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Perfect Christmas Cheese board

December 16, 2014

Christmas Cheese board - My Custard PieIf you are thinking that you might not need cheese with the fully laden table which makes up the Christmas feast, you and I have nothing in common. A Christmas cheese board is always welcome as a palate reviver as a foil to the sweet course. It’s the perfect snacking centrepiece and can be moved onto the coffee table to provide post-charades sustenance, or put to work among the cold turkey and ham. While you might not be able to face another mince pie, a sliver of savoury Cheddar, a morsel of salty blue or a slather of tangy goat’s cheese is always welcome. And drinking without food is such a bad idea isn’t it?

How to make the perfect cheese board

1. Go large

Three or four large hunks of different cheeses make a much more impressive festive spread than dozens of little mean-looking pieces which can overwhelm the palate. It’s practical too – large pieces of cheese store better. One magnificent slab of Stilton is a beautiful thing.

2. Contrasts and variety

One easy rule is to choose something hard, something blue and something soft. You could also choose cheeses made from different milk and go for goat, sheep, and cow’s milk varieties. Where possible, I like to choose local cheeses or at least all from the same country.

3. Keep it simple

Let the pure flavour of the cheese shine, so avoid anything with additions or flavourings. Cheese dotted with dried herbs or flavoured with spice is just too confusing for the taste buds.

4. Temperature and storage

If you have a cool larder, this is the best place to store hard cheeses, wrapped in waxed paper. Not being blessed with one of these here in Dubai, mine will be kept in the fridge, but ditch the cling film as soon as you get the cheese home (or buy from a cheesemonger who knows their wrapping). I follow Patricia Michelson‘s advice on keeping cheese and it really does make it taste better and last longer. Line a Tupperware-style container with a dampened J-cloth and add a couple of sugar cubes to create some humidity. Store blue cheese in a separate box, as it can interfere with the tastes of other cheeses. Always remove cheese from the fridge a good hour before serving so they come up to room temperature.

5. Accompaniments

Like the cheese, don’t overwhelm with highly flavoured crackers. Simple water biscuits or Swedish rye crackers are perfect, or even French-style with some bread. Fresh fruit can be stunning with cheese; a slice of juicy pear with blue is absolutely heavenly. Nuts such as walnuts (as fresh as you can get) and almonds are nice to nibble (unsalted).  It’s tempting to have chutney on hand, and cranberry sauce is great with blue cheese and Brie, but leave guests to choose for themselves – never dollop/pour it on the cheese – and avoid if you are drinking something nice as it’ll kill your palate for the wine. Good raw honey is fantastic for drizzling over cheese and don’t forget the best unsalted butter.

6. Drinking

By the time you’re at the end of the Christmas feast, reach for something sweet like a classic port or Sauternes. Salt and tannins are not great partners so abandon your glass of Bordeaux when tucking into the Stilton. A refreshing glass of Champagne at the end of the meal is a good alternative and goes well with cheese. More advice on wine and cheese matching here (and see below).

7. Get help

Avoid going out with a strict shopping list and visit a cheese specialist who can give you advice about what’s good now and will go together. I asked several experts, here and in the UK, for their top tips on choosing cheese for Christmas:

Christmas cheese board

Colston Basset Stilton and Shropshire blue, Quickes Cheddar with Jack High English Cider Spirit


Leiths School of Food and Wine

Max Clark, a senior teacher at Leiths and a font of endless cooking knowledge, has put together this cheese board recommendation. Leiths run a range of courses including specialist Christmas cookery and an artisan Christmas cheese-making class (a present for someone for next year?).

A cheese board from the British Isles

This cheese board comprises of soft, hard, creamy, young and mature cheeses; something for everyone, with wonderful accompaniments, such as chutney, compote, wafers and even bruschetta, to form a celebratory array, incomparable to the cheese sputnick, pineapple and grapes of the 70’s.

Cornish Yarg: A semi hard cheese with a creamy centre. Cornish Yarg is wrapped in nettle leaves and is made from cows’ milk; it has a fresh lemony flavour. It is delicious served with pear chutney and English cobnuts.

Ashdown Foresters: Made in Horstead Keynes in Sussex…..home of Winnie the Pooh! A salty, firm cheese; what else to serve with such a cheese but honey! Homemade lemon and honey poppy seed biscuits to accompany.

