There’s something to be said about a beautifully crafted cheese board.  Now I know what you’re thinking. If it has cheese in it, it’s already perfect. While this is true, a great cheese board is so much more than just marbled cheddar and mozzarella.

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We wanted to know what it takes to put together the perfect cheese tray, so we asked the expert, Sarah from The Cheese Bar, for her suggestions on how to build the ultimate cheese tray for entertaining.

The Right Serving Size

Sarah suggests 30-50g per person for an appetizer portion or 60-80g per person for a cheese board that you will serve amongst invites throughout the evening.

Variety

Always try to include a surface ripened, a semi fit and semi firm and an aged. Sarah encourages having at least one goat or sheep cheese on the board not only for their flavours but to also accomodate those that may be lactose intolerant.  Too many of one style is not a good idea and any more than 6-8 types can become overwhelming for the palette.  No more than 6 for smaller groups and no more than 8 if you are doing a pairing event/evening amongst friends.

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Be mindful about what you plan on using the cheese for and when you plan on using it. You get what you pay for. When pairing with wine, look for milder cheese. If pairing with beer, goudas are a great way to go. Be mindful about dates, especially when choosing a surface ripened cheese as it’s usually 3-4 weeks max typically on these beauties.

“Don’t be afraid of cheese, they all deserve a chance,” says Sarah. “At the end of the day there’s a cheese for everyone and not everyone has to like a particular cheese.”

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Sweet and Savoury

Add something sweet and savoury that will compliment the cheese. Sarah suggests fresh and dry fruit, dark chocolate, olives, roasted red peppers, gherkins, honey, grain mustard, a sweet preserve and a savoury preserve, nuts and cured meats.

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Breads

Serving bread or thin crackers offers a nice crisp and subtle flavour and is the perfect accompaniment to cheese. Sarah suggests thinly slicd baquettes that have been slightly toasted.

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Presentation

All of the cheese boards that Sarah carries are produced by local wood workers.

“I prefer wood, especially if you are also cutting on it (brie),” says Sarah. “I think that a board should be unique and ideally have a story.”

While wood makes an attractive serving board, using marble, slate or a beautiful ceramic dish also make great serving vessels.

Make sure you have the right tools for the cheese you’re serving. For soft ripened cheeses, have a cheese knife alongside it to spread it onto a cracker or slice of bread. Offer a different knife for each cheese or ensure you have wooden spears handy. Cutting your cheese in advance also helps to optimize the amount you can serve to your guests.

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Sarah focuses on Ontario produced, artisanal cheeses and has a suggestion for every taste so we asked her to pick a few of her favourites.

Sarah’s Favourite Cheeses

  • Pippa, River’s Edge Goat Dairy: a soft chevre with a bloomy rind, made from fattier, richer milk collected from the goats in late fall early winter. Pairs beautifully with both a sweet or a savoury preserve.
  • Medium, Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg: a creamy, young farmstead dairy cow’s milk gouda aged for 3-4 months. Delicious on it’s own, melted on just about anything, or served with cured meat.
  • Hodge Podge, Monforte Dairy, Stratford: A blend of sheep and cow’s milk, a semi firm wash rind cheese blended with black peppercorns that leaves you with a slight pucker on the finish.
  • Crossroad Sheep, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Woodstock: A sheep milk gouda aged 6 months. this dutch style semi firm cheese has a bit of granulation and a richness that melts on your palette and leaves a subtle tang on the end
  • Cow Camembert, Monforte Dairy, Stratford: A rich and creamy surface ripened dairy cow’s milk cheese served at room temperature is an absolute delight.
  • Conestogo Blue, Rivers Edge Goat Dairy. Aged for a mere 2 months this blue cheese is for even the non blue fans. It has a subtle saltiness and light veins leaving an aftertaste that lingers in a non offensive way. It will leave you wanting more!

Another great resource for exceptional cheeses is The Butcher of Kingsville, which has an amazing selection from Ontario, Quebec as well as international.

Some of my favourites include:

  • Bleu d’Elizabeth, Fromagerie due Presbytere, Quebec,
  • Fresh Chevre, C’est Bon Cheesse, St. Mary’s Ontario
  • Brigid’s Brie (soft surface ripened cheese) Gunn’s Hill, Woodstock Ontario
  • Cranberry Havarti, Great Lakes Goat Dairy,
  • Black Pepper Firm Cheese, Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg Ontario

And don’t forget what makes any cheese try ultimately better is the company you’re sharing it with.