I am definitely feeling the autumn blues this week. The leaves are changing colour, the days are getting shorter, and I am fighting the strong urge to crawl into bed and hibernate for three to four months. It isn’t even truly cold yet, but I as I write this blog, I am sitting on top of the heater with my uggs on.
That’s why today’s post is on something to warm the spirit – cheese. The most holey of foods (see what I did there?). I love cheese in all its forms. Its creamy comfort is second only to chocolate (and I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of that over the last few weeks!).
Putting together a sophisticated and complex cheese platter can seem daunting, but it really needn’t be. As with wine, all it takes to be a cheese connoisseur is to learn about and try different varieties until you have a good understanding of what you love. Each time you try a cheese that you enjoy, make a note of the name and variety. I discovered my very favourite cheese of all time (Buche d’Affinois) completely by accident in a bar, and I wouldn’t leave until the poor waitress had written down the name for me.
Anyway, to put together the perfect cheese platter, all you need is three cheeses (it’s good to pick three that are not too similar to each other), and a selection of complimentary nibbles (and crackers, unless you’re a heathen like me and eat off the knife). There are countless types of cheese out there, and they can be classified in many ways: by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep, etc), the consistency (hard, soft), the rind (washed rind, mold, wax, etc) or whether the cheese is blue or not.
A good selection might include a soft cheese such as a French brie, a hard cheese like a cheddar or a Swiss cheese (such as Emmental), and a blue cheese like a Roquefort (which is a medium-consistency French sheep’s milk cheese). Other options could include parmigiano-reggiano (a popular hard Italian cheese), feta (a soft, white, salty Greek cheese), semi-soft gouda (from the Netherlands) or havarti (from Denmark) or soft, stringy mozarella (from Italy). As you become more familiar with different cheeses, you can experiment with different flavours and strengths. Many popular cheeses can also be made in ‘unusual’ ways too – a goats-milk feta, for instance, or a blue brie. When choosing which cheese to buy, price is often an indication of quality – generally, the more you spend, the better the cheese (although this doesn’t guarantee that you will like it, of course).
As for the accompaniments (and I’m just talking food here – wine is a whole different can of worms), there are a wide range to choose from. Fruits such as melon, grapes and berries are popular, as are olives, anchovies, dips and jams. Bread, of course, is a must. As you experiment, you will find that some cheeses go amazingly well with certain accompaniments – brie with honey, for example, or thin apple slices, is pure heaven. Some cheeses even have traditional accompaniments that go with them – Ossau-Iraty is a hard sheep-milk cheese from the Basque region that is traditionally served with a sour cherry jam. As with the cheeses, just go with what you like – if you like it, then there’s a good chance that everyone else will too!
One thing that is very very important with cheeses is to not serve them cold from the fridge. Cheeses need time to acclimatise in order to have their best and fullest flavour, so make sure to set them out on the bench (covered) a couple of hours before they are needed.
Above all, have fun with your cheese platter, and don’t be afraid to go for fancy cheeses and unusual combinations – people will be impressed. And for those of you who are feeling particularly adventurous, why not try a nice Époisses de Bourgogne – the quintessential ‘stinky’ French cheese that was Napoleon’s favourite, and has been called the King of Cheeses. Your house will smell enchantingly of cheese for days!