through to the cheese course before going onto the sweetness of the pudding. You can, of course, have your cheese course after your pudding and leave the cheeseboard on the table so it can be nibbled at.” – Hero
“Serve it whenever you like! The French often have theirs at the beginning of the meal, whereas us Brits tend to enjoy it at the end. If you go French, then maybe opt for flavours that aren’t going to overshadow the rest of your meal. If you go down the British road, have something that mirrors the flavour intensity of the main event. If you’re having it as the meal itself, then around 100-150g per person is plenty… depending on how greedy you are!” – Mathew
Mathew Carver talks us through every cheese you’ll ever need to impress guests…
Westcombe Cheddar by Tom Calver – Westcombe Dairy, Somerset
“This raw cow’s milk cheese is a classic clothbound cheddar.”
Cornish Kern by Catherine Mead – Lynher Dairy, Cornwall
“A hard Alpine-style cheese, with a caramel and roasted nuts finish.”
Baron Bigod by Jonny Crickmore – Fen Farm Dairy, Suffolk
“A rich, smooth, savoury brie-style cheese.”
Lypiatt by Juliana Sedli – The Old Cheese Room, Wiltshire
“A fresh, tart, lactic-style cow’s milk cheese with an ashed rind.”
Perl Las by Carwyn Adams – Caws Cenarth, Cardiganshire
“A smooth, creamy blue with a biscuit-y, malty finish.”
Young Buck by Mike Thompson – Mike’s Fancy Cheese, County Down
“Stilton in style, with a big meaty flavour and spicy finish.”
Sinodun Hill by Rachel Yarrow and Fraser Norton – Norton & Yarrow, Oxfordshire
“Picture fresh, lactic acidity, lemon rind and minerality offset by a smooth dairy finish.”
Driftwood by Roger Longman – Whitelake Cheese, Somerset
“An ashed goat’s log, similar to Loire classic St-Maure de Touraine. Fresh with a bit of farm-y funk.”
WASHED RIND CHEESE
Rollright by David Jowett – King Stone Dairy, Gloucestershire
“Rich, smooth and oozing with a note of roasted peanuts and smoky bacon on the rind.”
Ogleshield by Jamie Montgomery – Montgomery Cheese, Somerset
“Big, bold flavour and an incredible melter, much like the Alpine raclette.”
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