Secrets to a great cheeseboard – Prep, place and accessories (part 2)

We eat with our eyes first, then our noses and last our palettes, I read once, but I reckon we also eat with our imaginations!

I mean what is eating with the eyes? Sure, there are some down right sexy looking foods, perfectly ripe strawberries, a gooey Brie, the sensuous fall of honey from the spoon. But bound up in there is also anticipation, triggered by the remembered.  Past experiences flooding back, priming the taste buds with imaginings of upcoming joy!

This post then my cheese-y friends, is about transforming your cheeseboard so it calls to your guests like sirens of the sea. Powerless to resist, spurred on by expectation they will taste even the scariest looking cheese. Here are my current top tips:

1. Bring your cheese back to room temperature and unwrap them
Like all of us, cheeses look and taste better after being awake for at least an hour. So get them out of the fridge and unwrap them. Check them, plump them up if need be. Cold cheese is lifeless, its surface listless, and a good hour or so will put the glow back into them!

2. Scrape the cut surfaces of blue cheeses
Ever noticed blues can be a bit wet and weepy when they come out of the packaging? You’ll improve the taste and appearance by scraping the excess whey off the cut sides as it can be bitter.

Don’t worry, this is normal, blues haven’t been heavily pressed as the cultures (aka good moulds) need air gaps to grow, so the whey continues to escape as they age.

3. Carefully choose a board or platter
Choose a roomy plate or board so your cheeses aren’t crowded. I use chopping boards, huge white platters, and now pride of place, a gorgeous piece of inky slate.

Maybe think about one cheese per plate if you don’t have a big enough surface but keep it neutral, have a play around while the cheese is still wrapped. There are no rules, just remember the cheese is the star.

4. Lay them out in a circle or progression
Put your cheese out in a circle, like a clock going from the lightest and youngest to the oldest and strongest. This is the progression I wrote about in my first post in this series.

Encourage folks to eat round the board in the right direction at least once. I find most people enjoy tasting cheeses together, and have fun trying to describe them. Presenting them beautifully encourages much adventurism!

5. Cut the cheeses correctly

How to cut a cheese, from Paris-wise Journal, Paris-wise.com
How to cut a cheese, from Paris-wise Journal, Paris-wise.com

Yes there are ‘proper’ ways to cut each of the different cheese shapes so that every one gets a bit of the rind, and shares the best bit in the centre.

I usually precut some, it gives gentle clues about what to do and whether to eat the rind. You’ll save your mates the embarrassment of having to dispose of semi-chewed wax rind!

For most cheeses you’ll cut from the centre to the rind in a wedge or cut slices between the rind. There are plenty of diagrams online.

6. Honey and nuts, bread and crackers

Accessories make an outfit and cheese pairs with honey in a most unexpected and delightful way. It is both a flavour enhancer and a flavour softener – is that an oxymoron? Honey smoothes out any unwanted bitterness, and enhances cheese’s natural sweetness. It’s especially divine on goats cheese and blues.

I love J. Friend and Co’s Beechwood Honeydew honey, but any good runny honey will be great.

Nuts are another Fiona Beckett suggestion, and while I’d had walnuts before the sublime pairing of hazelnuts and goats cheese will make you swoon! Here’s her quick guide:

  • Hazelnuts with goats cheese
  • Almonds with sheep cheeses like Manchego
  • Walnuts or pecans and blues
  • Brazil nuts with cream cheese

Bread or crackers? Up to you, but I always have bread. I reckon it gives a more neutral base than crackers, and is better at cleansing the palette. Plus the Frenchies get sniffy if there are only crackers, and they do the best cheese, so I follow their lead.

There we go my dears, there’s an art to a wonderful cheeseboard that I am loving exploring, so no doubt there’ll be more to come! Next post I will explore wine and cheese matches – such hard work the life of a food blogger!

References
Secrets to a great cheese board – Shape, texture, progression (Part 1)
Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course
J Friend and Co – New Zealand Artisan honey

8 thoughts on “Secrets to a great cheeseboard – Prep, place and accessories (part 2)

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