Cheese Hard and Soft, With Their Accompaniments
The Flavours and History of Cheese Found Frequently in Our Restaurants, Cheesemongers and Supermarkets
by Maurice Alexander
Image courtesy of Elisa Michelet of Unsplash
Currently experiencing roaring popularity, cheeseboards are a collection of cheeses presented together as an alternative to the dessert. Cheeseboards are perfect substitute for those with a savoury preference, being equally delicious with the quality and choice of cheese offered by restaurants. The innumerable varieties of cheeses available and the ease of their transportation in the modern world, cheeseboards can reliably provide an exciting dining experience for even the most experienced gourmet.
What and how cheeses are presented can vary enormously. In smaller eateries with lower prices and a wider, often younger, customer base, the cheeses are typically brought to the table in as a tray overflowing with fruits and other none cheese items surrounding wedges of the cheese known to most and fit for a much wider palette. With the grandeur and majesty of exclusive restaurants, cheese is often brought to the table on a wheeled tray to be cut and served dependent on your selection along with their complimenting accompaniments. With the former presentation, the names of the cheeses are listed on the menu and with the latter, you personally must request the cheeses that you would like. Both ways require a level of knowledge of the cheese varieties that most often appear on the menu so that you can make your selections with the greatest confidence knowing that you will order cheese you will enjoy and being able to make selections that will maximise the variety.
Cheeses are the principal fundamental level of this dining experience. The cheeses served should be of the most delightful flavours and varied textures. Variety is the most important aspect of a board as eating several ‘hard’ cheeses one after the other, as deliciously and flavoursome as they may, will be quite boring. After the first grainy bites of Cheshire, Caerphilly, and Beaufort, you will be craving the soft, pillowy centre of a Camembert, Limberger, and Chabicou. For your understanding, I will explain the types of cheeses available and detail the cheeses commonly found on the trays and boards of restaurants.
The character of cheese varies greatly on a county to county basis due to the differing qualities of milk provided by different breeds of grazing cattle, goats, ewes and donkeys, mares, buffalo and the diet upon they feed. The milk obtained from these animals may be used whole, reserving the entirety of their fat content, skimmed of a certain percentage of their fat content, or enriched into a cream. Despite the upcoming list with all its detail, it is by no means exhaustive. There is an innumerable amount of cheese sold internationally and locally, cheeses crafted on a small scale known only to local restaurants and cheese enthusiasts, that it is literally impossible to name every cheese- which is why cheeseboards can be so exciting.
These possess a low moisture content whose texture is one that either adheres to a knife when cut or crumbles away. Ultimately, the easiest way to identify them is that they are not soft and squishy to the touch. Common hard/semi-hard cheeses on the menus of restaurants include:
Appenzell is frequently awarded the title of the most flavoursome cheese in the world. Great wheels of the pale honey coloured cheese are steeped in great vats of fine white wines or local ciders which imbue the cheese with bright notes of floral, fruit notes. The salted tang of this exciting cheese is produced by submerging the wheels in a spiced, herbal brine. 75 Swiss diaries produced this wonderful product, each abiding by centuries old rules on its original production, adding their own unique touch with their own herbal spice mixes and choice of wine/cider. Any restaurant with that takes care in their cheese will definitely secure this special cheese for their boards, especially aged varieties with the most pronounced flavours brought out from a maturation period of over 6 months, indicated through a black sticker being overlaid upon the rind. A flavoursome horn of plenty contained with a wheel of cheese.
Wheels of this cheese are crafted in the Beaufort township of the French region of Savoie nestled amongst the blue peaks of the Alps. Beaufort comes in three varieties, Beaufort d'été, Beaufort d’hiver and Beaufort d’alpage. Beaufort d'été is produced in the summer and takes on the colour of whipped butter and a gentle floral flavour. Beaufort d’hiver is produced during the winter and is completely white with a smooth, gentle flavour. The third type, Beaufort d’Alpage is small-scale product that is crafted within the traditional farmhouses of the town. Unlike emmenthal, Beaufort cheese has a series of thin fissures running throughout its body.
Cantal cheese has pale yellow centre with a thin grey, brownish rind, taking its name from its place of origin; the Cantal Mountains of the Auvergne region of France. The production of the cheese is very similar to cheddar and thus takes on many of the characteristics typically found within a fine cheddar. When young, Cantal has a mild, nutty aftertaste with aged Cantals having a sharp tang.
Caerphilly cheese is a cream wheel of cheese encased in a thin rind resembling billowing smoke. Originating in Wales, semi-skimmed milk is used to produce the cheese which has a flaky texture, a delicate flavour with a salty edge.
