Whether you’re hosting a big holiday gathering or simply enjoying a cozy night with a couple of friends, a beautiful cheese board can help elevate any evening in a pinch. But if you don’t know your chèvre from your Camembert, curating your cheese presentation can be a challenge. Fear not, because we spoke to one of Canada’s top maître fromagers, Cheese Boutique’s Afrim Pristine ー, among just a handful of Canadians to receive the illustrious title ー about the best ways of enjoying cheese at home. Here are his top tips for crafting the perfect cheese board to impress your friends and keep them coming back for more.
CONTRAST IS KING
We all know variety is the spice of life, so make sure there’s a variety of flavours, aromas and textures on your cheeseboard. “Aim to feature five to seven different cheeses,” suggests Pristine. “Don’t even think about just three.”
These are the five different types of cheese you should use as your starting point, as Pristine outlines in his new cookbook, For The Love of Cheese:
- a soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese (like brie or Brillat-Savarin)
- a soft or semi-soft goat’s milk cheese (like a Chabichou, one of Charles de Gaulle’s favourite cheeses)
- a firm or aged sheep’s milk cheese (like a Pecorino or Manchego)
- a firm or aged cow’s milk cheese (like sharp cheddar or Beemster)
- a blue cheese, made from any milk (like an iconic Roquefort blue)
“This would be my ideal cheese plate, but if you follow these parameters even loosely, I don’t think you can go wrong,” says Pristine. “Have fun with it, and remember to try to appeal to different palates.”
ACCESSORIZE LIKE A PRO
Even though cheese is the star of the show, we still need a few accoutrements to help complement the cheese’s flavours. Pristine recommends scattering a few water-based and acidic fruits (think grapes, figs, apples and pears) to help refresh and cleanse your palate. Steer clear of fresh berries, he warns, as their sugar content tends to coat your palate rather than freshen.
Sweet elements like honey go very well with salty cheese, while savoury elements like onion chutney or pepper jelly work together with stinky, ripe brie cheeses.
“Crackers and bread are a must,” adds Pristine. “They act as a vessel for the good stuff.” Feel free to opt for something plain and neutral here, as you don’t want to overpower any of the other components.
SERVE WITH STYLE
We all eat with our eyes first, so thoughtfully arranging your cheeses is key to any beautiful board. First, consider your serving vessel. Pristine always opts for wooden boards rather than marble, which can scratch, or slate, which can break. “Wood is an organic, artisanal product,” he says. “You can beat it up, cut on it, and throw it around. It’s functional and it looks the best.”
Pristine suggests placing your cheeses on your board about three hours before guests are due to arrive. You need to bring cheese to room temperature, but you don’t want to leave them out for so long that they start sweating or oxidizing. Just be sure to resist digging into the spread before your guests have a chance!
You should arrange your cheese from mildest to strongest, and advise your guests to eat them in that order as well so that their palate can gradually adjust to the stronger flavours. Pristine also advises pre-slicing your cheeses in different shapes, so guests can differentiate between them as they’re travelling through the board. Leave creamy cheeses for your guests to cut themselves, though, as that can get messy.
Above all, Pristine urges all budding cheese aficionados to have fun with it! “The best part of cheese is the social aspect,” he says. “A good cheese board has the ability to attract ten different types of people and spark discussion and conversation.”