Few products are as grateful and versatile as a good cheese. Although I have my favorites I like to try new varieties, and I am also fascinated by the history and culture that surrounds them. Mount a cheese board at home It can solve an aperitif or a dinner, or simply be an excuse to feast discovering new specialties.
There are cheeses for all tastes, with an almost endless variety of shapes, textures, aromas and flavors. What is the best selection? What accompaniments are the most suitable? There is no single answer but we can unravel the secrets of a perfect cheese board with basic tips to succeed at home.
How to make CHEDDAR CHEESE FONDUE easy and at home
How and when are we going to serve the cheese board?
Before starting to buy, you have to be very clear about the occasion for which we are going to organize our cheese board. It is not the same to have an informal snack than to plan a special tasting with guests. It is also important to consider the season, since the ambient temperature and humidity in summer can affect cheeses differently than we have, for example, at Christmas.
As more and more people are encouraged to prepare cheese boards on special occasions, we should not lose sight of the rest of the menu. It does not make much sense to prepare a cheese feast if a copious New Year’s Eve dinner awaits us, nor will the table be the same in an aperitif as as a dessert on a special occasion.
It is also worth remembering how many guests are going to participate in the tasting or how many guests do we want to satisfy?. In general, we can calculate about 80-100 g if it is a dessert table or if it is part of a complete menu; We can go up to 175-200 g if the cheeses will be the main protagonist of the lunch or dinner.
The selection of cheeses: infinite valid options
Cheese was not born to be part of tables so there is no single perfect option to choose our selection. The important thing is not to go crazy shopping and first choose a criterion that guides our choice with coherence and meaning.
How many varieties? At least four, although the average is usually between five and eight different, which already offer a good range to experiment with. More than eleven or twelve can be excessive and exhausting. Again, you have to take into account the occasion and the rest of the menu, and remember that perhaps not all diners want to try all types.
The selection can be based on our personal taste or take advantage of discover new experiences. We could make a table of national cheeses, for example choosing products with DO, although an international range gives rise to more interesting games.
One of the advantages of cheese boards is precisely that set of different flavors, aromas and textures, that is why the characteristics of each cheese must be assessed; we don’t want a boring and repetitive table. It will be interesting to taste cheeses that represent the main variables:
- Animal from which the milk comes: goat, sheep, cow, buffalo or mix.
- Texture: hard, semi-hard, soft, blue, spreadable …
- Crust type: washed, moldy, pressed, with herbs or spices …
- Maturation: soft, semi-cured, cured, aged cheese …
- Intensity: fresh, sweet, pronounced, strong or very strong.
- Productive region or zone.
If we are really passionate about a specific cheese, another option is organize the table around a specific variety, played by different maturations or with different types of the same maturation -vertical tasting and transversal tasting, respectively-. This allows us to delve into the nuances of each range.
For example, we can start from a lactic soft cheese to go to a variety of moldy soft rind (Camembert, Vacherin, Brie). We would continue with a couple of more mature cheeses, combining pressed pasta (San Simón, manchego) and cooked (Comté, Gruyère, Edam) with some variety of washed rind. Y the ideal is to finish with a very aromatic cured cheese and some blue, and may also include some cake.
Cutting and preparing before serving
Every cheese asks a type of cut and a correct way to serve it. If we go to a specialized store, it is best to let ourselves be advised by professionals, or we can review the complete guide on cheese cutting and serving that we shared at Directo al Paladar some time ago.
Yes it is important to remember that the cold from the fridge kills the flavor and texture of cheeses – of almost any food, actually. Taking each variety or assembled board out of the fridge five minutes before serving is a catastrophic mistake; Let us always remember to let the product warm up for at least one hour.
The “room temperature” advice is treacherous; Murcia in August is not the same as Burgos in February. If it is very hot and we have a lot of humidity, half an hour in advance may suffice. In very cold areas we could need up to three or four hours; We are looking for a service temperature of about 16-18ºC.
