Turns out, we only create one perfectly punchy platter a year. Here's the expert's guide to doing it right
The delights of the cheeseboard cannot be underestimated.
A gooey pale-gold Brie. A sharp, tangy Gruyère. Sweet fig chutneys, maybe some celery for a bit of veg …
Dreamy. But this time-honoured tradition seems to be losing its lure after a survey from cracker-makers Jacob's showed that a scandalous 65% of the British public prepare a cheesy spread just once a year or less.
But if you're only going to do something very, very occasionally, you have got to make it perfect. In that spirit, we consulted Alan Watson, manager of La Cave à Fromage speciality shop in Hove, Brighton, on how to do it properly. Here's his advice.
1. Limit your cheese
In a dinner party scenario, assuming you're not totally au fait on each person's cheese preference, play it safe. "I would say go for three or four cheeses that most people like, that aren't especially stinky or challenging, and then one or two wildcards," says Alan. "That way, you can have some fun without scaring everyone off. And don't put too many cheeses on the board or you'll lose your ability to taste anything properly. I would say no more than six."
2. Mix and match
With a good board, mixing it up is key. "You want to sample different styles of cheese," advises Alan. "One goats' cheese or Brie, one semi-hard like Comté or Manchego, one hard like a west country farmhouse Cheddar, one washed rind like Taleggio, and a blue."
3. Add the extras
A board is not just cheese alone, of course. "A Frenchman once told me that it should be served with grapes in the summer and pears in the winter," recalls Alan. "I like a little quince paste or baked figs with mine – a little sweetness to cut through the fat. And some Swedish-style crisp breads that have good texture but very little flavour, so they don't fight with the cheese."
4. Bring the flavours out
Don't forget that just like a party, cheese needs a little time to warm up. "At least an hour out of the fridge will bring your cheese to room temperature, which is how you get the most flavours and aromas out of it," says Alan. "But longer, if you can, is better."
5. Match with a wine
But cast aside all ideas of matching your cheese with a dark, deep red wine. "Don't go too heavy with your vino," warns Alan. "Or it will wipe out the cheese on your palette. A light bottle like pinot noir is a good idea. Crisp whites go well with Brie or goats' cheese, and something sweeter like port works well with blue."