Big Slice’s Guide to The Ultimate Cheeseboard
When did you first know he was the one..? It’s a question that comes up from time to time. For me, it was date 5. Big Slice invited me round for a cheese board which immediately conjured up visions of a Cathedral City brick flanked by some Ritz crackers and a jar of Branston’s. I arrived to a table completely festooned in dairy options - with wine to match. He excitedly assembled bites for me whilst explaining his selections; a Summer spent ‘doing a harvest’ in New Zealand, a trip to Bordeaux with work, the joy of rustic, small-town wine made from obscure indigenous grape varieties. Suffice to say, by the time we had finished our smorgasbord, my heart fluttered, my eyes were blurry and my knickers were fizzy.
Fast forward some years (5? 6?) and his knowledge and enthusuasm for food and drink pairings has only increased. It was during a recent pilgrimage to Edinburgh (specifically George Mewes & Raeburn Fine Wines) that we got to talking on the way home and I decided to transcribe some of his foodie booze (foozie?) knowledge. If you balk at any of the suggestions below, it’s worth bearing in mind that pre-Big Slice I was the girl who was suspicious of Brie. I was terrified of Blue. If I had been offered £100 to taste some goat, I probably would have shuddered, gagged then politely declined. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. If you have any questions, or any great additions, please add them to the comments below! x
Choosing your Cheese(s)
- Whether there are 2 of you or 20, for optimum variety plump for no less than 4, but no more than 8.
- It’s vital that you give your cheese time to get up to room temperature, this will allow the flavour to open up, and also reach the correct viscosity (no one wants cold, rubbery Brie). DISCLAIMER - please obey the 2 hour rule outlined here on staying safe with food once it’s out the fridge.. I don’t want any of you getting listeria.
Blue Cheese - Big Slice grew up with Stilton so tends to shy away from it as an adult. He suggests opting for one strong and zingy (e.g. Blue Murder), and one milder and more creamy (e.g. Gorgonzola).
Soft - Your obvious options here are Camembert or Brie. Make sure the Brie is ripe, it should be creamy and oozy - you don’t want your guests to be able to bounce it off the walls. A fresh-from-the-oven Camembert is always a crowd pleaser - try studding it with garlic and drizzling over a little white wine before it goes in the oven. There are so many softs to choose from, have fun with it - we recently tried a Brie called Minger which is made in the Highlands. Époisses & Port Salut are other (slightly less stinky) options.
Cheddar - The old faithful of fromage. Don’t compromise too much - no one wants a bright orange hunk of Cheesestrings ruining the feng shui of the board. Try to find something grown up and super mature - you want a flavour so punchy, it sucks all the moisture out of your mouth (Big Slice’s top picks would be Black Bomber, Godminster & anything from Mull).
Goat - Daunting to most people, often due to a bad experience (personally, goat’s cheese takes me back to Hogmanay 1999. I arrived at a school friend’s house for dinner, but due to my inherent tardiness, I arrived a) in time for dessert and b) in time to give my plastered best friend a fireman’s lift to the nearest confession-booth-sized-toilet where she proceeded to gift the porcelain gods a semi-digested goat’s cheese salad). Despite the horror stories, this cheese variant is definitely worth including in your line-up.
Curveballs - It always pays to ask staff for their favourites so you can add a wildcard recommendation to your cheeseboard. Don’t be scared to ask to taste it, and remember, you can always say no thanks.
Look for Local - We’re big fans of Strathearn & Errington’s Dunsyre & Lanark Blues. It’s often more convenient to pick your cheeses from the supermarket, but if you take the time to find your closest cheesemonger, you will not regret it. They have the knowledge and range that will push your cheeseboard from average to “HOLY SH**BALLS, THIS CHEESEBOARD HAS CHANGED MY LIFE” (or something a little less hyperbolic).
Some would say you should order your cheeses for your guests from mildest to boldest flavour, but we would say leave that to a restaurant setting. At home, sitting comfortably round the table with friends it’s better to give everyone the freedom to pick away unpolicied.
Bread & Biscuits
This is almost as important as the main event - if the carb foundations aren’t up to scratch, it doesn’t matter how good your cheese is. Try to have a little bit of variety without going too crazy - crusty boules, French stick, sourdough, oatcakes, Stag water biscuits & our new favourite - Gran Pavesi’s Le Sfoglie Classiche - little misshapen pieces of heaven you will want to eat like crisps.
You’ve come this far, don’t dare think you can forget the butter and pick up an emergency slab of something bright yellow from the Nisa down the road. There are so, SO many incredible butters out there - try to find something French, ideally studded with salt flakes. It will make all the difference.
Have at least one or two garnishes on your board - grapes, figs, chutneys (anything with red onion is my go-to), pâté, jelly (we had a damson plum paste recommended for goat’s cheese and it was a DELIGHT). Don’t crowd your cheese, but it’s definitely worth ticking off a couple of side dish boxes to add some variety.
It goes without saying that all of this is subjective and down to personal preference, but when it comes to wine pairing for cheese, Big Slice suggests playing it safe with Italian or French.
Italian - Amarone, Barolo (for a cheaper alternative try a Langhe), Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola
French - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cahors, Granache, Cinsault, (French country wines are created from indigenous local grapes - it’s never going to be a super sexy wine, but it tastes damn good with rustic hearty food). Pouilly-Fumé or Sancerre (try Menetou-Salon) also Chablis (alternative options such as Macon Uchizy, Macon-Vire, Macon-Milly-Lamartine and Pouilly-Fuisse will all give that same toasted, buttery, rich Chardonnay style).
Depending on the occasion, our preference is to go for a purse-friendly peasant table wine or something indulgent - you can then enjoy the coarseness of the former or the smooth fullness of the latter.
Wine selection can be daunting, if you happen to be in Edinburgh our favourite wineheads are Rom @ Drinkmonger in Bruntsifield, Ian @ Vino in Stockbridge, Zubair @ Raeburn Fine Wines and if you’re located elsewhere, Rob Gordon @ Justerini & Brooks can offer guidance over the phone.
When it comes to Port, the older you can acquire, the better.
If you’re hosting the dinner party (Port also makes a great gift if you’re a guest) decant at lunch time so it has plenty of time for the flavours to open up.
If it’s vintage (generally available 3 times a decade), make sure to check for sediment.
The types: Ruby - your basic port, first press. Tawny - lighter in body and colour, smoother in style. Aged Tawny - matured in wooden barrels, typically 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old. Colheita - A single vintage-dated Tawny Port (all the grapes are from one harvest) which is aged in small used oak barrels.
Particularly good years to look out for - 1963, 1966, 1970, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1997.
Spending an extra £5 on a bottle will make all the difference.. spending an extra £10 will change your life (his words, not mine).
Stick with big well known houses like Sandeman, Dow’s, Taylor’s, Graham’s, Quinta do Noval, Niepoort.
If you decide to create a cheeseboard (with or without drinks pairings) off the back of reading this blog post, I would love to hear about it! Enjoy :)