Caboc: A rich, Scottish cheese, made with pasteurized double cream: perfect for Hogmanay celebrations. Delicious served with warm or cold roast sugar plums and Scottish chilli oatcakes.

Rosary goat cheese: Rind-less, snow-white, creamy and fluffy; the queen of goat cheese. Clean, fresh flavour, lovely with a lightly spiced chutney, such as pineapple, or a crisp biscuit, such as sumac and pomegranate wafers.

Little Black Bomber: A very mature Cheddar from Snowdonia; cheese with attitude. Gorgeous with black fig bruschetta or Morello cherry compote.

Jones the Grocer

If you are in Dubai their cheese room is always a lovely place to visit – and they know about correct storage. Their advice from Filipa Almeida:

“When preparing a cheese board for a festive occasion like Christmas colour and quantity are key factors to have into consideration. Try to offer chunks rather than cubes or slices and to include colourful cheeses like Mimolette or Red Leicester. Depending on the amount of people you’ll be serving, a cheese board should feature one of each type of cheese: goat/sheep, washed rind, soft, semi-hard/hard, blue. Having this in mind, for a Christmas cheese board I would recommend:

Pouligny Saint Pierre (goat): beautiful fresh aged goat’s cheese with a bloomy white rind and shaped as a pyramid, great addition to any cheese board.

Reblochon: washed rind cow’s milk cheese from the Savoie region in France, legally produced with milk from only 3 local breeds of cows. Before serving the cheese board try to gently rub the rind of this cheese with a saline solution to bring to life its orange colour.

Vacherin Mont D’Or: seasonal soft cheese made with raw cow’s milk, available only between October and early March. This beautiful creamy cheese is a winner for any cheeseboard.

Quickes Vintage Cheddar: from one of the most renowned cheddar producers in the UK, and is an uncontested crowd pleaser.

Colston Basset Stilton: king of the blues, Stilton is a must have in any Christmas cheese platter, being considered by many the most iconic Christmas cheese.

If you’re hosting a big party and you want to go the extra mile and prepare an even more luxurious platter than I would definitely recommend you add:

Truffle Brie: The interior of this sensational Brie develops from a chalky state to rich and runny when ripe, it has fine layer of black summer truffles through the centre of the pate, making it a truly decadent and indulgent cheese.

Beaufort: King of the mountain cheeses, Beaufort d’Alpage is an elegant hard cheese with character and class, perfect for any premium Christmas cheese board.

Even though all these cheeses are very good on its own, I would suggest that you serve them with some fresh grapes, fresh figs and some walnuts. If you are a fan of fruit pastes then a damson paste or the typical quince paste would also work very well with this cheese board.

Christmas Cheese board - My Custard PieCheese Cellar

Owen Davies of Cheese Cellar, cheese and gourmet food suppliers in the UK, gives this advice:
“Quality is paramount and far more important than quantity. A traditional cheese board needs to appeal to all tastes so we would suggest serving between three and five cheeses. Generally you would look for a blue, a soft bloomy cheese, a hard Cheddar style, a pungent rind-washed and a goats cheese. This style of board covers the variation in taste, texture and maturation strength. Colour and appearance should be taken into consideration – Cornish Yarg is wrapped in nettles and has a beautiful lacy rind. There are some really special flavoured cheeses that are worth considering, such as Occelli al Barolo, which is enriched with DOCG Barolo wine or Barwheys Smoked – this is from Ayrshire in Scotland. This cheese really packs a punch – the wood chips come from the whisky barrels at Grant’s whisky distillery!”

My cheese board

I’m off to buy my cheese this week. A visit to the Jones the Grocer cheese room is de rigueur as they have the best English cheese selection. I will probably go for Quickes although would love to get my hands on some Montgomery, Keens or Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddar. Lafayette Gourmet is the next stop (see pic of one of their cheese boards below) which is an Aladdin’s cave of continental cheeses (they stock over 100). Last weekend, I picked up a hunk of organic Cropwell Bishop Stilton at Organic foods and Cafe and may go back for more – although Waitrose has large pieces of award-winning Colston Basset Stilton at a very reasonable price (Jones sometimes has their beautiful Shropshire Blue). If I can face battling my way into Carrefour, a Mont D’or will be oozing its way onto my table. Markets and Platters is rumoured to have a good cheese selection and the new Farmer’s Garden in Al Wasl Square stocks some delicious Italian ewe’s milk cheese and some gorgeous rye crackers from Sweden. If off to the Northern Emirates, Finer Things is a good source of French cheese.

