One of the best things about the holiday season is the festive and fun holiday parties (OK so we mean the party food). Bite-sized decadence’s, cookies, 7-layer dips…. everyone has their holiday favourite, but at the top of that list sits the Mighty Cheese Board!
Tried and true, the cheese board has an infinite number of combinations – sweet, salty, funky, rich, creamy and crunchy! Stuck on where to start? We’ve consulted cheese monger and professional of divine dairy, Christine Patton of Fromage in Orangeville, Ontario for her expert tips on how to assemble a jaw-dropping cheese (and charcuterie) board that will have your friends drooling before you can say “Appenzeller”!
For many, walking into a cheese shop is a bit like a kid stumbling into a candy store. Any cheese store worth its salt will encourage tasting before buying; this is a great way to learn about the subtleties of cheese. Take your time, and have fun!
Odds vs. Evens
Choose an odd number of cheeses for your platter, and budget for 1 -2 ounces of each cheese per person (your cheese monger, Fromage included, will be able to determine how much you’ll need). Our eye is naturally drawn to things that are evenly distributed, but not necessarily symmetrical; using 5 types of cheese draws the focus away from one particular type of cheese.
Variety is the Spice of Life
When choosing cheese, go for a mix of milk types: goat, cow, sheep, even water buffalo! Switch up textures by offering different styles of cheese; Christine recommends having at least 3 of the 5 styles of cheese below for a crowd-pleasing platter:
- Bloomy Rind (Brie, Camembert, Grey Owl)
- Firm (Manchego, Beemster, Gouda)
- Alpine-style, or Mountain-style – cheese made with milk from mountain pastured animals, yielding a big, rich, complex flavor (Gruyere, Appenzeller, Abondance, Emmental)
- Cheddar (Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar, Glenphilley Whiskey Cheddar, Chevre Noir)
- Blue (Dragons Breath, Celtic Blue, Roquefort)
The serving temperature of cheese is key (like wine). Best practice is to take cheese out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to serving, but 60 minutes is ideal. This allows the cheese to breathe, and for flavours to really develop; room-temperature cheese is also much easier for your guests to dig into!
Cheese is the star of the show, but every Britney needs backup dancers! Here are some of our favourite ways to jazz up your cheese board.
When it comes to stocking your cheese board with crackers and breads, simple is better. Because cheese has such wonderfully complex flavours, it’s important not to overpower these with over-the-top spices and herbs. An exception to the rule is crackers or breads with dried fruits and seeds, as they offer great texture without distracting flavours. Simple Lavash-style crackers or crostini work really well, especially for softer, creamier cheeses like Bries and Blues. Assign one knife to each cheese to avoid muddying the flavours.
Fruit, Nuts and Pickles
Fresh fruit is a fantastic way to add colour and lightness to your cheese board; seedless grapes are a classic addition, but thinly sliced local apples and pears are also a delicious sweet contrast to savoury cheese (plus a great cracker alternative for gluten-free guests). A handful of nuts and seeds can highlight some of the nutty flavours in many cheeses as well – just be mindful of allergies! Pickled vegetables, including chutneys, are a fantastic way to complement the flavours and cut through some of the fattiness of cheese; bread and butter pickles and pickled beans from Landman Gardens & Bakery are some of our go-to faves.
Charcuterie & Pates
If you’re serving a cheese board as the main event (and especially if you’ll be serving holiday libations), you might want to consider adding some charcuterie and/or pates for a more substantial spread. Salty cured meats like prosciutto di Parma, capocollo or spicy salami, along with creamy spreads like Chicken Liver Pate, Rillettes or Smoked Trout are fun and savoury special-occasion delicacies. If you’re feeling adventurous, Not Without Salt’s chicken liver mousse is a no-fail, affordable recipe to wow your guests. Ask for fresh or frozen chicken livers at some of Headwaters’ local farm stores or butcher shops, pick up some locally-made summer sausage to round out that souped-up cocktail hour board.
- Typically, aged cheeses are lower in lactose than fresh or unripe cheeses, and in many cases, those who experience lactose intolerance find Goat and Sheep milk cheeses easier to digest!
- Investing in a wooden cheese board is a great idea if you love entertaining, but some stores (like Fromage in Orangeville) offer board rentals if you don’t want to commit to storing your own.
- The most stolen food in the world is cheese.
- Stilton blue cheese is known to frequently cause odd, vivid dreams.
- The world produces more cheese than tobacco, tea, and cocoa combined!
- Gouda accounts for over half of the world’s cheese consumption.
By Emily Quinton, Headwaters Field Manger, Central Counties Tourism.