There are few things I enjoy more than cheese! The variety in cheese is astounding and it can bring you on a journey right from your own kitchen. France is undoubtedly the kingpin of cheese producing but many other nations are catching up. Ireland’s farmhouse cheese movement has produced some incredible dairy products in recent years. Similarly, in the US, Vermont has seen major developments in farmstead cheeses and is producing some to rival France.
So what is the best way to enjoy the wonderful cheeses of your local region? Simple – a cheeseboard. Whether enjoyed sipping a glass of wine on a sunny summer evening or a small taste after a meal, a cheeseboard allows you to contrast a variety of cheese and can tell you a lot about a region’s approach to food.
Generally, its nice to stick to an odd number on a cheeseboard – 1, 3, 5. A single wonderful cheese can be a delight when served in perfect condition. My husband would happily consume an entire wheel of ripe brie in one sitting! I’ve recently discovered the delights of a ball of burrata drizzled with olive oil and spread on grilled sourdough – heaven. It doesn’t have to be quantity, simply the best quality you can afford. One of the best cheese experiences I have had in the US was in Hen of the Wood in Burlington VT, where they served me two perfect local cheeses with housemade crackers and a simple rhubarb chutney. Nothing complicated, just showcasing their local producers.
So what are the cheeseboard essentials? I like a decent variety of cheese. Certainly at least one soft cheese – a brie style cheese. My husband won’t accept any substitute for a good, mature cheddar and this is usually english. I love a blue cheese but this can often polarize opinion so a milder blue such as cambazola might be helpful. For me, it has to be Cashel Blue or the sheeps milk variety, Crozier Blue. Last but certainly not least, I love goats cheese. In Ireland, I would choose Ardsallagh or St Tola – soft and creamy with a rich goat flavor. A selection of the above served with some simple cheese biscuits or crostini would suffice, but I love the flair you can give a cheeseboard with a few additions.
A local honey is absolutely delicous drizzled over blue cheese and I like to chop some fresh thyme to sprinkle on top. A jelly or preserve such as membrillo is very good with Spanish Manchego while a chutney or relish is also a fantastic addition. Dried fruit such dates are a particular favorite of mine with blue cheese while grapes are a ubiquitous addition. Lastly, a few nuts add a delicous crunch to balance out the creaminess.
As usual, my biggest advice is to find a good cheesemonger and get to know them intimately! Ask questions, taste a variety of products and explore. In Boston, Formaggio kitchen in both Cambridge and the South End is a world of cheese to explore and I am reliably informed that the Concord Cheese Shop is hard to beat. In Cork, its hard to find better than On The Pigs Back, in the English Market.
My last essential – a glass of your favorite wine! Whatever you choose, enjoy and have fun with it!