I love cooking at Christmas time, it’s actually one of the times of year I feel I have more time to do it, and I set a little extra aside as I really enjoy it. If you’re not a big fan of cooking though it can bring on the fear.
No matter how good or bad a cook you are, everyone can excel at the annual Christmas cheese board, once you know what to pair together it’s basically a case of presentation.
I attended a Cheese and Chutney Pairing Masterclass at Baxters HQ with Masterchef contestant and Baxters Development Chef, Darren. Aside from stuffing our faces with cheese, I also picked up some good tips and pairing suggestions to share with you.
Tips For Creating The Perfect Cheese Board
1. Serve your cheese at room temperature
Take the cheese out of the fridge and bring it up to room temperature before you present it. If you serve it at too cool a temperature, you lose much of the flavour, and it also changes the texture.
2. Offer a good variety
The key to a good cheese board is to have lots of variety and make it appear plentiful. Have a minimum of three cheeses, but ideally four or five. Offer a selection of soft cheese (like Goats), a hard cheese, a blue cheese, and a brie. As it’s Christmas, splash out and head to one of the fantastic cheesemongers in Edinburgh and treat yourself to something nice.
3. Creative accompaniments
Be creative with your accompaniments, as well as offering a variety of crackers, here are just some of the other items you can serve with your cheese: figs, honey, hazelnuts, port wine or quince jelly, olives, toasted almonds, grapes, apple, celery, parma ham, dates, and tapenade.
Choosing the right chutney to go with your cheese is as important as the cheese itself. Don’t just settle for one jar, they keep a good while so you can afford to have a few jars. This adds to the number of combinations available to your guests and promotes that ‘tasting’ atmosphere. Chutney, believe it or not, actually cleanses your palate between cheeses. This ensures increased enjoyment of the cheese and the quantity you can eat (a good thing at this time of year!)
By all means have a couple of traditional choices, but also have one that’s a little more challenging, it creates conversation and a bit of excitement as everyone discovers whether they like it and what it does/doesn’t go well with.
Your cheese board will go down well if it has the visual wow factor. Choose a large board or slate (or both) on which to present your cheese board items. Allow everything space to breathe, don’t stack things on top of each other. Use ramekins to serve honey, olives, dates etc. You’ll need a knife for each cheese to stop any cross contamination of the cheese, and a spoon for each of your chutneys. Take your time and enjoy the process of assembling your cheese board.
6. The personal touch
Show a bit of passion for your cheese board by letting your guests know that you have been trying some new pairings, they will no doubt get enthusiastic about different combinations themselves and this creates a great ‘tasting’ atmosphere. The gingerbread combo below is a great one for this!
During our visit to Baxters HQ they served us a gorgeous cheeseboard with the following pairings. Every single one was delicious so go ahead and use them as inspiration for your board!
Whipped Goats Cheese – Caramelised Onion Chutney- Parma ham – Fig
Manchego – Tomato Chutney – Olives – Serrano
Strong Cheddar – Bramley Apple, Date and Stout Chutney – Toasted Hazelnuts
Brie – Pineapple, Coconut and Zesty Lime Chutney – Gingerbread
Stilton – Pickled Beetroot Tapenade
Baked Camembert – Alberts Victorian – Parmesan Straws
That’s my tips for creating the perfect cheese board this Christmas. So even if you can’t cook (or won’t cook!), you can still contribute to this year’s festive feast!