Lucie Inns of Cheesology writes for the love of cheese…
On the continent, the cheese course is often eaten between the main course and desert. In Britain we tend to favour eating it after desert and accompanied by either Port or a desert wine. Whichever you prefer it’s important to give some thought to the balance of cheeses you are going to serve. Personally I think if your budget is limited it is better to buy one or two really good cheeses of high quality than say 5 or 6 cheeses of indifferent quality.
A thoughtfully chosen, well-balanced cheese board should be a delight to your guests. Ideally, and budget allowing, I think a selection of 5 really well-made cheeses will work well. The average amount to allow per person is around 70 – 100g, assuming it’s as a cheese course rather than a main meal of just cheese. Naturally, some guests will eat less than this and some more, and it depends what else you’ve served before this course. My Cheesology cheese box contains approximately 500g of cheese and generally this is enough for between 4 and 6 people as a cheese course.
The question is, what range of cheeses to present? To a certain degree that may depend on your own personal taste or that of your guests. You may know that certain people do not like goat’s cheese or blue cheeses so that will obviously impact on your selection. Personally, I would recommend the following style of cheeses:
- A firm cheese – Cheddar, Double Gloucester, Red Leicester, Lancashire or Caerphilly or any of the firmer continental cheeses
- A soft bloomy rind cheese – perhaps a Camembert or Brie style
- A goats or ewes milk cheese – these could be soft or firm depending on your preference
- A rind washed cheese – the level of pungency will depend on your taste
- A blue cheese – either a soft continental style blue or firmer Stilton type
This range should give a rounded taste experience and has something for everyone. You could also consider the time of year when making your cheese selection. A Spring/Summer cheese board may consist of fresher creamier cheeses that will pair well with lighter wines or ales. And, for the Autumn/Winter season and particularly Christmas, you may want to be more robust in your flavours. Some cheeses are very seasonal – for example the French Vacherin du Mont d’or is only available from September to April.
Once you’ve established which cheeses you are going to select then it’s a matter of what you are going to pair with them in terms of fruit, chutneys, bread and crackers. My suggestion is to keep it simple and allow the cheeses to be the star of the show. One thing to remember is to take your cheeses out of the fridge still wrapped, around two hours before you are going to serve them. This allows them to reach room temperature and will ensure that all their complex flavours come through so you and your guests can enjoy them.