Ah, the art of the cheese board. Like any art form, the process starts with a good understanding of balance and composition.
When it comes to cheese, there are a few things to keep in mind: balance in flavour (strong and sharp to mild and nutty), diversity in texture (soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard), quality of colouration and scent – an indication of age and environment, and milk (goat, sheep, cow, buffalo).
For your benefit and ease, we’ve gone straight to our close friends (who happen to be experts in the field) for their suggestions, tips and tricks for assembling a seasonal cheese spread full of compelling, new and unexpected notes. Meg Gifford and Courtney Dhaliwal are the owners of the independent specialty cheese shop aptly called The Cheesemongers at 839 Corydon Ave. in Winnipeg. They source unique cheeses from across Canada, the U.S and Europe – bringing a whole new world of flavour and knowledge to our home base.
1. Roquefort Papillon Noir
Sheep – France
Roquefort Papillon Noir cheese is characterized initially by its white paste and the generous streaks of intense blue in its broad and numerous cavities. In the mouth, its rich and flexible texture develop a delicious fondant, accompanied by a creamy, balanced and lingering taste of fresh cream and piquant blue. Made by the aristocracy of Roquefort Producers, only the milk of specially bred sheep is used, then ripened in limestone caverns.
2. Fine Cheese Company Goat Cheddar
Goat – Dorset, England
A mellow and nutty tasting Cheddar, hand-made from goats’ milk in Dorset, and matured for around six months. This one is less forceful in flavour than our English Farmhouse Cheddar – the goats’ milk creates a more delicate, subtle sweetness. The outer cheese is covered in a black wax which hides the delicious goat cheddar under the wax.
Cow – France
This cheese is only produced during the winter and spring months. After being taken out of the molds the wheels are encased with a strip of spruce before being aged on a spruce board. They are turned and rubbed with a cloth soaked in brine, which results in each cheese developing a distinctive and pleasing spruce aroma.
The pleasant scent of the spruce band in which it is encased permeates the cheese and also helps maintain its shape. It should not be removed, rather it is easier to cut a “lid” in the top of the cheese and spoon out its liquidy center. It can also be spread on bread or potatoes.
Goat – France
Montrachet is made by a sole producer located in Saint-Gengoux-le-National, a tiny town about an hour north of Mâcon, in Burgundy – it is a semi-firm, unpasteurized goat cheese shaped like a squat little barrel. The chestnut leaf keeps it moist and adds a slight note of earthiness. This cheese is tied with a strip of raffia, that when unwrapped, reveals a crinkly rind dotted with blue mold that contrasts nicely with a pale, fluffy, natural rind.
The flavor is a little heady at first, then mellows out to sweet, tangy, slightly salty and milky notes. Overall it is a relatively mild cheese, but at the same time offers a richness and a long, satisfying finish. The texture is quite dense and clay like. It is a delicious cheese that packs a lot of flavour into a nice little package.
5. Wild Garlic Yarg
Cow – Cornwall, England
Wild Garlic Yarg is a young, semi- firm textured cheese with a slightly crumbly, melt in the mouth texture, not dissimilar to a young Caerphilly. This handmade cheese is made from the rich, creamy milk of their own and their neighbours’ herd of cows and made using a recipe similar to that of Cornish Yarg. This young cheese is hand-wrapped in strips of fresh wild garlic, harvested freshly from the surrounding woodlands, that impart a very subtle hint of garlic on the finish. This cheese undergoes a slightly longer maturation than the original Yarg, due to the well-known medicinal and anti-bacterial properties of garlic, which also help prevent the pace of natural mould development. The resulting cheese is rich and creamy, with a restrained hit of garlic on the finish.
6. Saint Marcellin (pictured below)
Cow – France
Production of St. Marcellin dates back to the 15th century when Louis XI popularized this small and delicious cheese. Tradition has it that, as Dauphin (Prince in waiting and Lord of the Dauphine region), he became separated from his hunting party and was confronted by a hungry bear. Fortuntely, he was rescued by some local woodsmen who fed him some of their local cheese.
Today, St. Marcellin is produced by 12 local creameries and 12 farms.
St. Marcellin is a gentle, mild and when young, St. Marcellin has a soft, dense, creamy texture and slight mushroomy aroma. Due to the fragile and tender nature of the cheeses, they are packed in a small terracotta pot to protect them.
Understanding Families of Cheese:
Fresh, Bloomy Rind, Washed Rind, Uncooked/Pressed , Cooked/Pressed, Stretched Curd/Pasta Filata, Blue. Within these families, you can further classify cheese as being, Process/Flavoured, Farmstead or Organic.
When planning to serve cheese, we typically plan:
• 2oz/per person (when you have lots of other food and it’s a casual party, or as an appetizer)
• 3oz/per person (when cheese is the main food being served, but it is not a meal…ie a cocktail party)
• 4oz/per person (this is what we would serve for a proper cheese tasting or if you are planning to only have cheese at a gathering and there will be alcohol served)
Texture is very important – It’s a large part of the tasting experience and should be varied when building a cheese plate. Texture tells you a lot about the cheese; it can indicate age, make process and often acts as a quality indicator for the cheese. Texture is very deliberate on the part of the cheesemaker and it is a very important aspect of the sensory experience when enjoying a cheese.
Alongside the cheese, we love the traditional honeys and compotes, dried fruits and nuts, as well as fresh fruit-these are classics for a reason and they’ll always be in regular rotation on our boards. We’re also having fun experimenting with out of the box accompaniments; blood orange fennel chips, espresso jelly and miso-pickled daikon are a few of the accompaniments we can’t get enough of these days.
• Light unscented candles when serving cheese; they create a lovely ambiance, without interfering with the cheese (smell is a huge part of tasting)
• Use a separate knife for each cheese, or at the very east use a separate knife for each family of cheese (especially blues!)
• Vary the milk type, family and texture of your cheeses…this makes for a much more interesting experience and the characteristics of each cheese will stand out
• Have fun experimenting or trying out different accompaniments to the cheese; think of some of your favourite snacks or desserts and go from there. Many of them in small portions will make really interesting and unique accompaniments to the cheese.
• Always serve your cheese at room temperature. Set a reminder for yourself to pull cheese out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.
• Most people stick to what they know. We always suggest that people try at least one new cheese on every board they serve. Try and push yourself to consider cheeses that may seem a little intimidating. Choose one that has a really funky looking rind or a cheese that may be a little stinkier than you’re used to. Serve a smaller portion of these selections if you like, but always try and expand your repertoire! You’re bound to find some new favourites and wish you’d tried them sooner.
What is a Cheesemonger?
Your Cheesemonger is the liaison between you and the cheesemaker. There is never more than one degree of separation between us and the maker, which means we offer solid quality assurance and in depth knowledge of each cheese we carry. We connect you with the cheese you didn’t even know you needed. We do our best to listen to what you look for in a cheese and help you explore which varieties will make you happiest.
Setting The Scene:
Once the cheeses are selected, the rest can all easily fall into place. Set the mood for your gathering with darker dramatic tones to compliment the lighter tones of the cheeses, with the Black Mango Wood Serving Boards and Laguiole Cheese Knife Set. Include fresh elements such as sweet, jewel toned winter fruits like pomegranate and figs to add colour and interesting geometry.