A pressed, hard cheese either a natural pale ‘straw’ or coloured to a bright orange. Worldwide production brings an innumerable amount of varied subtleties in flavour and texture.
Shaped as tall cylinders that come in three colours. Mild in flavour with a slightly salty edge and crumbling texture are white, the natural state of the cheese, and red, which is created through the edition of a vegetable dye. Blue Cheshire is famed for its richness and blue rivulets that form in the final stages of maturation.
Similar to gruyere in all qualities, the cheese is hard, dry in texture with a soft yellow colour. Eyes will run throughout the body of Comte and will be of considerable size.
Honey coloured with a dense grain, Sage Derby is formed by the addition of finely chopped sage leaves to the curds during the draining and moulding process of cheese creation. The leaves are held between the curbs creating a gorgeous marbling effect of mottled green stone whilst instilling the herbal flavours of the sage. This winter version of Derby cheese is to be considered a delicacy and should be requested when presented.
A strong-tasting blue cheese with a white flesh punctuated with globules of blue growth sealed in a white penicillin coat. Friable, the close grain of the cheese reflects the hard pressure exerted upon it during the moulding process
Double Gloucester is a cheese of warm yellow tones with a smooth and firm body. Made from the milk from Gloucestershire breed cattle, Double Gloucester has a strong, savoury flavour often augmented with the blending in of herbs and other aromatics. This cheese is particularly notable outside of gastronomy, as a wheel of Double Gloucester is used for a yearly cheese-rolling race at Cooper’s Hill in the county.
Edam is a pale, honey coloured cheese encased within a scarlet or bright yellow wax coat. Similar to gouda, edams flavour profile is rather tasteless when the cheese is young but becomes considerably sharp later in life. The texture is waxy when young, drying and liable to crumbling with age.
A pale yellow in colour with a mild, sweet taste, Emmenthal is cheese which is produced as enormous wheels of around 80 kilogrammes in total weight. This sheer mass is why Emmenthal cheese is only available as slices with iconic holes running throughout them. These eyes are the produce of carbon dioxide produced by Emmenthals microbiology. Can only be produced in the specific Swiss region of its origin. The rind is embellished with the swiss flag to display the cheese’s heritage.
Covered by a thin wax layer, Fontina cheese is an Italian cheese possessing a sweet, nutty flavour similar to parmesan. Unlike parmesan, the texture of Fontina is delightfully smooth.
Yellow cored with a rind coloured like a glorious sunset, gouda has a surprisingly bland flavour when young but develops a distinctive taste with extended maturation. With this in mind, ensure that the gouda is heavily aged greater than 2 years when choosing your selection.
A mild flavoured cheese the colour of glowing embers, supplied to the cheese through the addition of carrot or beetroot juice in Leicester of the highest quality. Leicester cheese crumbles when cut with a knife. When young, around 5 months of aging, the cheese has a mellow, slighted sweet flavour which transforms into a sweetened tang when nearing a 9 months maturation period.
Parmesan is one of the most popular cooking cheese on the market, commonly added to a variety of Italian dishes as a finishing touch and use to infuse sauces and stews with a savoury undertone. This application uses an aged Parmesan of 2 to 3 years which creates has a very hard texture fit for grating. However, a young Parmesan makes for an excellent table cheese; light, fruity and nutty.
A confluence of blue veins give Stilton a very special flavour; a sweet yeast taste with a pungent, nutty aftertaste. A fine Stilton has wrinkled grey and brown coat and, despite the firm texture, has an impossibly creamy feel on the palette.
Wensleydale is a hard cheese coming in two types; white and blue. White Wensleydale has a fresh flavour with a honeyed aftertaste and crumbly texture which adheres itself to the blade when cut with a knife. Cranberries may also be suspended in the cheese for appeals to a rustic aesthetic. Blue Wensleydale has a close grain and a rich creamy taste, its name derived from interlinked blue veins running throughout the round. The difference in development between these two cheeses is the pace of their maturation; the white with haste and the blue at ease.
This family of cheeses includes the ‘bloomy-rind’ varieties with a white coat of penicillin coating their soft, gelatine bodies, ‘washed-rind’, cheese washed repeatedly with brine, wine, or cider to invigorate the growth of micro-organisms on the surface which seal the cheese with magnificent colour, and ‘blue’, a cheese type which undergoes an entirely different maturation process, with the ripening occurring from the inside-out. The injection of, wholly impotent, bacteria promotes the development of multiple navy fissures branching out throughout the cheese’s pale inner cavity.