Christmas Cheese board - My Custard Pie

Cheese from Lafayette Gourmet



If my cheese board has even a passing resemblance to a painting by Carravaggio, I’ll be happy! While I hate slate plates I like them for cheese and have a big one from Crate and Barrel. Natural wood is good too and I’ve bookmarked Stych Farm studios for ordering this summer (planning ahead!).  Lime Tree in Dubai sells some attractive wooden ones too. Make sure you have enough knives and cheese cutters – at least one per cheese.

Further reading: Cheese board basics by Madame Fromage, Christmas cheese board tips by Ms Marmite Lover and A stylishly presented alternative cheese board on Food and Wine Matching.

Cheese and wine pairing infographic

So what’s your favourite cheese on the Christmas table?

  1. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    December 16, 2014 1:19 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this review, I have literally just come home from a little snoop around the cheese counter at Waitrose. I am married to a very strange man who doesn’t like cheese!! he will part-take in the odd bit of Brie or Boursin aside of that he is plain not interested. Enjoy your cheese board 🙂

  2. December 16, 2014 1:20 pm

    Great advice and suggestions, Sally!

  3. daver001 permalink
    December 16, 2014 1:27 pm

    Now I’m hungry! At the risk of repeating myself, Christmas in Paris will be an ideal time to indulge myself with some amazing cheeses and I have two small cheesemongers already earmarked – Alleosse on rue Poncelet and La Fermette on rue Montorgueil. I know I will be dazzled by the choice but not disappointed! My planned evening meal on the 25th will be cheese and both shops are happy to take complete control after a few simple questions. How many people? Your rough budget? Your top favourites? I end up every year with cheeses familiar and unusual and it’s a delight! A simple fig chutney or perhaps some membrillo and I’m good to go Only one ‘problem’ – the cheeses will only be French thus excluding some longterm favorites. Oh well, there’s a reason why ‘chauvinism’ derives from France…

  4. December 16, 2014 1:52 pm

    Such an informative post – great for a newbie like for putting together a cheese board. Happy festivities to you and your family Sally ☺️

  5. December 16, 2014 2:17 pm

    You had me at ” If you are thinking that you might not need cheese with the fully laden table which makes up the Christmas feast, you and I have nothing in common.” 😉 Excellent advice Sally!

  6. December 16, 2014 2:37 pm

    One of the best posts ever! I too, LOVED the first line. May have to use that at some point for something I feel as strongly about :). I learned so much from this post, and my hubby and I had just been to a restaurant this weekend where we enjoyed a lovely cheese plate for two that totally followed all of these rules: the variety of cheeses from goat, soft, hard, washed rind, blue, served with simple fresh baguette, some quince jam and chutney and fig paste on the side, and had an added bonus of a few thin slices of proscuitto. The photos are exquisite as is your writing! Bravo on an exceptional post!

  7. December 16, 2014 3:44 pm

    Fabulous cheeses! This is one perfect cheese board.



  8. December 16, 2014 4:54 pm

    This is amazingly helpful! I love cheese, but never knew how to set up a cheese board properly!! They all look so pretty… I like the idea of keeping it simple! 🙂

  9. December 16, 2014 5:16 pm

    Cheese, glorious cheese!

  10. December 16, 2014 5:19 pm

    That look very impressive! The red currants are a nice touch as well.

  11. decabbit permalink
    December 16, 2014 5:20 pm

    WOW! Actually we’re making a cheeseboard gift for the FIL so this is perfectly timed for us to create this gift – THANKS!

  12. December 16, 2014 6:49 pm

    My mouth is watering after reading this. I love the rattle of the cheese trolley in a restaurant!

  13. December 16, 2014 6:56 pm

    Wow, reading this has been a real education! I’m pinning to come back to when I’m finalising my Christmas grocery shop.

  14. December 16, 2014 6:58 pm

    Oh how I wish somebody would give me a cheeseboard for Christmas! A fabulous post and some really interesting selections of cheeses. I am a huge fan of those Little Black Bomber cheeses!

