The Cheese Platter
Love a wine and fine cheese party? Here’s some “Frenchy” tips to make the perfect serve.
Alright now we’re are talking about something seriously delectable, but also debateable. How to serve a fine cheese platter? Well, that will depend on your cultural preference, habits and taste. My hubbie will call me a “cheese snob” but in fact I’m more of a “cheese maniac” (or what word you think is best? “addict” “freak” “nut” “fanatic”?). I-love-cheese. I fell into it as a child in Québec and we are lucky to find such great artisan ones from all over the province there. And I’m not just talking about the humble traditional squeaky cheese curds, but amazing ranges of award winning European-style varieties. That is certainly because of the French Heritage and of dairy farming as a dominant agricultural production in Québec. Our cheeses is one of the edible comforts I miss the most since living abroad. In Australia, there are some good ones and not just the “tasty” (cheddar), but from what I’ve observed, the cheese cult is not as prominent. Dairy products are unfortunately not part of the speciality of the region where we live. To find my favourite types, I have to shop a bit further away at the nearest larger town where I can find good selections of imported European varieties and Aussie ones made in other states. Tasmania has great reputation for cheese making. I’ve tasted some really good ones and I’m hoping to visit this island some day!
Some favourite cheese varieties • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
To go back to the platters, not only are the products different from one country to another, the popular way to serve a board is also not the same. In France, fine cheeses are served after the main course and before dessert. This is how my family serves it as well. In Québec, fine cheese boards are also part of cocktail party buffets or degustation called a “soirée vin fromage” (wine and cheese evening), where tasting some featured varieties with the pairing wines is the main meal. In Australia (based on cultural habits in the region where I live), there are not many rules when it comes to serving cheeses with friends and family. The board is called a grazing platter and it is served as an “afternoon tea” cocktail or as a nibble before the main meal. My mum was a little outraged that cheeses were going to be served at our wedding’s late afternoon cocktail. I remember her saying “but that will spoil the guest’s appetites”. Well, that was funny as I had to say “when in Oz we do as Aussies”. I don’t mind the way cheeses are served here but she is right, it does fill you up and spoils the appetite! The danger is that with a drink and empty belly, it’s easier to nibble more calories than we should. A good thing is that they are mostly served with light crackers instead of baguette bread. And when it comes to the French way, served in between dinner and dessert with fresh bread, it helps to finish the wine and slowly taste the flavours of a selection suggested by the host. But you also have to leave some room for dessert… I think that serving cheese with fruits makes a perfect all in one!
Cheese boards are usually made of wood, glass or stone and different sorts of special knives are used to cut soft or hard textures. As for serving tips, first, the number of fine cheeses presented goes with the number of people and the portion size can vary depending if that is served as a main “vin et fromage”, cocktail platter, or after dinner. For any of them, it is good to have at least two or three different varieties of textures, per example a creamy camembert, a semi-soft blue and hard swiss-style eye cheese. For a big wine and cheese party, putting a little note to mark the varieties helps people to know what they are tasting. Cheeses have to sit at room temperature for 45-60 minutes before serving, to bring flavour. Serve them with plain or nutty bread slices or crackers. Never use flavoured (especially artificial cheese eeeew) or salty rice crackers (and I’ve seen it often) that will spoil the taste of the cheese and really be over salty and unhealthy. For a cocktail grazing platter, contrast with a bit of sweetness adding fresh and dried fruits, jam (try fig jam), paste or jelly on the boards. Crudites, dips, nuts, olives, pickles and colt cut meat and pâté provides a fuller buffet. If serving as the Frenchies do, usually just the cheeses and slices of fresh baguette bread will be enough. The perfect pairing of wine variety for all types of cheeses is not something everyone fusses about all the time but will definitely bring the best of the flavours to each other. I’ll get back to this beverage later on. As you might know, I live in Tumbarumba, the coolest wine region of New South Wales, so that is a big chapter to come!
Sublime flavours of fig, cheese and wine • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
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