Soft/cream cheeses of artisanal quality can be seasonal, chiefly those made from goat and/or ewe milk. The milking period of these animals occurs during short windows between the months of March and December. With the fast-ripening nature of soft cheese, critics site that they are of lesser quality during the winter month, which is why some of the following cheeses may not be available during certain times of the year due to the commitment to quality and diner enjoyment fine restaurants hold steadfast.
Cheeseboards are best selected during the summer months but if you do attend a restaurant meal, dining in a gently lit fine establishment sheltered from the chill, frost and wind in the afternoon darkness of December does have its very own appeal, the restaurant will have replaced the soft, out-of-season selection with a variety of soaked and ‘strong’ varieties that will doubtlessly match the absentees.
Banon cheese has awe-inspiring glamourous presentation sold as individual disks of 100g of buttery cheese of the purest white enwrapped with chestnut leaves held together with string. Banon has a heritage from Gaulic France and has the marvellous brilliance of antiquity. The chestnut leaves accompany the cheese throughout its life, first being gathered on Autumn days following their departure from the forest canopies of the Banon region of Southern France. The star-shaped leaves are then dipped into a wine vinegar or a fruit brandy and then used to clothe the cheese, which touch the body of the cheese with a tart flavour. Dependant on the cheeses age, the texture of a round of Banon can be firm and acidic to a soft-butter consistency with tart and ‘green’, vegetable flavours.
Brie bears the title of ‘King of the Cheeses’, following an announcement from the King at Royal court in of the 1700s and it seems to be putting this title to good use, seeing its frequent appearance on cheeseboards and trendy ‘spreads’ at special events. Brie comes as a medium-sized white disc with occasional spots of reddish pigment speckled like an exotic hen’s egg. When cut, a perfectly ripe brie will pour out of any incision made into its body, the ooze yielding an extremely subtle flavour.
Camembert is a cheese hailing form Northern France, packed within a little wooden pallet and stands at about an inch in height, enrobed in a white coat of penicillin. The cheese is commonly baked, however, served at room temperature on a cheese platter, the flavour of Camembert is subdued, nutty, with a slight tang. Camembert ranges from ‘young’, ‘mature’, to ‘ripe’, becoming less structurally sound with the flavours intensifying. The cheese’s scent also intensifies with age, therefore only serve mature or ripe Camembert to an experienced, cheese-enjoying audience.
A short round column, this goats cheese has its origins following the defeat of the 700s Arab military at the Battle of Pontiers in Southern France following them leaving their goats grazing on their retreat. The cheese especially prized, being produced by only by a few producers local to the Poitou-Charentes region. With a surface resembling crumpled paper, the cheese within is pure white with a sweet tang when young from a two-week maturation period. Chabichou presented after a 6-week maturation have a sharp, savoury flavour.
Crottin de Chavignol
Crottin de Chavignol is little fat round of goats cheese, white in interior with a brown rind sprinkled with white growth. A defining hallmark of this cheese is that it can be gladly consumed at all ages of its maturity, each age exerting different features. Young Cottin de Chavignol has a subdued nutty contained within a dense cheese. With a longer maturation period, this cheese develops a more pronounced flavour expected from a fine goats cheese. With even more maturation, Cottin de Chavignol begins to crumble and a powerful flavour, with a hard rind that fades to an icy blue.
Dauphin gains its title from the son of Louis XIV, Dauphin, French for ‘Dolphin’, which is why Dauphin cheese is sometimes served moulded with the outline of the titular marine animal. However, this is now quite rare and is typically produced as a round wheel. Following a four-month maturation process, the inside of Dauphin cheese, coloured like the soft light of the morning sun, encased within a white rind, is ever so tender. Dauphin has a complex, spiced, herbal flavour given to the cheese through the addition of finely chopped tarragon, ground black pepper, minced curly parsley and powdered cloves which gives this cheese is special flavours it is known for.
Gaperon has a heritage of over one thousand years of its production in the Auvergne region of central France. The cheese is moulded into a round dome-shape and, with a great maturation period, is full of the moreish, savoury flavours of black pepper and pink garlic, the chief herb for which the Auvergne region is famed.Fortunately, the intensity of these flavours mean that Gaperon cheese is available throughout the year with no fluctuation in quality, taste, or texture. This cheese, spotted with blue pigments, would be tied with a yellow ribbon and presented as a wedding present, indicating its prized status.
