How to make your Christmas Cheese board a cracker!
You can't really go wrong with cheese. Even if you don't like blue, goat's or brie, there will always be enough cheese in the world to find something to your taste.
In the past, I was a cheesemonger for four years, so I have a pretty good knowledge of British and world cheeses. Here are a few top tips and ways to make your festive cheeseboard the best it can be this season.
Fancy cheese boxes you can buy online – or just use a Sistema or Lock and Lock boxes too!
Sounds funny that the first tip is about keeping cheese away? Well, it's very important to store your cheese correctly in the fridge. Cheese is usually matured between 10 or 12 degrees Celsius (50.0 - 55.0 °F), so the enzymes and natural bacteria can get to work. But even after cutting and using your cheese, you should use a container to keep it safe – safe from other foods and to keep the smell away too. You really don't want that brandy cream to taste of stinky French brie now, do you...?
A good brand click box will do. Use either a thin cloth or paper towel in the bottom to catch the moisture in the box, and change once a week. The moisture in the box will also help the cheese to not dry out – meaning cheese for longer.
Not the fruit, we will talk about those in a moment. I'm talking about sell-by and use-by dates. It's a fine line to walk with consuming foods before they go off, but cheese is one of those foods which supermarkets are naughty with. Supermarkets will wrap and freeze cheese for Christmas 2019 as early as January 2019, yet they will tell you to eat it as quickly as possible. Try to buy your cheese from a deli or farm shop as they will not freeze any of it. Support your local, no matter where you are in the world!
Cheese can last much longer than the 'consume within 3 days of opening' date. With a good, clean cheese box, it can last weeks after the use-by date. Use a clean knife for cutting the cheese, and only cut off as much as you think you need.
Now we can talk about fruits, nuts, crackers, breads and booze.
Pairings for cheese are as important as your cheese selection, from making sure you have a balance of flavours, down to avoiding allergies.
Some good pairings for starters are:
Honey and soft goat's cheese
Figs and soft sheep cheese
Apples and Cheddar
Walnuts and Gouda... the list goes on.
You can find so many chutneys, preserves and crackers to suit all tastes and cheese pairings, so always see what they suggest on the packaging. Good brands should always tell you what goes best... but this is also a chance to go wild and try some interesting combos.
Gorgonzola and honey with a chilli cracker, works a treat.
You can always find gluten-free crackers and breads in shops to cater for coeliacs. Some chutneys you have to be careful with, as some contain malt vinegar or other allergens such as garlic, mustard or tomatoes, which some people can't digest. Making sure those with weak immune systems, young children and pregnant women are safe too is very important.
Some cheeses are protected by a 'PDO' or a traditional standard, meaning they will be made to a certain recipe that might have animal rennet or raw milk in. A lot of European cheese will contain both of those, so be wary if you're vegetarian for the rennet. Soft cheese is a definite no-no for those having a baby, as brie carries bacteria in the soft white rind on the outside. If it's cooked it might be okay, but it's sensible to avoid anyway.
A cheeseboard at home...
The number one rule of buying cheese for your home – even if you are hosting a party – is buy what you can use after. Buy cheese you use to make lunches, dinners and snacks with. If you don't like blue cheese, you don't have to get it because your Aunt Susan like it – just ask her to bring some of her favourite to share.
Cheddar, hard cheeses and soft cheeses are really easy to use in cooking, such as a Mac-n-Cheese, pasta bakes, or homemade pizzas. Goat's cheese is amazing in salads, and with a bit of balsamic, you made that green stuff taste top dollar... especially when on that Post-Xmas diet.
Blue cheese is great in soups, even using the rind in there too. It gives it thickness and depth that you can't get from cornflour. The internet is over-flowing with recipes for you to try, so never feel like you have bought that small cheese shop worth of dairy for nothing.
If you are struggling to find a good local deli or cheese shop, here is a list of online UK retailers which can help you out (sorry rest-of-the-world, but good luck to you), and a link to 100 cheese recipes too!