Earlier this week, Nick and I were talking about what makes a great cheeseboard. I'm pretty sure that most people will agree that it's not a couple of skinny little slices of cheddar and some dry oat cakes. Yet for some reason, that's what you seem to get when you order one in a bar. Even the finest London restaurants will serve up a disappointing cheeseboard and charge you a tenner for it. There's nothing worse than a shit cheeseboard.
So what is it that makes a cheeseboard great? And how do you create your own?
Obviously, a great cheeseboard needs great cheese. I'm happy to sit somewhere in the middle of quality and quantity. I don't want three cheeses that are all quite similar so I shy away from British cheeseboards when I see them on a menu. Instead, I want a brie, a blue and something cheddary or nutty. But that's not all! I want an extra cheese - a wildcard that sounds interesting. Something I've never heard of.
Make sure you've got different strengths of cheese - that way people get to choose what they like and don't like. I used to avoid the hell out of blue cheese, now you have to fight me for it (I fight hard), but I'll leave anything smoked to someone else. You can't make these kinds of choices if you've only got three cheeses.
I don't think you have to spend a fortune - cheese counters in most supermarkets are pretty great these days.
- Go for something soft, something hard, something blue and something you've heard of but never tried before.
- This is where paying the few pennies extra for the 'super tasty supermarket range' does pay off. Cheap cheddar is pretty terrible.
- People are really weird about goat's cheese. Yet they aren't weird about hilarious goat videos.
These have no place or purpose on your cheeseboard. Get them off immediately. Fill that space with more cheese.
We'll get to the crackers in a minute. I want bread as well as crackers. Some cheeses work well with crackers, some don't. Besides, who is going to turn down carbs? Crazy people. Crusty bread is always the best. It's one of life's happy little pleasures, don't deprive people of it. Oh, and you definitely need loads of butter.
Lots of them, please! All of the kinds. Look at the amount of cheese you have. Are there enough crackers for that amount of cheese? No? Then you need more crackers. (If someone could explain this little bit of maths to all bars and restaurants, I'd really appreciate it.) Buy one of those multi cracker boxes and let everyone choose. Then everyone is your friend.
As for oat cakes, that's a judgement call. I hate them, but I suspect I'm in a minority.
This is key, but often forgotten about. You need a bit of chutney, or some quince if you're feeling very posh. Cheese is often quite dry, bread is dry, crackers are dry, you need something else to nibble on. A spicey tomato chutney usually works really well.
Chances are you'll be drinking wine all evening anyway, so you don't really need to crack out a special bottle. If you have port, it's worth opening but there's really no need. Wondering what type of wines go with what cheeses? Follow our handy wine and cheese guide.
Anything I've missed? What makes the perfect cheeseboard for you? Have you had a perfect cheeseboard in a bar? Please tell me where, I'd like to go.