Why it's time to rethink the cheeseboard

In winter, baked camembert is all that's needed on the cheeseboard.
In winter, baked camembert is all that's needed on the cheeseboard. Photo: iStock

COMMENT

It's time for a cheeseboard revolution, folks. Time to move away from the safety of a hard, blue and brie combination.

As a cheesemonger, I'm asked "what do I put on my cheeseboard?" daily. It's a big question. The world of cheese is considerably larger than most of us can dream of. There are more French cheeses available in Australia than there are days in the year, and that's just the ones that can be imported.

Christian Hage, owner of Chatswood speciality deli, Quattro Deli.
Christian Hage, owner of Chatswood speciality deli, Quattro Deli. Photo: Supplied

Australia is also experiencing a new dawn in farmhouse cheese production, with incredible cheeses being produced in all corners of the country.

Cheese comes in all shapes and sizes. Strong and intense, mild and sweet, salty, buttery, it's all there. However, I find many people only enjoy the comfort of cheeses they're familiar with, and rarely venture into the unknown.

A well-curated collection of cheeses should allow you to travel the world. Whether it is the height of summer or cool depths of winter, cheese combinations should interesting and satisfying.

If going totally off-piste is too much to start with, follow the tried and true method of soft, blue and hard, but push it out a little. Include a farmhouse brie with a gentle mushroom aroma, a blue that crumbles slightly, and an aged cheddar from any of the amazing producers here in Australia.

Aged cheese is well worth exploring. Look upwards to the mountains of France for carefully matured comte of varying ages – 12,18, 24 or 36 months. Ageing cheese creates amazing complexities and, much like wine tasting, the verticals (comparisons of different vintages) can be intriguing. The difference of only a month in aging can be an amazing experience for the taste buds.

Seasonality should also come into the mix. We're still wrapped in winter woolies, so baked camembert is all that's needed on the board. Find yourself by the fire? Replace marshmallows with some chunks of beaufort or cave-aged gruyere and roast over the flames. Come September and fresh goat's cheese with a blushing rosé is perfect on a spring afternoon.

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The final part of any good cheese board is the accompaniments. There's the classic pairing of quince, which suits a wide variety of cheeses. But things can certainly be taken to the next level.

Pair cherry jam with a sheep's milk cheese such as Ossau-Iraty or pecorino sardo. Add fresh figs and honey to your favourite blue or, for a savoury kick, serve onion relish with mature cheddar. Experiment, have fun and find the combination that makes you go "wow".

Cheeseboards are a blank canvas. I encourage you to have a chat to your local cheesemonger next time you're creating one, just like you would with a butcher or restaurant sommelier. You may well discover a cheese that becomes your new firm favourite.

Christian Hage is the owner of Quattro Deli in Chatswood, Sydney.