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Few sights are more enticing than a well composed cheeseboard, one that juxtaposes wedges, rounds, ovals and logs, offers different colours to please the eye, a variety of textures to please the tongue, a cheeseboard with flavour contrasts spanning everything from the fresh and tangy to the aged and salty.
Sitting around the dining table, other courses come and go, but there's something about the cheese course that relaxes everyone- not least the cook- offering a change of pace that promotes conviviality. Perhaps you fancy a tantalising corner of this cheese, maybe a little slice of that one, or then again you might feel the urge to tidy up the oozing innards of yet another, and while you're at it, share your taste impressions with fellow diners.
With good accompaniments- quince paste, freshly cracked nuts, sweet fruits, such as grapes, pears and crisp apples, fine crackers, oatcakes, dried fruit and nut bread, honey, and sweet, syrupy wines all set the scene- a cheeseboard, although relatively effortless, can be the high point of a meal. Get the cheeseboard right, and everyone seated around the table will go away with favourable enduring memories and the meal will instantly feel more celebratory and special.
But there's an art to composing a cheeseboard. Follow this 10-point plan and your cheeseboard will be an outstanding success.
Serve cheeses made with different types of milk- ewe's, cow's, goat's, even buffalo milk, or those made from a blend of milks. Each type of milk has a different flavour profile and this will make your selection more varied.
Choose some cheeses that are made from 'raw' (unpasteurised) milk, such as Loch Arthur organic or Crottin de Chavignol. They tend to have a superior flavour.
Offer a contrast of cheeses of different ages, that is, include cheeses that are creamily moist with a light flavour, such as Finn or St Felicien, with those that are dryer, well matured and have deeper flavours, such as Mimolette and Lincolnshire Poacher.
Think about colour. As well as all the classic honey-coloured cheeses, such as Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire and Keen's Cheddar, there are many naturally made cheeses with white bloomy rinds, such as Camembert, orange 'washed' rinds, such as Durrus, charcoal-dusted extremities, such as Valencay, and blue veins, such as Stilton and Dunsyre Blue. Aim to have a variety of colours on your cheeseboard.
Mix up shapes. Your cheeseboard will look more special if it contrasts different shapes, cylinders, wedges, rounds, squares, logs, pyramids, flat cheeses and tall cheeses. Aim to get some height into the line-up too.
Include at least one cheese, such as Livarot or Reblochon, which has a strong aroma. The nose stimulates our salivary glands as well as they eyes.
Lay on an array of tastes. Some cheeses are full-bodied, such as Mull cheddar, others pungent, such as Epoisses, while yet others are nutty and even slightly sweet, such as Berkswell and Tomme de Savoie. Select cheeses that are not too similar.
Don't forget texture. Go for a selection of cheeses that offer varied textures: crumbly, such as Grimbister, sticky, such as Brie de Meaux, smooth, such as Ossau Iraty, firm, such as Comté, and grainy, such as Pecorino.
Always include an unknown cheese, rather than just buying the same ones, to extend your cheese horizons.