Cheese is the ultimate guilty pleasure. Actually, let us rephrase that. Cheese is the ultimate pleasure, full stop.
Why would you feel guilty about savouring the nutty tang of an aged Comte or a melt-in-the-mouth French goats? However, with hundreds of varieties out there it's no surprise that it can be hard. How do you whittle it down to only a few but at the same time pack the biggest punch to impress your guests with the perfect cheese board? Let's find out.
You probably think just like us – ‘is it ok that I enjoy a cheese board on a Wednesday evening just on my own?’ Yes. It is. In fact, whatever the circumstances, it always is. But if you are looking to pull out the showstopper to follow some delicious dinner party food, then a cheese board is a hands-down winner. Or equally it works just as well unwinding at home with your better half (as we all have to say, I’m sure) over a glass of red on the sofa.
So, stick around for a few simple tips on assembling the perfect cheese board.
Choosing your cheese
So, where do you start? Let’s think about where you want to source your cheese from first. If you have a local independent cheese shop close to you, that’s certainly where we would be heading (somewhere like The Cheese Shop in Chester). There is something warm and fulfilling about supporting your local businesses, and generally we tend to find it’s the people that head up these speciality suppliers that are the real reason to buy from them.
Their passion and expert knowledge are often unrivalled which will result in the best advice on selecting your cheeses… not to mention you might even get a few fun facts about your cheeses which you can use to show off in front of guests too. That is not to say though that larger shops or supermarkets with dedicated cheese counters won’t also do the job but think of your trip to the local cheese shop as something ceremonial you can enjoy as much as the cheese board itself. Besides, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing the money is going straight in their pocket after helping you select your cheese.
Now, it is easy to get excited and buy all the cheese in sight, but less is more when it comes to a cheese board. You don’t want to complicate your guests with too much choice. Instead, you want them to trust your ‘cheese expertise’ in selecting the perfect cheeses to complement each other. Of course, a harmonising balance of textures and flavours can easily be accomplished in as little as 3 or 4 cheeses, but you can stretch up to 5 or 6 if you want a good wide range. Any more than that will likely overwhelm and overpower, therefore not giving your guests sufficient opportunity to savour and appreciate your choices.
So, in short, we recommend you choose from these five categories:
SoftOften creamy and buttery, a softer cheese always has pride of place on a cheese board. You will find that soft cheeses usually have a milder taste owing to them not being aged all that long. In light of this they manage to retain a wonderful richness and just the right amount of moisture to melt in the mouth. Brie is the one you will probably think of first, and with an extensive range of varieties it is often a star player on any cheese board. But you can just as stylishly choose a Camembert, or for the real lavish amongst you, a stunningly creamy Burrata.
FirmWe all know about Cheddar, right? Undoubtedly a ‘firm’ favourite (no, we’re not apologising for the pun) amongst Brits and equally popular when it comes to which cheeses make the ‘cut’ (promise that’s the last one) when choosing for a cheese board. Above all, firmer cheeses balance a cheese board nicely along with their softer counterparts. In the unlikely event a Cheddar isn’t up your street, then Manchego or Edam offer up a nice bit of rigidity, or if you want something a little less mainstream then sample a Lincolnshire Poacher.
AgedIn essence, as a cheese ages it develops some beautifully mature flavours that can linger luxuriously on the palate. Texture wise, aged cheeses are usually firmer as they lose the moisture of a younger, fresher cheese through the maturing process. Taste wise, well…expect a variety of punchy sensations on the tongue resembling nutty, buttery, and smoky flavours. Comte, Gouda, and Gruyere are often aged long enough to tickle your taste buds with some lasting and satisfying tangs.
BlueThis is where your palate gets the real workout. The fragrance of a blue cheese isn’t for everyone. Indeed, the mouldy appearance might put off your average guest, but a seasoned cheese enthusiast appreciates the sharp and salty flavour only a blue cheese delivers. That being said, Stilton is a solid British favourite. Or you could venture a little more European with a French Roquefort or Italian Gorgonzola.
Goat’sUnsurprisingly, cow’s milk is the most popularly used in cheese production. But, although a little smaller in size, goats certainly match cows in stature in the stunning cheeses their milk can create. With a mild and tangy flavour, goat’s cheese (or in its French form, Chèvre) offers up a great earthy alternative to cow’s milk cheeses. And while we are talking rivals to the cow, it might interest you to know that Feta, Halloumi, Pecorino, and Ricotta are all in fact made with sheep’s milk.
Remember too that you can mix and match across the categories. Some cheeses can have both soft and firm varieties, and if you’ve never tried a blue goat’s cheese then set a reminder to do so now. There are hundreds of varieties out there so by all means go and explore - there is no better feeling than introducing a little-known cheesy gem to your dinner guests and revel in the glory of your ‘cheese expertise.’
Some company for your cheeseFirst of all, there will be no judgements from us if you were planning to eat just cheese, and cheese alone. However, we recommend something a little crisp to pair with your cheese for each bite, and classic tradition will dictate that it’s the modest cracker. From simple buttery and flaky styles like the cream cracker through to more artisan choices stuffed with seeds and grains and a range of flavours, there are certainly a good variety of crackers to choose from to complement your cheeses perfectly.
At this point, your sweet tooth is probably feeling a little left out but no fear, the chutney is here. Furthermore, with a deliciously fruit-packed relish you can even tick off one of your five a day, although probably don’t rely on it for the health benefits! There are some wonderful and charming preserved chutneys on the shelf out there, and be on the lookout for some seasonal specials, all adding that perfect sweet side note.
Cheese, cracker, chutney. What a team. Dependable and delectable. That isn't to say you're done levelling up your cheese board. You could add some charcuterie meats (Prosciutto, Salami, and Pancetta to name a few), fruits, nuts, olives, and breads to bring out more textures and flavour combinations. As we said earlier though, less is more. Overwhelm at your peril. Simplicity is often key.
Service, please!So with all this in mind, are you ready to serve your guests up a cheese board they won’t forget? For the ultimate impression, arrange your cheese on rustic artisan wooden board along with some specialist cheese knives to take care of the carving. There are plenty of all-in-one boards complete with knives which will do the trick. On the other hand, if you’re sat in the kitchen mid-afternoon having decided to put together your first cheese board for your friends later this evening, don’t panic! You can equally achieve striking success by repurposing a wooden chopping board, a slate placemat or even a dinner serving tray.
And the last thing you want is bitterly cold and stubbornly firm cheese straight out the fridge. It must be remembered to remove your cheese from the fridge and bring up to room temperature for at least half an hour before serving. That way, you will benefit from all the aromas and tangs your cheeses have to offer and they will be much easier to carve.
Sample our very own cheese board with our Elite Bistro at Home Cheese Box
By now, hopefully you are excited to get out and about to source your cheeses and bring them all together in the perfect cheese board. But before you do, we would love to give you a flavour of how it’s done…well, in our humble opinion at least.
You can sample our very own deliciously created Elite Bistro at Home Cheese Box, where each cheese selection has been carefully selected to complement each other for the perfect sharing masterpiece. With some added chutney and crackers, our cheese box will most certainly impress your dinner guests and is the perfect outro to a fabulous dinner and evening with friends or family.
Our cheese box is an add-on item when you order one of our delicious cook-at-home restaurant meal boxes, bringing the unforgettable Elite Bistro experience straight to your own dining table. All you need to do to become a master chef in your own kitchen is select your favourite box online, add on our cheese box, and once it arrives just follow our simple recipe guides to finish off at home and leave your guests pleasantly astonished with your culinary skills.