The cheese course should be easy – you just need to buy good cheese, but is often a disappointment. Here are some ideas to help you get it right.
How to incorporate a cheese course into the meal
In a British menu the cheese course invariably means a cheeseboard served after the dessert. You feel that to offer less than four or five different cheeses looks mean, but if each portion is to look generous it will be an expensive course, and unless you have a large number of guests, you are likely to have a lot of cheese left over.
Then there is the question of wine. Often a red wine that accompanied a main course can take you through to the cheese if it follows immediately, but dessert, accompanied by a dessert wine is less easy to follow. There are, however, some cheeses that work well with a sweet wine.
Serving just one cheese has the advantage of allowing you to make a feature of it, and choosing an appropriate wine rather than an “all purpose” one.
The cheese course in an English menu did not always means a cheeseboard. There are many traditional hot savoury dishes that were originally served after the main course, such as Lockets Savoury consisting of watercress, pears and blue cheese on toast.
Alternatively you could feature your cheese in a salad, especially if the menu is already quite heavy.
If you feel unable to decide whether to serve the cheese before or after dessert, why not leave the decision to your guests? Many people feel unable to do justice to both and some (mostly men!) are just not that bothered about desserts.
Which cheese to choose
Cheeses are to a certain extent seasonal, usually being best made with spring milk, so that the time at which the cheese appears depends on how long it needs to mature. Cheeses that are served fresh are therefore only available for a limited period each year, whilst those that are sold matured will be available all year round but at different stages of maturity. If you have a good cheesemonger near to where you live than take their advice.
The key thing when making your choice is the quality of the cheese, which should have been stored in perfect conditions and sold to you in peak condition. If you do intend to offer a selection you should aim for a variety of styles, e.g. creamy/crumbly, strong/mild, sheeps/goats/cows milk. You might decide though to theme your selection, by country, region or style, e.g. unpasteurised. There are many excellent British cheeses, yet still many people are unfamiliar with them.
What to serve with the cheese
Serving biscuits with cheese is peculiarly British and there are some pretty awful examples about, so this is a potential pitfall. Avoid at all cost the “biscuits for cheese selections” and stick to classic oatcakes or Bath Olivers. Making your own is really worthwhile when you are focusing on just one cheese.
The best breads for serving with cheese often incorporate some of the other classic accompaniments of dried fruits or nuts.
The following are all good partner for cheese: apples, pears, walnuts, celery, grapes. Although chutneys are good with cheese they kill wines so avoid them at dinner.
Here are some classic combinations:
Blue cheese & Walnut
Pecorino & Pear
Cheddar & Apple
Vacherin & Quince jelly
Brie & Apple
Storing your cheese
Buy the cheese as close as possible to when you intend to eat it. Cheese is best stored at a temperature of around 8C, but most people have no option other than to store it in the fridge. If so, don’t forget to remove it at least an hour before serving to develop the flavour. Cheese sold by a proper cheesemonger will be wrapped in wax paper for storing.