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How to select and serve cheese

05 January 2011

When compiling a cheese board, offer a selection of cheeses, choosing at least one from one of the following groups - fresh, soft white, semi-soft, washed-rind, crumblies, hard, blue and flavoured.

Another consideration is to offer cheese made from the milk of different animals including cows, sheep, goats and buffalos, as all provide a different flavour. Including seasonal cheeses can create added interest.

It's crucial to offer cheeses that contrast in strength, taste and texture. A large number of cheeses are not necessary - quality and the relationship of the cheeses to one another are more important. In a small restaurant, a choice of three or four cheeses is acceptable. Some restaurants may even offer just one cheese in the peak of condition.

French or Italian restaurants should stick to cheeses made in their relevant countries. Otherwise, why not consider adopting a theme for your cheese board? You could offer a British-only selection or a range from your local area.

The first step towards serving good cheese is to select a cheesemonger who knows their product well and can advise on origins, processes and seasonality. They will be able to offer a range of traditionally made, artisan cheeses and allow you to taste before buying.

More restaurants are serving cheese ready plated. This aids portion control and avoids the need for a board or trolley in the restaurant. Whatever method you choose, waiting staff should be knowledgeable about the cheeses they are serving, both in respect of strength and provenance. Like the themed cheese board, themed cheese plates can be offered - either reflecting cheeses from one area or country, or maybe devoted to a specific type, such as blue cheese.

When it comes to accompaniments, fruits, nuts or salad ingredients work well with specific cheeses. Crisp apples are good with Cheddar and other hard cheeses, while pears, grapes or figs are good with blue cheeses and strawberries with mild, soft, goats' cheeses. A fruit cheese - fruit boiled to a solid consistency with half as much sugar as jam - is an alternative. Plum, fig and orange, and quince all work well. Walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts are among the best nuts to serve with cheese.

When it comes to salad accompaniments, celery works well with most cheeses. The best leaves to serve are those that are bitter, rather than sweet, so choose chicory, endives, Batavia or sorrel. Watercress is good with Stilton and other blue cheese, while mizuna and rocket go well with mild sheep's or goats' cheeses.

Serve bread or biscuits that highlight the flavour and character of the cheese. Sour dough, wholemeal and white milk breads all work well, as do water biscuits and oatcakes.

STORING CHEESE

â- Keep cheese away from other foods which may be spoiled by the smell.

â- Wrap the cut surface of cheese in greaseproof or waxed paper to prevent drying out. The natural rind can be exposed to the air.

â- Blue cheeses should be wrapped and kept separate from others to prevent the spread of mould spores.

â- Remove cheese from the refrigerator or cold store about one hour before service.

ENSURING THE CHEESE YOU SERVE IS OF THE HIGHEST QUALITY

â- Smell the cheese. The aromas should be earthy, fruity and musty. If you can smell ammonia, the cheese is past its best.

â- Spots of mildew on rind are a sign of damp storage.

â- Hard, semi-hard and blue cheeses should not be dry when cut.

â- Soft cheese when cut should not be runny, but should have a delicate creamy consistency.

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