To us here at Slate, cheese is as important a part of Christmas as mince pies and Christmas carols! Here are our top ten tips on choosing, storing and serving cheese this Christmas.
1. Fewer cheeses - bigger pieces
Don’t be tempted to crowd the board with a dozen different cheeses. Generous pieces of three or four excellent cheeses allow your guests to focus on each one and savour them. Sometimes one outstanding cheese is just enough.
2. Balance is the name of the game
You should aim to create a balance of flavours, textures, colours and shapes - something creamy and soft, something hard and mature, and something blue and crumbly.
3. How much cheese to serve
We would suggest working on the principle of 50g per person if the cheeseboard appears at the end of the meal, going up to 100g per person if the cheese is the centre-piece.
4. Put out only what you need
Although big pieces of cheese look impressive, to keep your cheese at its best throughout the festive season, only put out as much as you need each time.
5. Warming up
Take your cheese out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it to bring it up to room temperature. However, keep it wrapped until the last minute to prevent it drying out. Warming them allows the cheeses to wake up, their flavours to unfold and their aromas to strengthen.
6. What else do you need?
After a big Christmas or New Year feast you may not need lots of biscuits and crackers but if you can’t do without them we recommend an authentic Scottish oatcake to go with blue cheese and a light cracker such as Peter's Yard Sourdough Crispbread to go with soft cheeses.
7. Fruit and other cheese companions
Grapes or sliced apple give a refreshing contrast in texture and flavour to cheese, and they are a great palette cleanser between different cheeses. Nuts also provide a good contrast in texture.
Blue cheeses benefit from a hint of sweetness which may come from a sweet chutney or a fruit cheese such as Eastgate Larder's Medlar Fruit Cheese.
Remember not to overcrowd the board 'though - one chutney or preserve and one type of cracker is often enough. Less is more!
8. What to drink
Port is perhaps the traditional choice at Christmas but it is not the only option. Remember different styles of port will work better with different types of cheese. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a classic Christmas choice, while a tawny port with its spicy aromas is good with a tangy blue cheese.
Fortified wines like Madeira and sweet Oloroso Sherry, or dessert wines like Sauternes, are also a good choice.
If you don’t fancy something sweet, a light red wine is a great all-rounder, as is a heavy white wine. They will both give good flavour and body without dominating the palate.
9. Caring for your cheese.
Your cheese is best kept wrapped in wax or greaseproof paper in which it can breathe. Clingfilm is a no no as your cheese with sweat horribly inside it.
10. Where to store it.
Keep your cheese in the salad drawer of your fridge, but if your fridge is full to bursting with turkey and champagne, another cool place like a garage or cellar will be fine.
Slate’s recommended Christmas Cheeseboard
- A fabulous blue cheese such as Cropwell Bishop Stilton.
- A strong, mature cheddar like Montgomery's.
- A fresh goats cheese like Sinodun Hill - its bold cylindrical shape looks striking on the board.
- A good brie or Camembert - we’d choose locally produced Baron Bigod.