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Why you need a festive cheese board and how to make one

December 17, 2016

Why you need a festive cheeseboard and how to create oneMaybe it’s complete madness to think about adding more food to the Christmas table but a festive cheese board is absolutely non-negotiable in my book. If the festive spread brings people together around the table, the cheese board keeps them there. Starters, turkey roast with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, chocolate Yule log et al have all started to fade from the digestive memory but having little nuggets of savoury, saltiness to nibble on with the port or Sauternes is fuel to the communal conversation. It keeps people sustained through charade playing and can be supplemented by bread, ham and pickles later on instead of supper. It’s another celebratory item on the table for vegetarians, and keeps Christmas pudding haters happy – yes there are these strange people round my table and even members of my own family.

Throughout the festive season it’s a simple but stunning thing to take along if you are contributing to another feast, makes a splendid centrepiece on a buffet and can easily do as supper if you just can’t face cooking again. Having an array of cheese on hand makes great emergency rations if you need to soak up the excess imbibing from a party at midnight. If you suddenly crave simple fare a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich does the job as well as being a great ‘morning after the night before’ foil.

I’ve written about putting together the perfect cheese board for the festive season before and recommended specialist cheesemongers for choice, provenance and well-stored fromage. Last week I was asked to speak at a gathering organised by Good Magazine and Marks and Spencer so made my selection from their counters and found some absolute treasures. M&S has an excellent reputation for working closely with their suppliers and while dairies need to be a certain size to supply such a large chain, there was a lot to like about the provenance and authenticity of the cheeses. An advantage of such buying power also has an effect on price and I was impressed at how reasonable these very good quality cheeses are (the 300g wedge of Blacksticks Blue was 35 aed). Here are some of my tips from the demo:

How to put together the perfect cheese board

  1. Start with a theme. This could be a region, a country or something more esoteric but it helps to give a cohesion to the whole board (as well as narrowing down your choices for easier shopping). I went for English cheeses this time although included a Brie from just over the channel for balance.
  2. Choose your base. I favour a wooden board or tray but use something from in my kitchen i.e. a chopping board or bread board. Slate looks good too. Choose a size that’s in proportion to what you are putting on it. A generous look is what we’re going for, so don’t use a huge board that dwarf a few small cheeses if this is what you’ve got.
  3. A generous look. Using a few large blocks of cheese looks better than lots of little ones dotted about. In fact I’d rather have one really splendid piece than lots of mean looking sticks. Odd numbers work better too.
  4. Contrast in taste and texture. I usually work up in strength starting with a creamy goats milk cheese, a soft cheese, something hard, something crumbly and tangy and a blue.
  5. Accompaniments for cheese. A very plain cracker is essential plus you can add a fancier one – but don’t choose a flavour that will fight with the cheese e.g. a cheesy biscuit. Breadsticks add contrast in size and rustic rye bread slices are a good match. Chutneys, fruit pastes and preserves in little bowls add colour and shine. I love a dish of honey comb in the centre – it catches the light and is amazing drizzled over goats cheese, Cheddar and blue cheese in particular. Nuts and fresh fruit are the final elements and make everything look really festive. Blue cheese with pear is a match made in heaven. Figs, redcurrants and pomegranates add a jewel like touch, but even dried fruit such as apricots add a feeling of abundance.
  6. Assemble your board. Arrange the cheeses at different angles around the board with spaces between them. I like cheeses uncut but you can start to slice them so that guests don’t feel intimidated by a large block of pristine cheese, especially if on a buffet. Make the pieces large enough for a mouthful but not unmanageable. Herringbone cutting is nicer that sliced as though making sandwiches. For soft oozy cheese remove a sliver so that it starts to flow invitingly.
  7. A festive look. Place little bowls of honey or chutney between them. Start at the outside of the board and drape bunches of grapes over the edges and then fill in the gaps working inward. You can stack crackers in rows or place them in a separate basket. Group similar items together rather than dotting things around. Layer up with breadsticks or put them in a tall container for added height. If your cheese board is very large do this in situ as carrying it to the table could be precarious.
  8. The tools of the trade. Place a variety of cheese and butter knives at hand or even on the board so people feel they can dig right in.

Why you need a festive cheeseboard and how to create one

A mainly English cheeseboard from M & S

This is what I chose and have since been back to buy more of the blue and the delicious, creamy goats cheese.

Cornish Cove Mature
Made from the milk of cows reared in Cornish pastures this full, rich and creamy cheese is described as ‘rugged like the Cornish Cliffs’ and has been made exclusively by Cornwall-based Dairy Crest for M&S since 2010. The cheese received the royal seal of approval when it was selected to be included in the Marks & Spencer Patron’s Lunch Hamper.

Blacksticks Blue
This unique soft blue cheese is handmade at Butlers at Inglewhite Diary in rural Lancashire. With a distinctive amber hue, Blacksticks Blue has a delicious creamy but tangy taste. The Barker family have been farming in Lancashire since 1932 and the dairy is currently run by the third generation of Barkers. We drizzled Acacia honey comb honey over this at the demo and it converted quite a few people who didn’t think they like blue cheese.