Harzerkase is a very interesting cheese and should be chosen when it makes an appearance as a cheese available for a board. It is a small round of cheese with a gelatinous texture and sour taste. There are two varieties available, white and red, the former being whiter in colour and softer in flavour, and the latter being warmer in appearance and has greater intensity of flavour.
Langres cheese originates from the Champagne region of France, being produced as small white cones with a flat top. Beneath this penicillin layer is a rind of the brightest orange. This cheese has a powerful odour and a soft texture, the flesh of Langres being salty to strong dependent on the length of its maturation.
Sealed in ruby wax, Leyden is a hard, gouda-like cheese with cumin seeds dispersed throughout its yellow interior. Having origins in the Leiden region of the Netherlands, this cheese has a pleasant spice flavour which compliments the smooth flavour, the spiced warmth being sometimes augmented with the addition of more exotic spices, notably cloves and/or caraway seeds.
Limberger is rectangular cheese of the most potent and odour. Despite having the pallid colour and a rotten flesh smell, this cheese is as delicious as any other. The rectangular, yellow-brown parcel contains a white interior, which is soft beneath the rind and stiffening to a crumbling feta-like texture at the core. Its taste is typically described as being a strong salted, chalky flavour.
Pont-l'Évêque is a cheese hailing from the Northern region of France, Normandy, and is speculated to be the oldest surviving Norman cheese in production. Its appearance mimics camembert, having a white rind with a very gentle orange hue and often joined alongside camembert in fondues. The flavour is very smooth and gentle.
Hailing from Brittany, the furthers most North-Western region of France rich in Celtic heritage, is Port-Salut. This popular cheese has a pale interior and a branded sticker of the brightest orange. Despite the magnificent contrast of an interior of the palest gold and the brightest pumpkin orange, the cheeses flavour is very mild. Unlike with most cheeses, Port-Salut with the strongest odours do not indicate any great change in flavour intensity; a potent aroma is just as flavoursome is a slightly smelling Port-Salut.
Grassy with sweet, fruity notes similar to white wine is how the taste of this soft, creamy cheese hailing from the heart of France in the Berry region. Young Pouligny-Saint-Pierre is deeply wrinkled When this dries out, the wrinkles become more pronounced and a bluish hue appears on the white rind. Aged further, the rind of a Pouligny-Saint-Pierre takes on a blazing colour of autumn leaves, providing great visual appeal against the interior which still retains its white complexion.
Muenster is a savoury, ever so soft flat disc that is packaged individually in wooden boxes. This cheese has a natural rind of warm reds and oranges gained from the repeated brine washes the cheeses undergoes. This enflamed rind bestows a tang to the cheese and a very strong, pungent odour. Muenster cheese is at its best is made during the dog days of Summer and throughout the months of Autumn when the cows switch their diet to the alpine grasses of the Eastern mountains of France. are produced in the summer and autumn when the cows graze on the 'high stubble' of the Vosges, which is when you should choose it if Muenster appears on the selection. Muenster can also come spiced with powdered cumin sprinkled on surface of the cheese which melds with the orange rind during maturation.
Murol is a curiously shaped cheese, taking on the appearance of doughnut being a wheel of cheese with a two inch hole in the centre. The rind has an appealing sunset palette of warm pinks and pale oranges, colours imbued into the surface of this cheese from its baths of beer and chillies. When cut, this bright rind reveals an ivory interior with a milky flavour with a sweet or savoury edge. When a greatly aged Murol is desired,
Reblochon is a soft, closely held pallid cheese contained within a washed rind with a pale pink colour a velvet feel. Fruity, nutty with a full cream flavour is how reblochon is typically described and is sold as small rounds packed individually in wooden boxes.
Sancerre cheese is solely made from goats’ milk and is produced in Western France in the ‘Chateau country’. Young, Sancerre has pronounced fruit flavours which develop into a nutty, powerful flavour as a result of aging. The rind is white with blotches of grey mould with a snow-white inside formed as small, cute, fat rounds.
Sainte Marcellin comes as a very small round coated blue and grey moulds. Traditionally from the region of Isère of France, this cheese used to only be made with goats’ milk but now cows’ milk is also used. Contained within this wrinkled exterior is a cheese with a ghostly pallor, the texture of which changes dependant on its age, being at its most firm when young and losing its combination, unable to stand with full structural integrity with greater age. Young, the cheese has a mild, salted flavour. Old, the innards of a Sainte Marcellin harbours the most intense flavours; a divine array of salty, nutty and fruity notes contained within a miniature round of cheese.
