As a French girl happily living overseas there are still a few things that I miss about home. Food is one of them and most specifically cheese. I LOVE cheese! Now sweets, cake and ice-cream I could live without. But beautiful, pungent, creamy cheese I simply can’t resist. A lot of people feel intimidated by French cheese, probably because of its strong smell, but it truly is the best! (says the French girl).
A few weeks ago, I organized a little ‘French Fete’ at work for my departure. For the occasion, I visited my cheese-monger friend Amandine at ‘C’est Fromage’ in Auckland, for some advice on how to create the perfect cheese board. When it comes to French cheese, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable or more passionate about her products than Amandine. She always makes me try a million cheeses and each time I walk out of her shop, I feel like I’ve just taken a little trip to France!
Here are 5 easy tips to create your own beautiful cheese board and bring a little bit of Paris into your home.
♥ The Platter
Choose a platter big enough to fit all your cheese. Wooden boards are perfect because they make for easy cutting and look naturally pretty. Another great option is asking your cheese-monger for one of their wooden cheese wheels to use as a plate for your cheeses (which is what I did for the actual party, as pictured below).
♥ The Cheeses
When creating a cheese board Amandine recommends offering your guests 3 to 5 types of cheeses so that they experience a wide array of flavor and textures. I also think it’s always good to include at least one familiar cheese, as well as a more ‘unique’ cheese to tickle people’s curiosity.
50g of cheese per person should be plenty.
Start with a soft ripened cheese such as a Camembert or Brie. For our work platter I opted for a Brie from the Meaux region. Made from cow’s milk it is a rich and oh-so-creamy cheese with a slight nutty flavor. It’s also a very safe choice as most people love Brie.
For your second cheese, I recommend going for a fresh or soft ripened Goat’s cheese. I chose a Cabichou from the Poitou-Charentes region. It has a firm texture with a crinkled natural rind, but it still melts in your mouth.
To vary your textures go for a pressed cheese (hard cheese) next such as Cantal or Gruyere de Comte. These are also crowd pleasers – with a mild, sweet flavor. Upon Amandine’s recommendations I ended up choosing an Ossau-Iraty, a delicious Basque cheese made of sheep’s (ewe’s) milk.
Now for your adventurous choice. Washed rind cheeses can be a little bit scary because well, they often stink! This is because of the process in which their skin is washed with alcohol or salty brine over time. They are really delicious though and I love seeing people’s face go from ‘terrified’ to ‘pleasantly surprised’ or ‘downright in love’ when they eventually try a slice. My favorite is Epoisses but the ‘Petit Livarot’ that we chose from Normandy (also called the ‘Colonel’ because of its 5 stripes) was equally beautiful.
Finally, no platter would be complete without a blue cheese such as a Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne. I went for a St Agur which is also from the Auvergne region but is slightly milder than its counterparts.
Most French people do not serve many sides with their cheeses, apart from the sacred baguette and maybe some grapes. However, I have come to really enjoy pairing cheeses with difference sides and I’m always discovering new winning combinations (my French grand-father would be so disappointed in me -).
I generally serve my platters with nuts (almonds, walnuts), fresh or dried fruits (grapes, pears, dried apricots or figs), and a side of honey, jam or fruit paste (quince being my favorite).
I also like to include two or three cheese knives so that everyone can dig in at once.
♥ Temperature matters!
Make sure that you take your cheeses out of the fridge at least half an hour before serving. The cold neutralises the taste and will ruin the creaminess of your soft cheeses (you want them oozing and spreading onto your board as you cut into them).
♥ Know your cheeses
My final advice would be to know the names and characteristics of the cheeses you are offering. You could easily whip up some toothpicks labels but I think there’s something really nice about personally introducing each cheese to your guests.
You could also aim to pair each cheese with a particular wine but I think that’s really something for another post….