Planning the perfect Christmas cheeseboard
With the festive season finally upon us, here at Queen Brie I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what delights are going to grace our Christmas cheeseboard this year. If you haven’t begun planning yet, here are a few tips to get you started.
Spoilt for choice
They say variety is the spice of life, and that mantra should definitely be applied to your cheeseboard. Unless you really can’t stand a certain type of cheese, it’s a good rule of thumb to have at least one soft cheese, one hard cheese and one blue cheese. Between three and five cheeses should give a good mix to appeal to all tastes. I’ve included a few of my festive favourites at the end of this post to give you some ideas.
Catering for a crowd
The amount of cheese you need to serve per person will largely depend on what sort of cheese event you’re hosting. Is cheese the main part of your dinner party or are you serving it as a cheeseboard at the end? Are you organising and cheese and drinks pairing session? Once you’ve decided this, you can work out how much cheese to serve per person.
If your serving cheese as a main meal, perhaps a raclette, fondue or a big cheeseboard, you need about 200-250g of cheese per person. If you’re organising a cheese and drinks tasting, you’ll want about 30g of each cheese per person, and at least 5 cheeses with drinks and accompaniments to match. If your cheese course is at the end of a meal, serve between 70-100g per person, depending on how heavy or light the meal was.
I would always over-cater and order slightly more cheese than is needed. You can always enjoy it after your guests have left, or use it up in a delicious cheese toastie the following day.
Fail to plan, plan to fail
When I’m hosting a cheese party or cheese and drink tasting, I make sure I plan well in advance and do my research. What cheese do I want to serve my guests? Have I got a good choice of accompaniments to go with them? Have I selected the perfect drinks to match?
It’s also important when you buy your cheese, you make sure you store it as per the cheesemonger’s instructions. Smaller cuts of cheese can dry out quickly, so it’s better to select a few larger pieces of at least 250g each. On the day of your cheese party, make sure you take your cheeses out of the fridge about 1 – 2 hours before you plan to serve, to allow the cheese come up to room temperature.
Make cheese the star of the show
Are you pulling out all the stops and planning on tucking into a three course dinner on Christmas Day? Perhaps following it up with a full blown cheeseboard after you’ve gorged on turkey with all the trimmings followed by a boozy Christmas pudding isn’t the best idea. Maybe pick one cheese that you know your dinner guests will all enjoy. If you’re hosting a cheese and drink pairing evening, why not serve some light bites or a nice selection of accompaniments that will compliment the cheese and the drinks, but will also give your cheese the chance to shine.
What’s your tipple?
The great thing about cheese is that it pairs so well with so many different drinks. Whether it’s wine, beer, cider, whisky, tea or even fruit juice that’s your go-to drink this festive season, you can be certain there’s a perfect cheese to match with it. It’s good advice not to mix your drinks and the same goes with cheese and drinks pairings. Stick to one type of alcoholic beverage, but try a few different styles with a few different cheeses. You should also start with the lighter cheeses and drinks and finish with the heavier pairings so as not to overwhelm the palate.
When it comes to accompaniments for cheese, the possibilities are endless. Cheese biscuits, cured meats, olives, nuts, dried fruit and chutneys are some classics examples, but it’s important to use them sparingly. For example, not all honeys go with every cheese because each one has its own unique flavour profile, which can sometimes fight against certain cheeses. In order to truly enjoy the flavour of each individual cheese, sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. If you’re having a cheese and drink tasting party, some plain biscuits and water is all you really need. This will allow you and your guests to cleanse your palate and really savour the cheese and the drinks you’re pairing them with.
Catering for everyone
Is anyone in your party vegetarian or vegan? Are you hosting any expectant mums? Does anyone have an allergy to a certain kind of milk? Luckily there are so many different choices of cheese that meet different requirements that you’re bound to find something to suit everyone.
The festive season is stressful enough without worrying about cheese! It might not be the best time to uncover some new cheese covered in truffle oil, champagne and sparkles (I’m not sure this even exists yet but you never know). The important thing is to choose cheeses that you and your guests will enjoy.
However, if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some of my festive favourites:
Vacherin Mont D’Or – this is a great choice for any fans of really runny cheeses like Brie. Made with milk from the Montbeliarde herd of cows in Switzerland, it’s gooey with slightly sweet and grassy flavours. You can also stick it in the oven in its wooden box for about 15-20 minutes and serve it fondue-style with cubes of crusty bread, baby potatoes and sliced sausage.
Colston Bassett Stilton – Stilton is about as festive as it gets in the world of cheese and this blue can’t be beat. Check out this month’s cheese of the month blog to find out more about it. If you prefer a creamier style of blue, you could opt for something like a Gorgonzola Dolce.
Quickes Extra Mature Cheddar – a nice piece of cheddar on a cheeseboard is certainly going to be a crowd-pleaser and it stands up to a lot of other flavours. This extra mature cheddar from Devon-based Quickes is matured for at least 18 months and is clothbound, which helps to protect the cheese as it ages.
Rachel – this is a really special semi-firm goat’s cheese. Made by White Lake Cheese Company in Somerset, it’s creamy and nutty with a good texture. It’s also a good choice for people who aren’t a big fan of goat’s cheese, as it has quite a subtle taste.
Holy Ewe – made by Italian Mario Olianas, who relocated to Yorkshire to sell Italian produce before turning his hand to cheese-making. This sheep’s milk cheese is fruity and mellow, and would go very well with a nice chutney.
Cheesemongers and cheesemakers have been advertising their Christmas offers for a number of weeks now. Many also offer festive selections, where they will pick some of the best seasonal cheeses, which takes the hassle out of choosing. They can also advise on the best accompaniments and drinks pairings, as well as the shelf life of the cheese. You can select specific delivery slots to pre-order your Christmas cheese but many of these are booking up fast. So if you haven’t ordered already – what are you waiting for? Whatever you choose, I hope your fab festive season is cheesy, merry and bright!