As the daylight hours begin to lengthen and my garden begins to show the first few tentative signs of new life, I start to daydream about what I’m going to grow this summer and how I want the garden to look. I should probably point out that my garden is a tiny south-facing courtyard, with the main priority being the BBQ and hammock. But every year I’m up for the challenge of what can I plant that might not die! Being a cook, l like a large variety of herbs and vegetables. Rarely do tomatoes make it as far as the kitchen table as they’re usually munched before I’ve got to the back door. Peas & beans usually get some space because I like them growing up a wigwam. Cherry tomatoes trail from hanging baskets all along the gutters whilst cucumbers creep up the house wall, loving the sunshine and the protection from the wind. An enormous passionflower runs along the length of the garden fence, screening the neighbours and fighting for space and light with honeysuckle, clematis and jasmine. Roses and night scented stock are spread amongst the lavender and an olive tree greets visitors at the garden gate.
Many an evening is spent out in the garden; suppers cooked, wine drunk and cups of tea precariously balanced on the wall beside the hammock. But for now the garden furniture remains securely wrapped up in a rainproof jacket, the containers hold only standing water and the garden fence sways precariously as another storm batters it.
So the garden must wait along with any thoughts of alfresco dining, as I’ve no inclination to spend more than half an hour out there. But the kitchen is the heart of my house and now that the marmalade is made and I’m bored of thinking up new ways to eat pheasant or how to make the most of the slow cooker. It’s fresh clean flavours that come to the forefront of my mind again. I’m the type of person that happily eats salad 12 months of the year and just now chicory, purple sprouting broccoli, pomegranate and rhubarb are my favourites.
I don’t have a sweet tooth, so other than a crumble you’ll usually be offered a cheese board here at number 12. Sometimes it’s to nibble on instead of canapés – after all who can resist a sliver of gorgonzola on a slice of pear – possibly as a starter of baked camembert and a pile of toasted sourdough or instead of pudding a chunk of cheddar or gooey Delice with some fruit and homemade biscuits. Occasionally the cheese board becomes the whole meal as I get totally carried away with a new supplier or simply because an old favourite has come back into season. Barncliffe Brie is back on the shelf today having been missing for several months.
All of which made me think; how do you create the perfect cheese board? And is there really anything that shouldn’t be on it? (*yes! Cheese with bits in it!)
Start with the Cheese:
This might seem a ridiculous thing to point out, but first of all have a think about what you’re serving through the evening and that will help you decide on how many types of cheese you’d like to go with. Old school thinkers will tell you there should be a hard cheese, a blue, a soft and at a push a quirky, seasonal or local variety.
Sometimes I just serve one cheese, something that just looks too perfect to cut down in size. It can be a bit of a gamble, some people just don’t like blue or goats cheese no matter how amazing you tell them it is. And do be careful about unpasteurized cheese if any of your guests are pregnant. But if it’s just personal preferences, more often than not they’ll give it a try and often be pleasantly surprised. On Christmas Eve we ate Stinking Bishop with truffle honey, a pairing I would never have thought of. Honestly I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! It was totally delicious and I’m not much of a fan of stinky cheese.
Once you’ve chosen your cheeses put them on the plate, even still wrapped in paper, I’m not being daft here but it will help you see how much room you have left to fill in with biscuits, fruit etc. And then it’s just down to personal likes. How many types of biscuits or bread you want to serve. Are you going to add fresh fruit or a fruit jelly? Have you got an amazing jar of truffle honey that really needs to play centre stage, or perhaps a bottle of homemade liquor with great legs? The best cheese boards have something for everyone. From different types of cheese to sweet and savoury snacks to crackers and cured meats, the best cheese boards leave no one behind.
Start with the board. Cheese boards are typically assembled on a slate or wooden tray, which may be square, rectangular, or round. But if you don’t already own one, don’t feel like you need to go out and buy one. You can also use a plate, a cutting board, or even a baking sheet. Any flat surface will work.
Select the cheeses. Try to include a variety of flavours and textures by selecting cheeses from different families.
Add some charcuterie…aka cured meats. Prosciutto, salami, chorizo, or mortadella are all good options.
Add some savoury. Think olives, pickles, roasted peppers, artichokes, tapenades, almonds, cashews, or spicy mustards.
Add some sweet. Seasonal and dried fruits, candied nuts, preserves, honey, chutney, or even chocolate.
Offer a variety of breads. Sliced baguette, bread sticks and a variety of crackers in different shapes, sizes, and flavours.
Finish it off with some garnishes. This is a great way to give your cheese board a seasonal touch. Use edible flowers, fresh herbs, or additional fruits to give your board the look and feel.
Offer a variety of savoury and sweet ingredients. The truth is everyone likes their cheese a little different. Some like it savoury, some like it sweet, and some like a combination of both. The best cheese boards have something for everyone.
Offer a variety of textures. Because eating is such a sensory experience, a variety of textures makes any cheese board more interesting. Consider ingredients with various textures such as creamy, crunchy, crumbly, gooey, and crisp.
Use cheese markers to label cheese so everyone knows what they’re getting.
Bring cheeses to room temperature before serving in order to bring out their true flavour.
Don’t forget the knives, spoons, toothpicks, etc.
And if it all seems just too much … pop in and see us, we’ll happily create it all for you! Sx