A cylinder of alabaster cheese clothed in a fine charcoal powder. Sainte Maure is a soft cheese with a gentle acidified tang, two hallmarks of goats’ cheese. The rind has an appearance of slate covered with freshly laid snow, thin and edible with a strong, powerful flavour. The texture is quite dense and dry for a soft cheese.
A soft, pale cheese encased in a natural marbelesque silver rind with patterned with ruby and jaune moulds. Sainte-Nectaire carries the title of its region of origin, being crafted with the milk of the Salers breed of cow which feed exclusively on volcanic pastures. This special diet gifts the cheese with fresh, grassy tones set on a bed of a milk, nutty taste.
A product of central France, Selles-Sur-Cher is goats cheese whose exterior is powdered with crumbled charcoal, paired with the microbial growth, the rind of this short, cylindrical cheese resembles a clouded midnight sky. Sold individually in miniature rounds, this cheese has a lingering salted taste, its texture being buttery, quickly melting in the mouth.
Tomme de Savoie
This cheese has a rough, grey rind with speckles of bright reds, oranges and yellows. Within the snow-white interior are eyes dotted throughout the supple, pale gold inside. Produced in the Savoie region of North-Western France, Tomme de Savoie which have a mild, nutty flavour. Tomme au Marc de Raisin is a popular variation of this cheese, where the Tomme de Savoie is coated in a ‘marc’ of grapes, marc being a by-product of wine production after grapes have been pressed.
Valencay cheese has great visual appeal due to its curious shape; a small, flat-topped, four-pointed pyramid. Formed using goats’ cheese, it has a fresh, clean taste with gentle citrus tones. Once the edible structure has developed its muted blue rind, it is coated in a fine ash. The ash used is dependent on the type of Valencay being produced; Valencay Fermier, coated with the ash of burnt oak, and Valencay Laitier, using ash from the desiccated burnt remains of vegetables. The former is the most sought after, being of higher quality with limited production and Valencay Laitier being the industrialised equivalent.
The finest restaurant establishments will allow their selection of cheeses to stand alone and portray to you their exquisite flavours. Simply put, a restaurant that appreciates their cheese and takes great care in what cheese they provide their diners, will have specific and very few accompaniments. Ignore present trendy ‘charcuterie’ boards which are usually just wedges of Brie and rounds of Camembert with copious amounts of grapes, strawberries, chocolate, biscuits and cured meats- none of these things being necessary or expected when you are serving premium cheese.
The accompaniments you find within Michelin start establishments are strict and tremendously slimmed down; the only accompaniments are those that are successful in augmenting the flavours of the cheese they serve.
Slices of freshly baked baguette are served with softer cheeses in order to provide a pleasing contrast with the crunch of its crust.
Thin Biscuits and Unsalted Butter
Biscuits serve to be the bed upon which you lay the cheese before their immediate consumption. Biscuits come in a variety of blends and flavours but, in my own opinion, unflavoured oat biscuits provide the best cheeseboard experience. The oats provide a more substantial, rustic texture and you are not distracted from the heavenly cheese experience by a flavour imparted into the biscuit. Butter will be provided for use in basting the oat biscuit surface when eating a particularly hard and dry cheese, its purpose being to prevent your mouth from drying out.
These are wafer thin slices of sausage meat that has been preserved with salts, spices and aged appropriately to cultivate divine and individual flavours. There are as many cured meat varieties as there are cheeses, with the appropriate pairing of both requiring their own separate article. Therefore, in a dining environment, the restaurant will provide complimenting cured meats with their cheese-trolley offerings, and in the home-environment, everyone will be pleased with the standard Parma ham, prosciutto and chorizo trio.
Thin slices of the crisp, ivory flesh of radishes make it a heavenly match with a gooey, indulgent cheeses. These magenta orbs accompany cheeseboards during the late spring through to the early autumn.
Served with cheese during the Summer months, the floral sweetness of orange peaches provides a refreshing, freeing contrast of flavour when eaten with a rich, powerful blue cheese.
This speckled, Autumn fruit contains fresh, cleansing flavours which pair beautifully with semi-hard cheese, particularly if the cheese has been smoked.
Presented alongside cheese for the very same reasons as peaches or pears, with scarlet-skinned apples fulfilling the role of a tender peach during the Autumn and the crisp, spritely taste of an psychedelic green apple serving as a substitute for pears.
Cut ripe figs are served with a wide variety of cheeses due to their jam-like centres compliment everything they are served alongside. These purple pockets of exotic sweetness are presented with cheese during the Summer.
Jams, Conserves and Chutneys
These are fresh fruits that have been rendered down into a jelly paste with a sugars, herbs and spices to provide their flavours during the fruit’s off seasons.