In our house Cheese is for life not just for Christmas, but I appreciate not everyone feels the same way! Sometimes the thought of tackling 'another course' where there is SO much variety, is enough to put you off and grab a prepackaged option. So enter stage left (with a tinsel halo) the Fuss Free Foodie guide to making a cracking Christmas cheese board!
I didn't need a big excuse to go and hang out in one of Bristols best Deli chains, Chandos Deli, Henleaze, as it has an amazing and to some maybe, an overwhelming selection of over 50 cheeses. The great thing is that the staff, and in particular, Matthew Hunt, who has worked for them for over 12 years are experts and can guide you through and let you try some too! But I wanted to lay it down, to give you a fuss free guide , which is a formula you could follow wherever you live by popping into your local deli.
SO where to start?! Firstly, look at how many people will be eating; Generally, if you have 4-6 people eating, a selection of 3 cheeses will be fine, over 6 people I would consider choosing 5 cheeses. But which styles of cheese should be going on the board? If you are choosing 3, a soft, hard and either a blue or goat cheese. For 5, I would choose all of the aforementioned and add on either a sheeps cheese or an unusual smoked cheese.
Other things to consider are, if you have anyone who is pregnant or of a vulnerable age group to choose pasturised and unpasturised options. Also, are you trying to choose cheese from a particular country, or just have a cracking International cheese board? (Certainly the latter is the fuss free way, as it has less constraints, but worth considering if you are doing micro details! I won't be!!)
The UK produces some great cheeses in the style of traditional French cheese, and taste as good, if not better in some cases. So use this as a guide, go with what feels right for you. My only request is that you add in 1 or 2 that you wouldn't normally choose to mix it up a bit! Now, let's talk specifics ....
Classic one to choose here is the Brie de Meaux. It's creamy, soft and quite a crowd pleaser, as it's not too strong. Alternatively, you could choose a Camembert. I love a Bath Soft Cheese which is available from Molesworths the butchers, Henleaze or something like Stinking Bishop is another UK alternative.
A great opportunity to bring out the cheddar, as lets face it, most people will eat this! By all means use your favourite cheddar at this point, or if you want to try something a bit different, Keens unpasturised cheddar is made in Wincanton, or a pasturised alternative would be Barbers 24 month aged cheddar.
If you didn't want to use Cheddar, how about going back to France and choosing a Gruyere or Comte, which have a lovely nutty, creamy flavour.
Now, I know this is not every ones cup of tea but stay with me! Blue cheese isn't all about stripping the skin off the roof of your mouth! If you think it may not be your thing, try a buttery, crumbly and slightly salty Italian Gorgonzola or play it safe with a classic British Stilton. But if you are looking for an alternative, we love Bleu d'Auvergne, Picos blue or Roquefort. They are bold and strong!
Goat cheese can be fresh or firm. The fresh style is really easy going, citrus flavoured, creamy and fluffy! You can get little round crotins or a mini lingo, which are like little ingots. If you want a showstopper, my personal favourite from Chandos is the Belle de Sancerre. Made in the region of the wine of the same name, it was once described to me by one staff member as 'the booby cheese', which is more about its shape than the milk used!! A firm goat cheese option would be Rachels, washed rind goat cheese from Somerset or a chevre fermier (firm goat).
Sheep or smoked cheese or 'unusual' cheese
This is where you could freestyle a bit or just stop if you feel its all getting a bit much!! Your 5th cheese could be something like a Italian Pecorino or Roquefort, Spanish Manchego or Appleby's smoked Cheshire, the latter I shall definitely be trying this year!
Now let's get to the crackers; I am a bit of a purist when it comes to what I put my cheese on! I just want to taste the flavour of the cheese, so I look for a neutral cracker, so we are Carrs Water biscuits all the way! However, these days there is a lot of choice, and crackers don't need to be an after thought. In France, cheese would be served on a baguette, but you can also use oat cakes for harder or blue cheese, Peters Yard Swedish crispbreads, Bath Olivers, (quite plain and simple) or Italian Piedmont crackers, which are light and crisp and made of ciabatta flour. Most Deli's will have a good selection.
Accompaniments, are what really finish off a cheese board, and make it into that course to be reckoned with! There are no hard fast rules, and its always good to pick things you are likely to enjoy at any other time of the year. So things like, onion marmalade, gooseberry jelly, spicy tomato chutney, pickle, membrillo (quince paste) are all fabulous options. Chandos stock some lovely jars so enjoy picking something tasty! Simple vine tomatoes and grapes will also set off your cheese board if you want to keep it totally fuss free.
If you are buying your cheese this weekend, wrap your cheese in cling film and check it very few days to make sure the film isn't wet (if it is just change for fresh cling film) and if there is any cheese left over, keep it wrapped in baking parchment or cling film. To serve on the big day, let your cheese sit outside the fridge for 2-4 hours before you are ready to serve, so that the cheese comes to room temperature, so it tastes at it's best!
FORGET THE FUSS....
No time to get to Chandos or a Deli to try the cheese?
Aldi have an amazing selection of cheeses under their specially selected label...My Fuss Free Foodie picks for a bespoke International cheese board would be...
Soft- Pont l'Eveque (pasturised cows milk)
Hard- Ossau Iraty pasturised (pasturised ewes milk)
Blue-Tuxford & Tebbutt Mature Stilton (pasturised cows milk)
Goat-Gevrik Cornish Goat cheese (pasturised goats milk)
Sheep-Spanish Manchego (pasturised ewes milk)
Have a Merry Christmas everyone and enjoy your holidays....look forward to more fuss free fun in 2017...hope you'll be there too! Lisa.x