Creamy French Brie
Made in the Ducey Creamery Normandy, this mild and creamy brie has a refreshingly clean flavor and smooth buttery texture.

Goats Cheese Log
Made at the Abergavenny Creamery, which is the UK’s largest and most successful producer of fresh goats cheese. Very smooth and creamy with a fresh goat’s curd flavour and amazing with fresh raspberries and raw honey.

Wensleydale
A young cheese crafted accordingly to a traditional recipe at Belton Farm in Shropshire. The Beckett family, who own Belton Farm, have been farming in the region since the 1920s.  A creamy, delicate and slightly sweet cheese with a smooth texture. Traditionally quite lactic with some sweet notes and an apple flavour.

Cheese history and a cheese cause

It’s official. Cheese is in my blood. This slight overstatement is a result of listening to the Radio 4 Food Programme and hearing that evidence of cheese making 7000 years ago has just been proved in Poland (I’m half Polish). It also discusses the impact of destroying bacteria which can help save our lives along with those considered harmful in the pasteurisation process. The microbes in cheese is a complex issue that we still don’t understand everything about; raw milk cheeses were almost banished in the 1950s but thanks to campaigners like Patrick Rance, common sense prevailed. Bureaucracy is raising its ugly head again though and I’ve donated to a campaign organised by food writer and activist Joanna Blythman to raise £50,000 to Save Errington Cheeses and defend artisan cheesemakers. You can contribute to their crowdfunding campaign for legal costs here.

A shout out to Noreen of Noni’s Place who styled this beautiful festive table.

You can see a Facebook live video of my demo here. Thanks to Marks and Spencer and Good Magazine for a marvelous festive event (and loads of cheese).

I was compensated for my involvement with this event, opinions my own (I loved their cheese!)

So, will there be cheese on your festive table?

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38 Comments
  1. Dave Reeder permalink
    December 17, 2016 9:59 pm

    I adore cheese! I am so lucky that, in my post-Dubai home in a village on Dartmoor in the UK, there’s a great deli with some wonderful cheeses. It’s such a versatile food that even after so many years eating it, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s out there! They’re in the photos but you don’t mention the radishes which I think are an essential part of a cheeseboard. I’d also add cherry tomatoes and, for a French touch, a simple bowl of well-dressed lettuce. Watercress would be good too. Port, of course, is traditional in the UK with cheese, but increasingly I’m drawn to a couple of glasses of Fino to cut through the creaminess.

    • December 18, 2016 3:22 pm

      I must visit that deli next time in the area. Country Cheeses in Tavistock is also excellent if you are over that way. Love a glass of Fino too.

  2. Dave Reeder permalink
    December 17, 2016 10:27 pm

    One other thing I forgot, mainly because I’ve not had them since my 20s when family friends qwho lived in Brittany brought them over to London: fresh, green walnuts! I have no idea if they’re available in the UAE but I still remember the flavour all these years later. If not, then any good cheeseboard needs nuts and not the ones that have been sitting in your kitchen for months! I’m currently roasting fresh chestnuts to use in a pasta dish, mixed with broccolini and chillies…

  3. December 17, 2016 11:10 pm

    Great cheese. I reminds me of when I went to Harrods in Manchester, England. Their cheese section went up to the ceiling. I have never seen so much cheese in one place. the only thing to do was to have a cheese party..and we did!….🌟💖🌟💖🌟💖

    • December 18, 2016 3:24 pm

      I haven’t visited the Harrods cheese hall in years but remember how incredible it was. Cheese party sounds perfect!

  4. December 17, 2016 11:18 pm

    I love cheese and was so pleased to see that it’s still offered in Dubai. They were very generous portions and good choices too unlike the UK where obesity worries mean it’s rarely on offer and if it is they give you crumbs rather than tasty hunks. Have a good Christmas🎄🎄

    • Dave Reeder permalink
      December 18, 2016 1:01 pm

      My local decent pub restaurant down here on Dartmoor does a cheese platter that normally does me two meals – I take half of the cheese home wrapped in a paper napkin…

    • December 18, 2016 3:27 pm

      The cheese here just gets better and better. Next on wish list is an artisan cheese actually made in Dubai. Enjoy your Christmas (hope there’s cheese)

      • Dave Reeder permalink
        December 18, 2016 3:39 pm

        Isn’t Italian Dairy Products still going?

  5. December 18, 2016 2:53 am

    How fabulous, Sally! I’ve developed a recent passion for Wensleydale – we’ve had the Somerset version with cranberries on sale here. I love your tips for filling the board (especially the odd numbers tip which I find delightful – I know, I’m odd) and I’ve recently found walnut and oat crackers which work brilliantly with soft cheeses. Much love and Christmas cheer to you, dearheart! xxx

    • December 18, 2016 3:29 pm

      I’m a bit of a purist and not so keen on the fruit studded cheeses… however they look really festive on a cheeseboard. The walnut and oat crackers sound right up my street though. Merry, merry Christmas to you – I trust there will be Port with your cheese!

