A great cheeseboard deserves to be adorned with something a little more imaginative than apple and grapes…
We all know there are some fantastic artisanal cheeses out there these days, and although they all have enough flavour to stand alone on a cheese board, when cleverly paired with the right accompaniment they can take a cheese platter from simply satisfying to instantly sublime.
Today, whatever’s found on a cheese board that isn’t cheese needs to be more than casual fruity decoration, but ingredients of equal quality that provide truly exciting compliment and contrast. Finding more unusual accompaniments to adorn your cheese board can also be especially gratifying, when unlikely cheese pairings such as speciality honey and guava paste deliver diners an end of meal revelation.
With all this in mind, Maws are glad to offer some of our favourite cheese pairings, combinations sure to surprise and delight diners and guests, proving you’ve put as much care into what’s going alongside your cheeses as sourcing them, while creating plates that are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Why not forget fruit altogether and try accompanying the cheese on your board with a selection of nuts, for a simple, elegant and surprisingly satisfying alternative. With a nutty tang being a defining characteristic of many cheeses (think all those wonderful semi-hard Swiss varieties, from Emmental and Gruyere to a Tete de Moine) it’s no surprise that nuts pair perfectly, and our favourite three for cheese are pecans, walnuts and almonds.
Thanks to their natural sweetness there hardly a cheese that pecans don’t go with, but they’re especially good with a Truffled Brie. The earthiness and of walnuts makes then an excellent partner to aged cheeses like Cheddar or strong blues such as Stilton or Roquefort. Meanwhile almonds are delicious alongside classic hard sheep’s milk cheeses, such as Manchego, and even better once roasted.
Think past the crackers, because cheese is just as good for dipping and drizzling in an array of liquid accompaniments. Varietal honeys, aged balsamic vinegars, and top-class extra virgin olive oil being three of the best. Just remember, in very instance below, the secret is to drizzle – not drown.
Unlike standard catering honey, varietal honeys are made by bees that have only fed on only type of flower, whether it be orange blossom, lavender, rose of something else entirely. These honeys can be a real delight correctly paired with cheese. Try a Clover Honey with pungent wash-rind soft-ripened cheeses such as Livarot or Chaumes, or set the citrus sweetness of an Orange Blossom Honey with the citrus sour notes of an aged goat cheese such Chevrot or a charcoal dusted Valencay.
Dark, rich balsamic (the reduction of unfermented grape juice, known as ‘must’) can also be a sensation used sparingly with cheese, and yet again it’s all about quality not quantity. To qualify as ‘tradizionale’ an Italian balsamic must be aged for at least 12 years and contain nothing other than grape must. Unsurprisingly, Fine Italian Balsamic Vinegar pairs superbly with two other Italian classics; the salty, extra-hard, well-aged Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses.
Much like varietal honey, there’s a wealth of exciting flavour notes in different varieties of extra virgin olive oil, and many provide a subtle yet satisfying cheese accompaniment. Try the peppery notes of Lucini Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil dripped over a porcelain blue-and-cream wedge of buttery Gorgonzola, or the delicate grass and lemon notes of Spanish picual olives in Alziari Extra Virgin Olive Oil with a soft mould-rinded goat’s cheese like Cherves.
Side-step the ubiquitous chutneys, jellies and jams, because an elegant slab or two of densely flavoured fruit paste (confusingly also known as cheeses) will invest your cheeseboard with a touch of class, not to mention potential revelations in flavour pairing.
The granddaddy of these fruit cheeses is doubtlessly Membrillo, the traditional Quince Paste made in Spain. Quince has a floral flavour somewhere between a soft, sweet apple and a pear, and is traditionally paired with Manchego, but is equally delicious with other hard sheep’s milk cheeses, such as the Basque Region speciality Ossau-Iraty, not to mention pretty much every type of hard and semi-soft blue cheese.
Unusual and exciting, Guava Paste is also finding its way onto more and ore cheese boards. The South American fruit is said to have a taste akin to strawberries and pears, with a tanginess that’s all its own. It’s a blast against the mild creaminess of Ricotta or soft goat’s cheeses like Chavroux, not to mention a wonderful counterpoint to the strong, salty caramel notes of an Aged Gouda.
Finally, a humble classic that might be lingering in the back of the store cupboard; Lemon Curd. It may be easy to overlook, but the robustly sweet citrus delivered by a dollop of Lemon Curd will sing off the salty mineral bite of the strongest blue cheeses, such as Roquefort or the big American blue Maytag, like a choir of Christmas angels.