Christmas cheeseboard planning is one of my favourite times of year. As a cheese specialist, my family and friends are in equal measures terrified to purchase cheese for me in case they ‘get it wrong’ and relieved that they are in safe hands knowing they will get a great selection of top quality cheeses. This selection will include, alongside some of the rarest, seasonal, micro production cheeses, a sprinkling of silliness in the form of a comically oversized Babybel or a wax-coated cheese in the shape of a Christmas tree for good measure. I am always happy to do the cheese shop. How can I not be happy as this involves going to a cheese shop and tasting many a cheese sample and having a lovely time talking to cheesemongers about what is tasting great.
The Christmas cheeseboard shop is arguably the biggest responsibility for Christmas. This is the sustenance that will provide just enough energy for guests to get up and grab another Bailey’s. It’s the fuel for the day’s long extended grazing, pre– and post– Turkey and perhaps even during if one is feeling particularly frivolous.
I adore customers coming to me when I am working at a cheese shop, excited to choose their Christmas cheeses. “I’m in charge of the cheeseboard this year” they proclaim with a huge smile beaming across their face. Now, not everyone given this gargantuan responsibility responds so well. About ten percent of these interactions are customers who come in sans beaming smile and, in its place, the fear of God in their eyes. “I’m in charge of the cheeseboard this year, please help me, I only eat laughing cow and grated parmesan on my pizza”. I usually recommend a set selection for these poor souls so not to confuse them and this can also be replicated for the “I’m in a hurry” customer who just wants a selection chosen for them.
There are several loose rules around creating cheeseboards and I tend to break them all because I want a ridiculous amount of different cheeses and I prefer some styles more than others.
The loose rules are as follows:
Choose an odd number of cheeses. Three, five or seven work well. I am fortunate to be exposed to many cheeses and I struggle to make decisions ruling any out as I don’t want them to feel left out, so my board usually consists of 10+.
A good selection of styles allows for good variety and something for everyone. This is true. However, I am a huge fan of soft cheeses with Bloomy Rinds so I will frequently have Camembert de Normandie AND Brie de Meaux AND Tunworth AND Wigmore AND Brillat Savarin. There is no “or” here, only “and”. I am not wholly selfish when it comes to the selection so I will still cover all categories from Goat Cheese to Blue Cheese but there is usually a very heavily weighted selection of soft cheeses on my board.
Make sure to include a soft, a hard and a blue. This is the traditional cheeseboard trifecta, covering three very solid, classic styles and flavour profiles of cheese. Does everyone like blue? No they do not. Should you still put it on there if no one in your group likes blue? Absolutely not. Choose cheeses you and the group like!
I will most certainly be choosing far too many cheeses, like normal, however I will be buying smaller portions this year to save some money, to avoid wastage and to make sure that I am eating my cheeses at their peak. I am sure I will get a call from my bank to ask if I am okay and why there aren’t such high purchases from cheese shops on my statement this year.
There is a section in the back of my book which gives you some ready-made selection ideas to copy and paste if you are the “I’m in a hurry” or “help me” customer. However here is another, exclusive to you Happy Foodies, which covers a cheese from each chapter of The Cheese Wheel.
The Cheese Wheel Cheeseboard
From the book
This is a soft cheese marinated in rapeseed oil with thyme, garlic, and peppercorns. It is certainly not a traditional cheeseboard cheese, but every good cheese deserves to be on a cheeseboard. Leave this in the jar or decant it into a ramekin for a visual point of difference on your board.
Camembert de Normandie AOP
You cannot go wrong with a Camembert de Normandie AOP – a cheese which gives the creamy, buttery, mushroomy texture and flavour we all crave in colder weather. Not only this but it also housetrained, arriving in its own box, avoiding gooey spillages, and keeping itself contained for minimal wastage.
Mont D’or AOP
My Christmas board is never missing a Mont D’Or from France. There are versions and imitations from other countries, but this is my favourite. If you can find the cheeses made by the producer Sancey-Richard you are really in for a treat. You will find fabulous depth of flavour whilst maintaining vibrancy and, if you don’t get round to eating it on Christmas day, it makes for a great baker which you can spoon over your leftover veg. Mont D’Or + Bubble and Squeak, you heard it here first.
“There’s no Cheddar in this mix!” I hear you cry. Correct, I have opted for a different British cheese in its stead. I also know that 102% of you will still have a Cheddar on your board so it doesn’t need the airtime right now. Lancashire, is a crumbly cheese we call a Territorial, which you can learn about more in my book in the Semi-hard section. Kirkham’s Lancashire is a firm favourite for me. This cheese is the love child of butter and butter and its moreish, elevated acidity is something which I really crave after stuffing myself with Turkey and all the trimmings. It’s a great cheese to melt also and you can even try a small crumble with your Christmas cake or Pudding for a sweet and zingy combination.
Beaufort is my favourite of the Alpine cheeses. I always want it on my cheeseboard BUT I will always taste it first each Christmas to see if the flavour profile of sweet, nutty, savoury, herbal and cream matches my cravings. Fortunately it frequently delivers.
I always ask at cheese counters if I can taste both Stichelton and Stilton to decide on one for Christmas. I um and ah and then buy both EVERY time. Stichelton has a huge place in my heart and as a lover of raw milk cheeses which taste like sex incarnate, it will always have a place on my board.