If you look to social media, you’ll see that food boards are all the rage these days. With the Holiday party season coming up, it’s good to know you don’t have to cook a whole extravagant meal if you don’t want to—you can assemble all sorts of tasty things on a cutting board or platter, or whatever you can scrounge up from around the kitchen. There’s totally no shame in picking up cheese, charcuterie, olives, fancy breads… it’s all about enjoying your own party, right?
Our annual Christmas party, as I may have mentioned in the past, has a theme of polyester and cheese – throughout the year, friends text me with photos of garish polyester finds they come across at thrift stores or in boxes in the attic – “I found my polyester and cheese outfit!”. Polyester is encouraged but not required, as people tend to party hop on December weekends, but the one rule is that everyone bring a chunk, wedge or tub of cheese. Who doesn’t love cheese? It’s easy to set out and not have to worry about keeping hot or cold (if it’s a baked brie, it’s always gone before it cools completely anyway), and the very best part is the leftover nuggets we pack away to nibble on for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
So when Castello asked if I would come up with some tips on how to assemble a holiday cheese board, I was more than happy to comply. It is, in fact, a year-round habit of mine—just about any time I have people over, even if it’s just one or two extra at my kitchen table, I rummage through my cheese drawer and set a few out, with crackers or bread and whatever accompaniments happen to be in my kitchen. If you’re planning ahead, you could pick up any number of nuts, dried fruits, preserves and fancy crackers or fruit breads, but I guarantee if you look through your cupboard and fridge, there’s something in there that’s perfect for a cheese board.
Marble, Wood, Tile?
First consideration: the board itself. You could use a wood cutting board, inexpensive fancy cheese boards seem to be everywhere. Marble is pretty, but expensive—I like picking up a kitchen tile from my local home supply store and putting a sticky felt furniture pad on the bottom of each corner. Easy, and it costs about $3.
What Kinds of Cheeses to Include:
When choosing cheeses for a board, go for an assortment of flavours and textures – something sharp, something creamy, something blue. Firm and soft, square and round. It’s visually pleasing, more interesting, and appeals to a wider range of tastes. Take your cheese out of the fridge half an hour before you plan to serve it to take the chill off, and don’t bother pre-cutting it – the more surface area, the more quickly it will dry out. Place the largest pieces on your board first, spacing them out with room for crackers and other accompaniments.
For this board, I used some Castello Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar—one of my favourite cheddars, it’s rich and intense, with tiny flecks of those tangy calcium crystals I love so much. It’s matured for up to 18 months and created by expert cheese makers. I also chose a rich, buttery Castello Brie. This cheese melts in your mouth with a mild and enjoyable aftertaste. Next, I added a smooth, sharp yet lush Castello Double Crème Blue. This distinct blue cheese has a pleasantly aromatic and rich and creamy texture. Other cheeses featured on this board are a nutty, velvety Castello Double Crème White and Mike’s new favourite—Castello Cracked Black Pepper Cheddar, a piquant cheddar with an extra hit of black pepper that’s divine and flavourful.
All the extras:
Next, add sliced or toasted baguette, crackers and other essentials—small jars or ramekins of chutney, apple jelly or mustard, sliced baguette, breadsticks, whatever you like. Piles of sliced cured meats or small bowls of olives or gherkins. Then you can fill in the spaces in between – I don’t like cramming in every bit of empty space, because it can be awkward to maneuver a knife in there, and you want to be able to access the cheese.
Add nuts, dried fruit, chunks of honeycomb or quince paste—again, go for an assortment of chewy, soft, crisp and crunchy. I like tucking in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary just for the look and aroma. And add a few small knives for friends to help themselves.
With extras on hand in the fridge—another beautiful thing about cheese is that it keeps so well, so you don’t need to worry about having too much—you can replenish quickly and easily as friends graze, and enjoy the party without being tied to the kitchen.