  15. December 16, 2014 8:16 pm

    Oh yes we are definitely a cheese-y kind of family. I love cheeseboards and some weekends we just indulge in a few good cheeses, some bread and good wine for dinner. Love your selection and I so remember that cheese room at Jones the Grocer and of course the unforgettable cheese selection at Lafayette Gourmet!

  16. December 16, 2014 10:51 pm

    I love cheeses…especially when paired with good, proper wine! I know Italian and French cheese quite well (even if it’s almost impossible for anybody to have tasted the infinite exiting varieties) but the list of British cheeses you mention sounds so tempting…
    And thanks for the tips on where to find a good selection of cheeses in Dubai…it is really helpful both for a (almost) newbie like me and all fine things lovers

  17. December 17, 2014 2:28 am

    It’s a cheeseboard every time for us. We are much more cheese people that pudding people. The finest dessert cannot match a beautifully kept and chosen plate of cheese (no chutney thank you) You are spot on with your choices, in my opinion. The world tilted on its axis when I first tasted truffle brie. We love Mellis cheesemongers here in Scotland, as well as a fabulous properly French deli called Henri’s. Tell Flo to head to Stockbridge if she needs a cheese fix. 😉

  18. December 17, 2014 3:17 am

    Sally this is such a full and helpful post, especially as my family is filling with diabetics and we can do relatively little with deserts. I need to get hold of some of that tuffle Brie x

  19. December 17, 2014 3:50 am

    Sal, what a GORGEOUS post! I’m starving now! We’ve been finding some surprisingly good English cheddars and stiltons at Costco at incredibly reasonable prices. Thanks for the storage tips! 🙂

  20. December 17, 2014 7:50 am

    Ah-Mazing post! So informative and an excellent resource for years to come – I am obsessed with cheese and this post opened my eyes to some of the most interesting cheeses I have ever seen or been seen with. You have done a great service to humankind. Thank you for all the efforts you put into this post. Mwah! Xo

  21. December 17, 2014 8:13 am

    Good tips Sally!
    One of my new favorite for beautiful color and sharp taste is the shropshire cheese. Thought I saw it on your picture- have you tried it?

  22. December 17, 2014 8:30 am

    Oooh, I noticed that Carrefour also have that cheese that looks like oyster mushrooms when rolled up from Eastern Europe. It’s smooth and has curly edges- can’t find the name of it. I believe either you or Sarah may have introduced it to us at a wine tasting.

  23. December 17, 2014 10:56 am

    Great tips… I am a sucker for cheese – though didn’t grow up eating them, now have acquired a taste for it. I am more keen to learn on the wine pairing as I feel that the right wine actually changes the taste of the cheese that I cannot otherwise tolerate. I bought a few herb encrusted ones from the Farmers Garden yesterday… for these ones, what should I pair them with? The basic rule remains the same?

  24. December 17, 2014 1:05 pm

    So meticulously covered. Christmas or not, you have inspired me to put together a cheese board for my guests (for the very first time) at home when they visit next. I’ll try to work together on all the points that you mentioned here and incase i’ll be stuck somewhere, I atleast now know whom to ask. Thank you for sharing this post, Sally.

  25. December 17, 2014 3:22 pm

    I love this post and the tips from Patricia on how to store & serve cheese. I love cheese, it is as much a part of Xmas as the puts! I am going to get my husband to buy us some from neal’s Yard to enjoy on Chrsimas eve & Boxing day. Stichelton and Montgomry cheddar are big faves 🙂

  26. December 18, 2014 1:27 pm

    Forget christmas – cheeseboards are a necessity at every dinner party. I love the research you’ve done this post. Have pinned it for future reference.

  27. December 20, 2014 2:18 am

    All good tips — and I now have a strong desire for some cheese (and wine)! I received a gift last year of cheese bags (they look like brown sandwich bags and I think they are available via amazon). They hold cheese fresh far longer than plastic wrap which, like you, I remove.
    Best wishes for the holidays and a very happy 2015!

  28. January 11, 2015 9:27 pm

    well i don’t know about just chistmas. this post sets me up perfectly for a sunday night supper with some barbarossa i scored in majestic on friday


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