You Are What You Eat: Cheeseboards
Cheese boards are like the grown-up version of a pick-and-mix candy stand. They’re versatile, aesthetically pleasing, and, of course, utterly delicious. But more than that, they’re about taking a moment for yourself—to relax, unwind, and enjoy the finer things in life.
At the heart of every great cheese board is, of course, great cheese. And what better way to support local businesses, celebrate our dairy heritage, and be eco-conscious than by using Irish cheeses? With over 50 artisan cheese makers dotted throughout the country, there’s no shortage of delicious options to choose from. So, whether you’re on a staycation or just out and about, make sure to grab some local cheese for your next cheese board extravaganza.
But when is the best time to serve a cheese board? In France, cheese isn’t typically served as an appetizer, but rather at an apéro (or apéritif)—a casual social gathering where drinks and snacks are served. In fact, the French enjoy cheese in moderation, savoring the quality over quantity. Eating a little bit of high-quality cheese after your main meal will allow you to feel more satisfied, resulting in eating less cheese overall.
That being said, I’m a firm believer in dessert first, cheese second. Why not relax, kick off your shoes, and prepare for a long, leisurely meal with good company, good wine, and good cheese? After all, who says you can’t enjoy dessert and cheese together?
Now, onto the most important part: creating the perfect cheese board. To start, choose a decent-sized board that will comfortably hold all of your cheeses and leave room for some decorative touches. A cheese board adds a certain air of occasion to any meal, so take the time to make it look beautiful. Use fresh fruit like grapes, whole or halved figs, and fresh green foliage for decoration. For a rustic touch, the Spanish love to pair dried fruit and nuts with cheese. Semi-dried apricots and dried apple or pear pieces are excellent options.
Now, onto cheese board etiquette. We must start with the cardinal rule: never, ever cut off the “nose” of a wedge of cheese. Instead, cut wedges as neatly as possible down the side to maintain their original shape and ensure they are presentable for the next person. For soft or semi-soft cheeses, take little wedges or slivers from the whole.
But our cheese etiquette doesn’t stop there. All cheeses should be removed from the fridge at least an hour before serving to reach their optimum temperature for maximum flavor and aroma. When you set out your cheeses on the board, cover them with a damp towel and allow them to sit for an hour. The two things that matter most for cheese are temperature and humidity. Nothing is worse than cold cheese – cold fat molecules retract, keeping most of the flavor locked away and preventing your guests from enjoying the cheeses you have selected to their fullest potential.
Now, let’s talk about arranging your cheese board. Start with the mildest cheese and arrange them clockwise, working your way up to the strongest flavor. French dining etiquette dictates that a platter of cheese should be passed around to each guest. Each guest slices off the amount of cheese they’d like to eat. However, this isn’t always practical, and sometimes the cheese platter is placed in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. Remember that there should never be more cheeses than there are guests.
Crackers, bread, or panforte are a must-have for any cheese board. Water crackers are the plain option, but you can also add something oatie, digestive, rye, wheat, crisp, or crunchy for texture and flavor. Some people say that a hunk of crusty bread is the best thing to serve with cheese, but never spread the cheese on the bread or smear it on. And don’t even consider making a cheese sandwich! Panforte, a sweet Italian bread cake, is also an excellent option.
Now, let’s talk about condiments and dressing. Cornichons, quince paste, chutney and relish, grapes, figs, and dried dates are all excellent options to accompany your cheese board. However, some will say to avoid sugary pastes like quince paste as they can be filling on the stomach and dull the flavor.
When it comes to cutting the cheese, etiquette is crucial. Under no circumstance should you leave a messy board for the next person. It should look as beautiful as the first time at all occasions. In that instance, different knives are suggested for each of the different cheeses – cheese cutter, cheese slicer, cheese plane, and others. The essence of using different types of cheese knives is all about keeping the cheese in its original and presentable shape after cutting. There are about nine different styles of cheese knives, including the cheese knife with holes. The cheese knife is super sharp and cuts through even the firmest blocks of cheese like butter, and it has large perforations along the metal so that cheese doesn’t stick to the blade. The cut cheese simply falls right off. A cheese slice is also recommended for harder cheeses.
Finally, what should you do with leftovers and excess cheese? Wrap the cheese in baking paper first, then loosely wrap it in clingfilm and put it in a container in the fridge. Don’t wrap it too closely in clingfilm, or it will get sweaty. Alternatively, use it to make a delicious toastie. With these tips, you’ll be able to master the art of cheese board etiquette and impress your guests with a stunning display of cheese and accompaniments.