  6. December 18, 2016 3:24 am

    Lovely post Sally and very timely for me as I have a mini cheese board on the menu for this time next week. Thanks for putting down your expert knowledge for us all to benefit!

    • December 18, 2016 3:30 pm

      What’s on your mini cheese board Laura? How mini is it?!

      • December 20, 2016 9:53 am

        Well so far I’m thinking cheddar, blue and a creamy white….I’m far from a cheese expert Sally!

  7. December 18, 2016 9:09 am

    Love a good cheeseboard but since I married Mr GA we haven’t really bothered, yes I married a man who doesn’t eat cheese. Miss Armani and I however do love a good cheese toastie, we only buy Marks n Spencers cheese these days, slightly and I mean slightly more expensive than the supermarkets but so much better!! Happy Christmas to you and your family, you have made another food year special for me 🙂

    • December 18, 2016 3:31 pm

      I can’t imagine life without cheese toasties. Thanks for your generosity and kindness in 2016. Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas – see you in the New Year.

      • The Real Geordie Armani permalink
        December 18, 2016 4:26 pm

        thanks 🙂

      • Dave Reeder permalink
        December 18, 2016 6:49 pm

        Quick comment to food bloggers: Why can’t you get a cheese toasty – aka a Welsh rarebit – in a restaurant? With a nicely dressed green salad and a glass of chilled white wine, it’s a perfect light lunch…

  8. crasterkipper permalink
    December 18, 2016 12:42 pm

    I love your arrangement of fruit, nuts, herbs and chutnies round the cheeses. If you wanted to be really pedantic about the English cheese theme, you can get Cornish’Brie’, or a similar type soft cheese. I will remember this inspiration next time I invite guests, especially if I don’t have time for a lot of cooking.
    Happy Christmas x

    • Dave Reeder permalink
      December 18, 2016 12:59 pm

      There’s also ‘Brie’ from Somerset…

    • December 18, 2016 3:32 pm

      I would definitely have added a soft English cheese but unfortunately they didn’t have any in stock right then. Wish you were here to share this cheese board.

  9. December 18, 2016 4:09 pm

    Thanks for this post Sally. I was just looking a pre-packed cheese boards yesterday and wasn’t impressed the the mundane cheeses in there so need to remember to go and pick my own choice pieces for my own festive cheeseboard this year. Loving the beautiful pictures-)

  10. December 18, 2016 5:05 pm

    Stunning cheeseboards. And I love the addition of fruit; here we eat Ossau Iraty, a Basque cheese, with black cherry jam. However, I’m flambozled by your Brie from Normandy – Brie is from the Brie region East of Paris… Have a wonderful Christmas.

  11. December 18, 2016 5:07 pm

    Without a doubt, the cheeseboard is one of my FAVOURITE parts of Christmas feasting! I love how it just keeps getting brought out every tea-time when everyone’s feeling too lazy to cook anything (i.e. me!) I’m loving your idea of putting honeycomb on the board… I’m definitely borrowing that little gem! I’ve made Damson Cheese to go on our board this year which has turned out rather well 🙂 Have a fantastic festive season xxxx

  12. talkavino permalink
    December 18, 2016 5:55 pm

    Beautiful pictures, Sally! And nothing has “holidays!” better than a well-thought cheese board. Happy Holidays!

  13. December 19, 2016 7:56 pm

    A beautiful cheeseboard and great choice of cheeses. Extremely mouthwatering.

    Happy Holidays!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  14. December 19, 2016 8:35 pm

    Yummmmm cheese boards for life!

  15. December 19, 2016 8:49 pm

    Oh Sally what a sumptuous cheese board!! I had not considered choosing a theme to add cohesion but I love the idea. Wishing you a delicious Christmas!

  16. December 20, 2016 5:48 am

    Thank you, wonderful boards for inspiration. I plan to make of our Christmas Eve get together!

  17. Dave Reeder permalink
    December 20, 2016 1:38 pm

    Cheese always makes a good conversation! For those unsure about their selection, I would recommend going to Galeries Lafayette, which always has an excellent range, and ask for some advice…

  18. December 22, 2016 11:44 am

    Have a lovely Christmas….very cool cheese board, by the way:)

  19. December 23, 2016 8:52 am

    These boards are phenomenal! I honestly just want a cheeseboard at every dinner table and any of the ones you’ve shown here would do the trick. Your boards have definitely inspired me to put one together for New Years Eve!

  20. December 30, 2016 4:51 pm

    I’m definitely making a cheese board for my New Year’s Eve guests – I love the idea of goats cheese with honey and raspberries. All the best for 2017, Sally! x

  21. January 8, 2017 10:24 am

    I wanna make a cheese platter too 😊

  22. January 8, 2017 10:25 am

    I love your cheese platters wanna do sooon

  23. January 11, 2017 4:56 am

    I love assorted cheeses,parties, and all the goodies that makes anytime festive.

  24. January 28, 2017 1:17 pm

    very appetizing.

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