Happy December. I’m not too keen on much of the fuss that comes with this time of year, but what I am keen on is any excuse to eat lots of food, cosy evenings cuddled by the fire, and catch ups with friends. All lend themselves perfectly to a cheese accompaniment. The plan for the blog this festive season is to bring you some of my favourite festive vegetarian recipes and I'm starting with my perfect cheese board.
There are few things more evocative of the holiday season than a beautifully presented cheese board enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. Cheese boards are easy to assemble requiring no real culinary skill. There are lots of rules and guidelines on how to put together the perfect cheese board; such as balancing your choice of cheese and accompaniments to achieve the perfect flavour balance and mix of textures. My best advice is simple; choose cheeses that you love and after that it's hard to go wrong.
I favour a mix of soft and hard cheese. I will always have a cheddar, a brie and a blue cheese. After that I add in something different each time; usually a recommendation from a cheese monger or a friend, or perhaps a cheese I've seen a lot of hype about online. Sometimes the additional cheese is a success and other times it's not so much.
If you know cheese, you will already know what you love. If you don't or perhaps just want to try something different, get advice from your local cheese monger or the person behind the cheese counter in your local supermarket. There are amazing Irish cheeses winning awards nationally and internationally, so keep an eye out on winners at the Great Taste Awards, Blas na hEireann and the Irish Quality Food Awards. Award winning cheeses are always a good place to start.
When serving, my only rule is to serve the cheese at room temperature, so remove it from the fridge about an hour before serving. Experiment with accompaniments. Try different fruits; I love plums with cheese. I also like grapes, but prefer to serve them frozen rather than at room temperature. I like rye crackers but crusty bagettes are a good alternative to crackers. Honey and nuts are delicious served with cheese. For special occasions, I buy cut comb as I adore a little spread on top of blue cheese. Almond, pecan and walnuts are all delicious with cheese. If you want something extra, caramelise your nuts in maple syrup before hand. There are amazing chutneys on the market, but I always find myself drawn to a fig or apple chutney. Remember, leftover chutney can be used in cheese toasties, another favourite for this time of year.
As I write this post, I'm becoming more convinced that my ideal Winter's afternoon would involve sitting by the fire chatting with my favourite people or immersed in a good book enjoying a cheese board and a glass of wine or a cup of coffee; I'm partial to a strong Americano with my cheese.
Which brings me on to the next matter I want to address and that is when to best enjoy a cheese board. I'm steadfast in my belief that eating a cheese board after a meal is not the optimum way to enjoy cheese. I'm usually too full to enjoy it properly and give it its dues. Rather I think the perfect way to enjoy a cheese board is as a meal in itself; preferably in the afternoon . I'm now also convinced that I am rather obsessed with eating cheese in the afternoon and I wonder how I ever did without cheese when I went 'almost' vegan a few years back.
I’d love to hear in the comments below what cheese and accompaniments you will be adding to your cheese board this Christmas. In the meantime, keep scrolling to see how my cheese board comes together this holiday season.
I've chosen four cheeses for this board: A full bodied 15 Fields Mature Cheddar, a handmade Irish farmhouse cheese, from Knockanore, County Waterford made by the Lonergan family and aged by Sheridans. Next up is a Mild French Brie from Franche-Comté, France. For a blue there is only one choice for me and that is a Cashel Blue, a creamy Irish farmhouse blue cheese, handmade by the Grubb family in Fethard, County Tipperary. My fourth cheese is a bit of an unusual one for a cheese plate; it's a firm and savoury Crua, from Coleraine Co, Derry and aged by Sheridans. This one was recommended to me as a vegetarian alternative to parmesan by Russell and Patrick of the GastroGays and it's on my shopping list since. Your cheese board should be served at room temperature so remove the cheeses from the fridge an hour before serving.
Set the cheese on your serving board, with your accompaniments around it. For accompaniments, I've chosen plums, frozen red grapes, almonds, cut comb in acacia honey and a fig & apple chutney. The cut comb will also have the very pleasing visual effect of dressing up any holiday spread.
For this board, I choose:
15 Fields Mature Cheddar, from Knockanore and aged by Sheridans
Cashel Blue, handmade by the Grubb family in Fethard, County Tipperary.
Mild French Brie from Franche-Comté, France
Crua, from Coleraine Co, Derry and aged by Sheridans.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Irish Made Multi Seed Rye Crackers made by Regale, West Cork
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Fig and Apple Chutney made by Follain, West Cork
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Cut Comb in Acacia Honey supplied by Mileeven Fine Foods, Kilkenny
Almonds, slices of plums and frozen red grapes.