Image Credit: Volker Gröschl
As we enter the festive season it is only right that our fridges start to take on the aroma of a French deli, with the humble cheese finally having its time to shine. No Christmas is complete without a cheese board to nibble on. Its charm lies in the variety and flexibility of it. With hundreds of cheeses to choose from, it truly is the perfect opportunity to personalise your yuletide menu.
But this comes with its dilemmas. Which cheeses should you pick? Where do you even begin with your cheese board journey? Having worked behind a cheese counter for three Christmases now, I have guided many a lost soul through the world of cheese and biscuits, and hope to offer some inspiration for your festive fromage.
Firstly, it is important to remember the basics of cheese boards.The average rule of thumb is about 50g of each cheese per person. Some people like to have just one or two cheeses as a statement, but for Christmas I think there is something special about having a nice range. An ideal board for the average Christmas cheese eater (that is, those usually less versed in the cheese world) would cover the main bases: cheddar, brie/soft, blue, harder cheeses and continentals, and maybe even a goats’ cheese.
When serving your cheese board, it is important to use accompaniments. Whether that be some apple and grapes, or even a sweet chilli jam, it is a sure-fire way to ensure your cheese board stands out. Of course, a box of biscuits is essential, but why not try some nice bread too? This allows you to really appreciate the flavour and texture of the cheese. And remember the most important rule: take the cheese out of the fridge well before you want to tuck in!
Cheddar might be seen as a basic cheese, but there is good reason for its popularity. Perfect for those who aren’t quite as experimental with their cheeses, it’s an essential to have on the board, to satisfy that old uncle set in his ways. If you want to branch out a bit more, avoid the Cathedral City and go for a more exotic cheddar. My personal favourite, and the festive bestseller, is Black Bomber – which has a nice kick to it – but others like Cornish Quartz are also enjoyed for their crunch. Applewood is also a good shout; as a smoked cheddar it adds something a bit different, but is still perfect for those with a less adventurous taste. It also comes in a vegan block, which is a great way to ensure everyone can enjoy the cheese board.
Another absolute necessity for Christmas is a good brie. Dubbed the Queen of Cheese, it’s one of the first cheeses people think of when they picture a cheese board. Brie originates from France, and this is where you get the classic bries, which are usually the strongest. However, Britain does some really great ones too, which tend to be very creamy and a bit firmer. Just make sure when you buy it you look at the ripeness, and leave it out for the fridge for a long time to help it ripen if necessary.
You could shake things up and try Domaine du Vallage, a soft cheese similar to brie – with a brie-like rind, but incredibly creamy. As a triple cream cheese, it must contain at least 75% butterfat, so it is definitely decadent, but a perfect treat to indulge. It’s probably my favourite cheese for when I want to have something a bit more unusual in my fridge.
Of course, most cheese boards should have a blue cheese, especially for Christmas. I hate it myself, but can recognise that it is a staple for the festive season. Stilton is the go-to for Christmas which tends to be a crumbly cheese with a complex, slightly creamy, slightly nutty taste. There is good reason for its success over Christmas; scientifically Stilton is best during the winter months, due to the time that the cow will have been milked, and the type of milk that is produced.
However, why not try something a bit different? Cambozola is a great way to get into the blue cheeses, often branded as a “blue brie”, and is a mild and creamy foray into the word of blue veins.
I would argue every board needs a goats’ addition to ensure the fully rounded nature of the selection. Goats’ cheese is very divisive, and they all seem to have a “goaty” flavour that pervades regardless of the style of cheese. However, if you like a goats’ cheese, it is very moreish. I like a soft creamy goats’, like the average one you might find on the shopfloor, but it might be nice to try some harder cheeses over Christmas. How about Snofrisk, a Norweigan goats’ that– unlike most cheeses– only takes a few days from milking to packaging! Launched majestically at the Norweigan 1994 Winter Olympics, it is a great goats’ to try for something different. Also, goats’ cheese often comes with flavouring. A great festive addition would be a goats’ log with cranberry, appearing in many supermarkets over the next month.
Now we are left with more free reign to finish the board with a variety of different cheeses. Perhaps you could stick local, and grab a Wensleydale – a cheese that has found great success since its name check in Wallace and Gromit. With flavours including Wensleydale and Ginger or Wensleydale and Apricot, it is sure to win over some of your cheese board guests. Maybe you might want to be more exotic, and try Manchego, a crowd favourite ewe’s milk cheese from Spain. This hard cheese is great for tapas, but also a good one for adding something different on your display. A safe bet is getting some gouda, a hard and caramelly cheese, with the best coming from the Netherlands. Or if you are completely confused, have a look at the cheese counter Christmas lines, which are usually exciting renditions of the most popular lines.
The beautiful part about making a cheese board for Christmas is the free reign you have to go wild. Remember, there will always be someone in your festive bubble who will happily hoover up the cheese you end up not enjoying! Now is the perfect time to try something new. Good luck on your cheese journey.