In general wedge or rectangle They are the most suitable cutting format for soft, semi-hard or hard cheeses, preserving part of the rind. If they are very soft or spreadable, do not put them already on bread, it is best to serve it in tubs or small containers. The lucky ones who can serve a great wedding cake, do not hesitate to present it open and whole.
As for highly aged cheeses, it is recommended to present finer cutsThis way the fat and aromatic power will not be too strong. Others very hard, such as Parmigiano reggiano, will have to be served in flakes or irregular pieces.
How to serve cheese: arrangement and order
The most appropriate is to use a good wooden board, ensuring that it is beautiful and well preserved and clean. The dishes of board They are still fashionable and I think that in this case it is one of the few occasions that their use does not bother me too much, although the fattiest cheeses will leave unsightly marks.
In a tasting of few people we can use a large board or tray where to put all the cheeses; If there are many of us, the easy alternative is to present each variety of cheese on separate tables. We can also use appropriate trays or sources, even opt for stone.
So that one cheese does not harm another in the tasting, it is always advisable to start with the softest and save the strongest and most intoxicating for last. That is why it is usual to serve them in clockwise order, or from left to right if it is a rectangular plate.
Cheese tasting reaches another level if it is accompanied by some products that round out the experience. And it is curious to see how the cheese itself can produce different sensations depending on what we take it with. A careful selection of accompaniments can complete the lunch or dinner and leave us totally satisfied.
That is why it is worth investing in good quality items and not resorting to any questionable crackers from the supermarket, or the stale peanuts that we have open in the pantry. Since we have assembled our board with care, let’s pair cheese with products to match.
- Selection of breads. Good bread and good cheese make an exceptional marriage, why not set up a parallel “table” of assorted breads? Here we can also play, but the minimum is to include a rustic white variety with an aromatic, elastic crumb and crispy crust, and a good rye, with its juicy and somewhat acidic crumb. If we can add some multigrain bread, with seeds and another with dried fruits such as walnuts and raisins, it will be a sure success. Of course, artisans and preferably sourdough.
- Crispy breads and cookies. The crisp contrast of peaks, scolds, donuts, crackers and other variants is very grateful with the cheeses. A good idea is to include some more neutral product and others with different flours, spices and seeds.
- Jams and compotes. Better if they are homemade, or artisan and of good quality. There is nothing written about tastes but they tend to combine better the slightly more acidic jams, with good texture and presence of the original fruit. Berries, currant, fambberry, blackberry, black cherry, bell pepper, onion, or bitter orange are good choices.
- Quince and candied pumpkin sweet. I have not tried a combination of these products with a cheese that does not work, and I assure you that I have already had many experimental tastings behind my back.
- Fruits and dried fruits. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, dried apricots, prunes, dates, figs … Make sure they are natural -or toasted, in the case of nuts-, and as fresh as possible.
- Fresh fruit. The same fresh fruits in season add another very interesting nuance to the tasting, especially grapes, blueberries, apricots and figs. A good idea is to play with the sweetest and juiciest fruits with the sour and crunchy ones, like green apple and seasonal pears.
- Olives and pickles. Lovers of pickles, onions and more will find great pleasure in combining them with the cheeses on the table.
- Honey and molasses. In small quantities, a selection of quality artisan honeys can be an exquisite sweet counterpoint. Fresh honeycomb is a delight.
And for drink? Recommended pairings
The mineral water -from the tap, as long as it doesn’t taste weird- it’s the best drink for any meal. In addition to being healthy, it allows you to enjoy all the organoleptic qualities without masking them, and it does not swell the stomach prematurely. That being said, of course we can make a pairing to taste to finish off the cheese tasting.
Here also personal tastes and the moment of consumption come into play. For example, a Port or some other sweet liqueur goes wonderfully with dessert cheeses. In general the lighter and fresher sparkling wines like cava they are the most recommended because they clean the palate and do not mask the flavors.
White wine and cider They are also a bit of a wild card and the best option to accompany softer and more tender cheeses. Red wine and fermented whites should be reserved for more aged cheeses, especially those made from sheep’s milk.
Other pairings to explore include amontillados, fines and cut sticks, excellent with goat cheeses or a creamy and aromatic cake. Also…