We aim to cheese!
Make your festive cheeseboard a real showstopper with our expert guide.
Christmas is a time for giving, for spending time with loved ones… and for eating lots and lots of cheese! Whether it’s the main attraction at a party or the culmination of Christmas dinner, here’s how to produce your cheeseboard with a festive flourish – and some mouth-watering ideas for any leftovers that’ll make you jingle all the whey’!
Choose your cheese
Everyone has their favourite cheeses, and three to five varieties on your Christmas cheeseboard is about right – any more will overwhelm the palate. You should offer your guests a hard cheese, such as Cheddar, Red Leicester, Cheshire or Double Gloucester; a soft or creamy cheese such as Brie, Camembert or Vacherin; a blue cheese such as Shropshire Blue or Danish Blue; and a goats’ cheese, such as Chevre or Beacon Blue.
To make your cheeseboard really stand out, you could also include a continental cheese, such as Parmesan or Edam, and you’ll need to allow around 100g of cheese altogether per person.
A crumbly, creamy Stilton is the classic cheese to enjoy at Christmas, and you don’t need to spend a fortune, as most supermarkets do good versions. The best way to store Stilton if you’re buying a lot is to wrap it loosely in waxed paper and cover it with cling film, before refrigerating. You can freeze Stilton – by cutting it into small pieces and placing it into a freezer bag – but it will have lost some of its strong flavour when thawed, so it’s then better used in a sauce.
A delicious festive touch is to include a cheese with dried fruit, such as a Wensleydale with cranberries. This tends to dry out quickly once it’s opened, but leftovers can be crumbled (and frozen if necessary) to make a tasty stuffing for chicken breasts (read on for more ideas of how to use up leftover cheese).
All above board
Get the cheeses, still in their wrappings, out of the fridge at least an hour before serving to bring them to room temperature and allow the flavours to develop. Just before serving remove all the wrapping, but keep rinds on, so that the cheese keeps its shape and looks attractive.
Cheeseboards are most often made of wood or marble. Wooden boards make the cheese easier to cut, whereas marble may be a better choice for a party cheeseboard, as it will help the cheese to keep cool and not melt in a hot room. Whichever you choose, make sure your board is big enough to allow each cheese room to breathe, and to be cut comfortably, and that you have a separate knife for each cheese, so you don’t mix up the flavours.
Again, presentation is a matter of personal taste. You can either keep things minimalist – even a simple ‘wreath’ of biscuits ringed around your cheeses looks Christmassy – or you could go to town by serving with exotic fruits, like halved pomegranates or persimmons, which are in season, and available at many supermarkets.
Taking the biscuit… and other bits on the side
In general, blue cheeses go best with a slightly sweet biscuit, while soft cheeses go with a crisp, light cracker. Figs, grapes, apples and celery partner perfectly with cheese, and pickled walnuts are a traditional Christmas accompaniment.
If you’ve got a glut of homegrown fruit or veg, home-made chutney impresses, and is easy to make, although there’s a wealth of delicious shop-bought options available – perhaps mellow caramelised onion, sharp rhubarb, fruity apple or fresh tomato.
To drink, semi-hard, hard and aged cheeses, like Gouda or Cheddar, go well with red wines such as a Shiraz or a Pinot Noir, while Chardonnay, or a good-quality sparkling white is a wonderful match for creamy cheeses like Camembert or Brie. And, of course, there’s always good old vintage or tawny Port, the traditional Christmas accompaniment to cheese.
But try not to over-indulge to the point where you forget to wrap up your cheese when you’ve finished eating! It’s best wrapped in wax paper, followed by cling film. It won’t like to sit about in the fridge for too long, as it’ll dry out. You can freeze cheese successfully (grate it beforehand if you like), but it will be crumbly when thawed, so it’s ideal for cooking.
Grate expectations: inventive ideas for cheesy leftovers
It’s always good to have things in mind to use up leftover cheese.
- Mix with shredded turkey to make quesadillas for a quick light lunch: try turkey, Brie and rocket with red pepper pesto, or roasted vegetables with goats’ cheese.
- Make a three-cheese sauce by adding a pinch of mustard powder to a basic white sauce, then remove from the heat and add a couple of tablespoons each of three different grated cheeses.
- Hard cheeses can be melted into a delicious, decadent fondue. Swiss Gruyere and Emmental are the classic ingredients, but Vacherin and Comte also work well. If you’re entertaining child-free, you could slosh in some leftover champers!
- Macaroni cheese is a budget-friendly staple after the Christmas blow-out, and you can add any leftover ham or gammon. Make an extra batch for the freezer to look forward to on a cold winter night.