In my last post I talked of visiting the Castello cheese dairies in Denmark. I was given the guided tour and along the way, picked up several tips about cheese. I thought it would be useful to write up these tips in a post on how to put together a great cheeseboard.
Yes good cheese is expensive but think! You don’t have to cook anything! It’s the ultimate lazy arse way of entertaining. If you ask guests at the end of a meal ‘what did you like best about the meal’ they will almost always say ‘the cheeseboard’.
Creating a Cheese board:
• Start from weak to strong: start with a mild creamy cheese and end up with a strong blue cheese such as Danish Blue, one of the strongest.
• Do explain or even label the cheeses. People love food stories, they’d love to know where their food comes from, what it goes with…
• Include a variety: say 1 goat, 1 cows, 1 hard, 1 soft, 1 blue.
• Think also about shapes and colours of cheeses: a triangular wedge, a soft semi circle, a round truckle, an oozing slab… wrapped in leaves, or veined with blue, or with an washed orange-hued rind…
• Accompany your cheese board with a scattering of nuts, some sliced and/or whole fruit such as pears or apples, chunks of honeycomb, (blue cheese matches especially well with a drizzle of honey), chutneys, fruit ‘cheeses’, or pungent Italian ‘mustard’ fruits (mostarda di frutta, available in Italian shops and delis).
• You can eat cheese with bread or crackers. The French tend to eat cheese with bread whereas we use crackers. Try making your own seed crackers! Use a mix of types of bread and cheese biscuits, of different grains, shapes and colours, it will make your table look very attractive.
• Make sure you cut the cheese correctly. Never just shave off the point, for instance, with a triangular cheese. With a square or circular cheese, cut in slices like a cake, using your knife tip to find the centre point of the cheese. With a blue cheese, cut in triangles radiating from center of the lower end of the wedge, the first cut will be a corner.
• Cut from the rind to the tip to get the full flavour. In general, the rind of soft cheeses is edible and the rind of hard cheese isn’t. The cheese nearer to the rind has more tang.
• A proper cheese knife has an edge for cutting and two tips for lifting up the cheese onto your plate.
• If not serving as a cheese board but plated, give each guest about 15 to 25g of each cheese depending on how many you are serving. Cheese is very rich, you don’t need too much.
• Cheese is great for the digestion, the teeth and for counteracting acids in the meal. This is why the French eat cheese at most meals. The French are experts on digestion. French wives use poor digestion, not headaches, as an excuse not to have sex.
• You can serve cheese French style, that is, directly after the main course, or British style, after pudding. People tend to linger over cheese, so it depends how long you want your guests to stay!
• You don’t have to serve cheese with wine; a dessert wine, port, Madeira, beer or even champagne can go very well with cheese
How to keep and serve your cheese:
• Castello blue cheese leaves the dairy at 5 weeks old so it arrives in the shops at its peak, around 5 to 6 weeks, although it’s fine up to 3 months.
• Danish Blue cheese lasts up a year if kept well.
• The longer you keep blue cheese, the stronger it becomes, so if you like it strong, you can mature it yourself.
• Keep at 4ºC in the fridge for optimum preservation. Fridge temperature gages are cheap and worth having in the fridge, for food safety reasons.
• Take it out of the fridge 1 hour 30 minutes before serving to bring it to room temperature. The flavours really come out.
• Cheese from the soft cheese range should be taken out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
• Once taken out of the packet, wrap any blue cheese leftovers back in foil and return to fridge.
• Cream cheese can be wrapped in cling film. Hard cheeses must be freshly wrapped in greaseproof paper every time they are used.
• Leftovers can also be crumbled into pasta, salads, used in salad dressing. Make the most of your blue cheese.