Good matchmaking is key to a crowd-pleasing cheeseboard

Author Thalassa Skinner. Photo: Erin Kunkel
Author Thalassa Skinner. Photo: Erin Kunkel
Cheese boards are an important part of any party or gathering but it’s often hard to know what to match the cheeses with.

Cheese Boards to Share, by Thalassa Skinner, published by Ryland Peters & Small, RRP$39.99
Cheese Boards to Share, by Thalassa Skinner, published by Ryland Peters & Small, RRP$39.99
Cheese Boards to Share by Thalassa Skinner provides that inspiration and some interesting information on different types of cheeses and how to pair them.

In this extract she gives advice on accompaniments.

BREAD OR CRACKERS?

When in doubt, serve both. Some people are bread eaters, others love crackers; it’s never cut and dry. When choosing, err on the side of the mildly flavoured bread or cracker, since the cheese should be the centre of attention. Heartier choices, such as multigrain, dark and rye breads, work for the stronger cheeses, but all cheeses pair well with a fresh baguette and water crackers.

DRINK UP

A vital ingredient in cheese is salt, and it does more than enhance favour. It acts as a preservative by controlling moisture as well as microbial activity, which have crucial affects on the ageing of cheese. Salt = thirst, so make sure to have drinking water poured and ready, even if you’re serving other non-alcoholic beverages, but especially if you’re serving alcohol alongside your cheese. Generally, cheese and wine is a go-to combination, but pairing beverages of all kinds with cheese is fun and eye-opening.

JAMS, CHUTNEYS, PICKLES AND PASTES

Many wonderful fruit- and vegetable-based accompaniments load store shelves, some of which you might not even have thought about serving with cheese. Jam and chutney producers have unleashed their creativity, putting together fruits, herbs, nuts and spices to create fantastic condiments. They add colour, texture, moisture and a palette of flavours that can raise a cheese board from good to extraordinary. Or you can make your own.

FRUIT-LADEN

Fresh fruit with cheese is classic and always a good pairing, providing vibrant colour on your board, cleansing the palate and counterbalancing the butterfat (especially if the fruit is higher in acid). Don’t forget about dried fruits, too. These should be a staple in everyone’s cupboards as they keep so well and are great for a last-minute cheese feast because their sweetness goes perfectly with almost every cheese style.

GOING NUTS

Nuts of all kinds pair well with cheese, providing textural contrast and a complementary flavour (saying a cheese tastes ‘‘nutty’’ is one of the most commonly used descriptors). Each type of nut, however, has a unique flavour which changes again whether roasted or raw. Both have their place on a cheese board, but pair according to similar flavours: milder, milkier raw nuts go well with creamier cheeses, and roasted nuts go nicely with more aged cheeses. You can also throw candied or flavoured nuts into the mix — just don’t overpower the cheese whatever you do, and be judicious about using salted nuts (since most cheese is already fairly salty).

SWEET THINGS

Honey, chocolate, caramel, shortbread, toffee, even cocoa-coated espresso beans can startle the palate and make for a superb cheese board addition. Sweet things and cheese are a good union, especially when the cheese is fairly salty. The possibilities are endless. Each of these things has its own litany of flavours and textures, so there is a wide spectrum of fun to be had.

GET CREATIVE

Placing leaves beneath cheeses adds a natural element that is attractive and makes clean-up a snap. Fresh grapevine leaves are a classic, but some large tree leaves are also good. Edible flowers, too, add eye-popping colour and can be easily tucked into open spaces on the board or directly on to fresh cheeses. Just make sure that any leaves or flowers you use are cleaned before use, are food-safe and pesticide-free.

Mexican chilli chocolate truffles - creamy gooey cheese  

A spicy taste from south of the border, these salty chilli chocolate truffles, rolled in Mexican Ibarra chocolate and Himalayan pink rock salt, are divine! You won’t be able to stop eating them. Mexican Ibarra chocolate discs are made with chocolate mixed with cocoa beans and cinnamon. Buy them at Latin food markets.

Makes about 40

225g bittersweet/dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped

¼ cup/60ml pouring cream

1 Tbsp/15g unsalted butter

½ tsp confectioner's chilli oil

85g Ibarra chocolate discs, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp Himalayan pink rock salt

Equipment

melon baller

Method

Put the chopped chocolate, cream and butter in a heatproof bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Once the chocolate has started to melt, stir gently until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Stir in the chilli oil and pour the mixture into a shallow bowl. Refrigerate until firm.

To make the dusting powder

Process the Ibarra chocolate to a powder in a food processor. Pour it into a bowl and mix in the Himalayan salt.

When the chocolate mixture has set, scoop out the truffles with the melon baller and roll into balls. Toss in the dusting powder to coat and serve.

Tip: If you can’t find Ibarra chocolate, you can make a similar dusting powder by mixing the following ingredients together: one-third cup (55g) white sugar, one-third cup (30g) cocoa powder, one teaspoon ground cinnamon and one tablespoon Himalayan pink rock salt.

Rainbow pepper oatcakes - semi-firm and firm cow's milk cheeses 

A wonderful Scottish classic, oatcakes are lovely to serve with cheese and cured meats. You can cut the dough into strips, triangles or squares, or use cookie cutters.

Makes about 15

2½ cups/235g old-fashioned rolled oats

2 tsp cracked rainbow peppercorns

2 tsp coarse sea salt

½ tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda

2 Tbsp melted butter

1 cup/235ml boiling water

2 baking sheets, lined with baking parchment

Method

Heat the oven to 180degC.

Put the oats, peppercorns, salt and baking soda/bicarbonate of soda in a food processor and pulse to mix. Pour in the melted butter and boiling water and process until a dough begins to form.

Turn out the dough on to a floured work surface. Roll out to a long rectangle 15cm wide, then cut into strips 2.5cm wide and lay on the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes until golden brown, then leave to cool on wire racks before serving.

Pickled strawberries and grapes - firm cheddar-style cheeses 

It’s easy to over-buy at the farmers market, especially in summer when the stalls are weighed down with plump, juicy fruits and berries. These sweet and sharp pickled strawberries and grapes are a good way to make use of excess produce, and they add a nice touch to your summer cheese picnic.

Serves 6-8

For the pickled strawberries

24 strawberries, plus some leaves (optional)

1 cup/235ml white balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp kosher salt

2 Tbsp white sugar

1 Tbsp pink peppercorns

For the pickled grapes

2 cups red seedless grapes

1 cup/235ml apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp turbinado/demerara (or light brown) sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

1 fresh red chilli

sterilised glass jars with airtight lids

Method

To make the pickled strawberries

Pack them, and the leaves if using, into a sterilised jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place the vinegar, salt, sugar and peppercorns in a pan with quarter cup/60ml of water and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour over the strawberries. Set aside to cool, then screw the lid on tightly and refrigerate overnight before serving.

To make the pickled grapes

Pack the grapes into a sterilised jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place the vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan with a quarter cup/60ml of water and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour over the grapes and add the red chilli to the jar. Set aside to cool, then screw the lid on tightly and refrigerate overnight before serving.


 

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