Cheese, like wine, is one of life's great pleasures. Pierre Androuet, the doyen of French cheese, even goes so far as to say, If I had a son who was ready to marry, l would tell him 'Beware of girls who don't like wine, truffles, cheese or music.
Sadly, it is one which is all too often unheeded and many an otherwise enjoyable meal is marred by badly chosen, ill-kept and illmatched cheese and wine. Yet with just a little thought and care, a cheeseboard can be the highlight of a Meal, capable of compensating for any culinary lapse.
The trick is not to be over ambitious. Tiny slivers of a dozen or more cheeses are neither appetizing nor complementary: too many flavours and textures all competing for attention merely become confusing and result in a lot of dried-out, unusable left-overs. For an averagesized dinner party of six people, four cheeses ate more than adequate and the possibility of serving just one superb cheese alone shOUld never be discounted.
Quality should always be the first consideration when selecting cheeses. It is worth seeking out a good cheesemonger whose stock is kept in carefully controlled conditions. A shop like this will be able to advise you on your choice and should have a wide range of clearly labelled cheeses on Offer, including more unusual varieties. Always ask to taste first before you make your decision - a reputable cheesemonger will be delighted to oblige. Be flexible in your selection: if the Brie you'd set your heart on isn't LIP to scratch, substitute a Camembert or a Coulommiers.
The first rule of shopping for cheese is never to buy anything in less than prime condition. Ask for your portion to be freshly cut and look first at the cut surface of the whole cheese. It should have a fresh appearance, and no tell-tale sweatiness, cracking or hardness, all o which indicate that the cheese i drying out.It's a good idea to feel soft cheese if you can. They should be springy to the touch and when ripe should be evenly soft from centre to edge. Check that soft cheeses are not too runny. Smell is another good indicator of quality, so sniff your sample of cheese before you taste. It should have a fresh smell, redolent of its particular variety. Reject any that have a hint of ammonia, as they ate past their best.
Selecting for a cheeseboar
Here you should address yourself to the question of balance. A cheeseboard should sit comfortably with the other courses of the ideal, which means taking into account the type of food being served (is it strong and spicy, light and fresh or somewhere in between); the wines which will accompany it; and the relationship between the cheeses themselves. The single, most important factor is never to serve cheeses which require a lighter wine than that which has been drunk with the main course as this has a nasty, jolting effect.This, of course, assumes that you will serve the cheese before the pudding, French-style. The reason for this is that few cheeses consort happily with sweet dessert wines; most need something drier or fruitier to offset them to advantage. Texture, as well as flavour, needs careful thought. The ideal cheeseboard includes at least one hard or semi-hard cheese, perhaps a traditional English cheese like Cheddar or Cheshire; one semi-soft cheese, which could he one of the milder, washed-rind cheeses; one very soft cheese, perhaps a chevre or a bloomy-rind specimen; and the fourth possibly a milder blue or a cheese with a cendre coating.Cheeses should always be eaten in ascending order of strength to be fully appreciated. And it's worth noting that soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses are tasted by pressing them against the palate with the tongue, while hard or sharp cheeses are - tasted on the tip of the tongue. In f this way variations in consistency s and flavour are apparent. If you think your guests may be Uncertain s about which cheese to try first, then unobtrusive numbered labels are e quite a helpful idea.