Even big cheese stars need the chorus line
A quick and simple guide to cheeseboards
I recently put up a cheeseboard of mammoth proportions, hundreds of dollars worth of cheese on a board made from a 6ft table and a milk crate, it was epic. Funny then, that most people commented on the small things that shared that space with the giant wheels, rounds, waxed and washed mountains of cheese.
It is a pretty standard rule for a cheeseboard something blue, something soft and a hard cheese, one piece of each is enough for 2 to 4 people. As your guests increase so does the choice or quantity of the chosen ones, there is a mass of advice out there, you do not need me, choose what you love. Now, what makes your choices shine are the supporting cast to the big cheese stars, it is, after all, theater.
Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to Messrs date, pear, walnut, and biscuit.
Thank you, thank you, it’ nothing really, just doing our jobs
Any combination of stuffed peppers, olives, pickled things, dried figs, apricots, dates, crackers, Turkish delight, bliss balls, nuts fresh herbs and fruit, chutneys, honey, all of which can be bought, will fill the gaps on your board. You are looking to provide different textures and a combination of sweet and salt. Go mad, there are no rules. I usually raid the fridge and pantry and go for a sort of freefall approach and chuck it all on letting things rest where they land. However, for a special occasion, a little bit of time can elevate these non-cheesy elements and so, your cheeseboard. Back to that massive table of cheese, the little guys that stole the show on this occasion were, candied walnuts, pear chips, easy to make little soft Italian biscuits and stuffed dates.
Pear chips are unusual, easy to make and drew quite the crowd, their crunchy ‘pearness’ always surprises. They are perfect for soft cheeses, I eat them as a snack. Preheat your oven to 140°c adjust down for fan. Thinly slice a firm pear, I have used Peckham here, line a baking tray with baking paper, lay out slices in a single layer, sprinkle with a little sugar – maybe 2tsp per pear – and bake in oven for about 1½ hours, you are looking for a light golden colour, the chips will not be completely crispy until they cool so when you think they are done, take one out and allow to cool and crisp up, if there is still give and they do not snap, pop back in the oven and try again in another 10mins.
Candied Walnuts go great with blue cheese. Simply put walnuts in a heatproof bowl cover with just boiled water and leave to stand while you line a baking tray with baking paper. Drain the nuts and sprinkle over some caster sugar and salt, for 100g of nuts about a pinch of salt and 3tsp of caster sugar, pour onto a baking tray, make sure they are separated then bake on 180ºc for 10mins, let nuts cool on tray and do not move them until they are completely cold. You will have a deliciously crunchy nut, I eat them like snacks. I do this all the time will all kinds of nuts and finishes. Maple syrup and pecan, peanuts with sugar and ground black pepper, cashews with sugar, salt, and paprika, peanuts salt, sugar, sesame seeds, you get the idea, hazelnuts, however, are best left just plain roasted.
Stuffed dates are always a winner, choose the big fat Medjool dates. I like the surprise factor so poke the stone out with the blunt end of skewer and stuff tiny amounts of the filling in. This time I used finely chopped, cured chorizo and baked in the oven for 10mins on 180° to deliver a spicy caramel hit. Again there is a mass of info out there. try Nigel Slater’s classic stuffed dates I eat these like snacks, I am beginning to think I don’t need the cheese!
Crackers, I encourage you to ditch the big box of family crackers, they are often very salty or too flavored; opt instead for a more artisan brand, local supermarkets are selling all sorts now, yes they are more expensive but you do not need that many. Better still make your own if you have time. In the Red Folder, I have what is labeled the 100g recipe for biscotti salati al pistacchio con timo, my handwriting scrawled underneath says good with cheese like a savory digestive. Not quite as poetic! I used hazelnut flour this time, they went down a treat. I share it here, again there are lots of recipes out there. Have a browse
- 100g softened salted butter
- 100g wholemeal flour
- 100g pistachio flour (whizz shelled pistachios in the processor)
- 10 leaves of fresh thyme chopped finely
- 1 beaten egg
Put all in the food processor or knead by hand into a dough. wrap in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for half an hour. Roll out and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 180° for 10 mins. So you can replace the pistachio flour with most nut flour, and try different herbs or as I do dried fruit. You may have guessed it, I sprinkle these crumbly Italian biscuits with a little parmesan and eat as a snack