By Elisabeth Ryan
Its that time of year when cheese gets its proud outing on tables across the country. What follows is mostly a monger musing on helping you get the right selection of cheese and find great things to accompany your cheese as opposed to a hard and fast set of rules. When we mongers help you select you christmas cheeses for yourself or as a gift, we want to know above all that the cheeses will be thoroughly enjoyed; whether that’s a fairly stinky oozing washed rind or a rather more general purpose crowd pleasing easy going comte or cheddar type, so when it comes time to buy, if you don’t have any definite choices in mind – tell us what types please you the most and we’ll help you work the rest out.
Definitely experiment and try new things and of course, above all else listen to your mongers advice, but – like a wedding haircut its important to hold on to what you know will make you happy!!!
With all this in mind its worth remembering when selecting a cheese board for a variety of guests that not everyone loves the more hardcore cheeses – balance is the key!!
Some people associate strength and force with their uber board for christmas. Try to suit the selection to encompass all your guests’ needs , not just a select few.
If in doubt, best to play it safe with a couple in the selection, and get larger quantities of these. Then,don’t forego the others, but just get smaller quantities of them instead.
CLASSIC CHEESE BOARD SELECTION MANDATES A SOFT, A HARD, AND A BLUE and then most people add in a fourth for fun. I’d suggest keping it to four as a maximum, couple of reasons for this:
Firstly; you can have nice big chunks that look really great and impressive rather than buying 5 or 6 and having smaller pieces where you don’t get the same visual drama.
Secondly; you don’t then have too may opposing flavours.
In terms of quantities, a very general rule of thumb is 100g per person total.
I often recommend limiting a board to just two cheeses and then adding in interest and contrast with the accompaniments and wine matches; which brings me nicely on to my next topic…
Some specific matching advice
Wines can be tough, as often it is difficult to pick one wine which goes well with all the cheeses on your board and despite what many think, in my experience whites tend to be a better match for cheese than reds, this can be tricky though as by the time it comes to cheese time, most people have switched over to red to accompany the meat course that went before.
Nonetheless, don’t feel you can’t switch back to white or even try a dessert wine or port. Or support Irish and match a craft beer or two with your cheese course!
Blues: Wines of choice are generally sweet like a Verduzzo and the bigger blue cheeses can stand up to Ruby, LBV or Tawny Ports. Food accompaniments, likewise think sweet; try candied nuts or quince paste. Sweet jams or onion maramalade can be great. Rich chocolatey Irish craft porters can also be a great match.
Bloomy Rinds (Camembert / Brie types): Work great with richer styles of champagne or Cava, but also nicely with any rich but not oaky style of Chardonnay, also often good alongside juicy ripe reds like Cotes du Rhone or a juicy Valpolicella or Spanish Tempranillo (not a heavy tannic style of red though). Food accompaniments which work well include sweet chutneys, fig compote and bloomy rind cheeses are great with a really good sourdough bread toasted. Irish craft beers can be trickier to match with these types but the lightest style of ale can pair pretty well.
Rind washed cheeses (the orangey/pinkey coloured pungent ones):These work particularly well with more floral styles of wine such as Alsace Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Gris. Unusual flavours like cawaway seeds often work well. These cheeses can be surprisingly versatile and the stronger ones will even hold up to a dark beer or whiskey, but a red beer is usually most versatile as a catch all craft beer match.
Fresh cheese or goats cheese:A crisp style of sauvignon blanc, generally from the old world regions such as the Loire Valley in France makes a super match. Figs, both in their fresh form or pressed in cakes or in compotes or jams are truly great with most goat’s cheeses.
Goat’s cheeses of all types can be lovely with a dry craft cider.
Hard cheeses:Generally the easiest to match with a variety of red wines, a very classic combo is traditional cheddar with an aged Bordeaux red. But again richer whites will work well here too. Food matching tends to also be more versatile with harder cheeses; quince paste again works well as do the fig compotes, and all types of chutneys, also try cherry jam – especially good with hard sheep’s milk cheeses. As far as beer goes red beer or heavier pale beers generally work a treat, especially with aged goudas, which can often even work beautifully with a porter.
Finally, for all the advice about matchings and pairings and what does and doesn’t work, feel free to ignore it all and eschew the monger advice, pick what you like and what you enjoy it with. Nothing works better than something that makes you happy!
A few tips on minding your cheese and how to serve…
- When it comes to looking after your cheeses a few key points to remember as follows:
- Store in the vegetable compartment of your fridge (or a cool pantry if you’re luck enough to have one!), wrapped in cheese paper or greaseproof paper.
- Prior to serving – allow the cheeses to come to room temperature for a couple of hours (not hot kitchen emperature, but actual advised room temperature (approx 20 degrees celcius). For very soft and delicate cheeses, they can be served a little cooler again, maybe just an hour or so out of the fridge, so as not to lose their shape and melt!
- If you have larger pieces of cheese designed to last through a few occasions, just take what you need from the piece and bring this up to temperature, rather than taking the whole piece in and out several times.
To Rind or not to rind
As a rule of thumb for softer cheeses the rind is an integral part of the cheese, and you may miss out if you don’t parttake, and for harder cheeses the rind is generally a protective coating to the cheese and doesn’t get eaten.
Once again though, do what makes you happy, and even if that means cutting the lovely bloomy rind or squishy pinky rind off and focusing on the interior – then go ahead and do it – the aim is for you to get maximum enjoyment
Buy your cheese from a cheesemonger with a dedicated member of staff and a cheese counter where they cut from the block, one who will let you taste on the spot and provide advice.
If you choose to buy online from us, feel free to mail us with any queries before you buy for the same help and advice as you would get in person!
To be brutally honest,we mongers often sigh a little (entirely inwardly of course) and resignedly think to ourselves that like like puppies – cheese is not just for christmas – what we ask above all is that you remember to select your favourites and what you like rather than chosing the classics or what seem to you the scary ones just for the sake of it! And also of course as an aside that you remember to buy lots of cheese (and look after puppies) all year round!!!