Here are some things you’ll want to consider when creating a cheese board: flavor, texture, aroma, color, and source.

A typical cheese board will contain three cheeses and a sprig or two of seedless grapes. When selecting your cheese, you’ll want to make sure that you vary the criteria listed above to appeal to different tastes, and avoid redundancy.

Flavor: There are various flavors to choose from: slightly sweet, pungent, mild, and slightly bitter to name a few. Boursin tends to be sweet, while Roquefort is highly pungent, and cheddar can be mild or sharp. You can also get cheeses flavored with different additives, such as herbs, brandy, vegetable ash, and fruit. Sage Derby and Wenslydale with Cranberries come to mind. Choose three different flavor profiles for your board. If you are unsure how a cheese tastes, it’s better to purchase them before hand and try them at home. Or better yet, ask for a taste sample at the counter.

Texture: When we talk about texture we’re really talking about fat content. Cheeses with a high fat content are creamy, rich, and spreadable. Think Brie or Chèvre. Cheeses with a low fat content tend to be dry and crumbly. Think Parmesan. Cheddar has a medium fat content, as does Roquefort, Stilton, and Edam. Mix it up.

Aroma: This is kind of obvious. If you sever a “stinky” cheese, don’t serve more than one. Also, don’t confuse aroma with taste. They are two different things, and are sometimes not even in the same ballpark.

Color: This is just for aesthetic reasons only. Don’t server three all white or all yellow cheeses. Sage Derby has a wonderful green swirly kind of thing going on, as does many of the cheeses with Brandy added. Blue cheeses, of course, have the wonderful blue veins in them.

Source: I don’t only mean local in this instance, but it is great to mix that up as well. Serve one from France, one from Italy, and one from South America for instance. What I really mean from source is the animal. There are three common sources: cows, ewes, and goats. Each animal typically has a different flavor profile and fat content. Goat’s milk, of course, is the fattest and the most pungent. I’m sure somewhere out there in some specialty shop you’ll find yak’s milk cheese, but I can’t attest to what that might be like.

Serve cheese on a wooden cheese board if you have one, and provide a separate knife for each cheese. Cheeses should be served at room temperature, not cold.

Books I’ve read say to serve only a small garnish of grapes with the cheese board, but people like grapes, so I always put quite a bit. Plus, the astringent quality of the grapes helps cleans the palate between cheeses.

Serve only plain bread or crackers. Don’t serve flavored or herbed breads unless you are only serving one cheese that is mild or unflavored. For example, you can serve rosemary-flavored bread with a unflavored Brie or Chèvre. Never serve flavor-enhanced cheese and bread at the same time.


Some more cheese facts:

Stilton is considered the King of Cheeses, Roquefort is considered the Queen.

When choosing Brie, be sure it is soft (ripe), with the sides of the wedge oozing and melting.

Cheeses are usually cut into wedges from wheels. The best cheese is in the middle. That means you never start eating the cheese from the point of the wedge towards the outer rim. Always eat from the outer rim towards the point of the wedge. This way, each progressive bite gets better. You should also eat grapes in the same manner, too. The tenderest grapes are at the bottom, so always eat grapes from the top down.

The name for the blue cheese, Gorgonzola, means “gorgon-like”.


Cheeses to avoid:

Cheap cheeses like Kraft cheddar. Go with a gourmet white cheddar instead, or goat’s milk cheddar, or perhaps a Canadian or Irish cheddar, too.

Feta. It’s too crumbly and wet, even if you drain it well.

Parmesan. It’s too hard to cut. It basically crumbles all over the board.

Cream cheese.


Other serving ideas:

If you want to serve just one cheese try Brie with Roasted-Raspberry Chipotle sauce poured over the top, and served with standard water crackers. If you can’t get Brie, cream cheese works as well. This would be the only time you’d want to serve cream cheese to guests.

Also consider Brie with caramel sauce on top and whole-wheat crackers. Sounds weird, but it is good.


Links:

All About Cheese
The Artisanal Cheese Guide
Cheese and Wine Pairing Guide

A note about the picture above: Notice the knife. That is a cheese knife. If has holes in it to prevent sticking. It makes the cheese easier to cut. They also make little, tiny Brie knives that are only about 1/4" wide. This also helps to keep the knife from siticking to the cheese.

However, there are not three knives available for that board. Also, notice that the Brie is not ripe. The cheese should be oozing from the sides, like lovehandles on your daddy.

Tags: cheese, entertaining, food, serving ideas, wine

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Replies to This Discussion

I bet you do. I love cheese and wine. I'm avoiding wine too, as I've had GI probs, and I miss it.

...their beer connoisseur informed the trainees that the idea of wine bringing out the flavor of cheese/other foods and vice versa is nothing more than an old wives tale.

I disagree with him to an extent. Wines and other ingredients can bring out and enhance flavors of other foods. Most notably, salt enhances the flavor of food. Wines can go well or poorly with other foods. If they go poorly, you'll know it. Some flavor/food combinations just don't work together.

For example, a full-bodied Burgundy won't go well with Asian food. The perfect choice for Asian food is a Gewurtzraminer. Other combos made for each other: chocolate/coffee, cinnamon/sugar, avocado/lime, just to name a few.
Real Parmesan is great. I eat it all the time. At the restaurant I used to work at we'd put Parmesan out on a cheese board, sometimes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, if I remember correctly. It tasted good, but what I hated about it was that it was so crumbly, and it made a mess of the presentation area. That is what I hated about it. I know that that is the nature of the cheese, but I always had to keep the presentations cleaned up, and I hated it. ;)
Well, kind of depends on the situation. At the restaurant I was, but at home I'l stand over the sink eating a big, juicy, sweet peach with the juices running down my arm and chin, and it doesn't bother me at all. That is part of the peachy experience. :) Yummy.
And I have to disagree vis-a-vis the feta! As long as it is real, Greek feta - that thing they produce in Denmark or other northern countries and brand 'Feta', has little in common with real feta, except the color.

Roquefort is considered the King of Cheeses in France, where Stilton is virtually unknown.

A couple cheese quotes -

"A dinner without cheese is like a pretty woman who lacks an eye" - Brillat-Savarin

"How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?" - Charles de Gaulle
I also love Feta, and I'll use it on salads and soups. I mentioned not to use it here because I don't like the way it makes such a mess on a cheese board. IMO, it is just unattractive. Better to use it on a canapé or something.

It does not surprise me that a French cheese is considered the King of Cheese in France, but it does seem odd that Stilton is unknown, especially since England is so close to you.

Jaume, have you ever eaten horse meat? What is it like?
Well, French people who ever get a chance to eat Stilton usually love it, but having Stilton served in restaurants is still very uncommon IME. In the same vein, there are some great French cheeses which are virtually unheard of in large areas of France.

Although I'm a quasi-vegetarian, yes, I've tried horse and even raw horse (as well as ostrich, kangaroo, bison, and a few other unusual meats). It tastes lighter and finer than beef.
"...where Stilton is virtually unknown"

WHAT? How in the world can Stilton be unknown in France? Blue Stilton is my favourite cheese. Melted on toast with a slice of tomato is Shangri-La.

another cheese quote:

"People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime."
-Harvey Day
That sounds delicious.
That's a great quote, and such estimates of people apply all across the field of human experiences and activities, such as politics, philosophy, etc., and not just food.
Manchego with a Rioja
Ahh, yes. I lovez me some Manchego.
Here in Catalonia Manchego is often served with quince pudding. Seems weird at first, and sweet once you've tried it.

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