How to make the ultimate cheeseboard for Valentine's Day
PUBLISHED: 14:57 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:57 11 February 2019
We speak to an expert about how to compose a cheese selection to be proud of.
If you read my article a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know where I stand on Valentine’s Day. I, personally, think it’s an overpriced night out. BUT – I still want a present and a card Mr Jarvis!
Our favourite way to spend ‘the most romantic night of the year’ is sat on the floor of the living room with a platter of cheeses and a bottle of decent Champagne or red wine. Last year we bought a bottle of the Co-op’s Les Pionniers NV champagne (£19 at the time) which had beat much pricier plonk in a national taste test and truly was a gorgeously effervescent, toasty, bisuitty little number. An absolute steal.
Now, when it comes to cheese I go totally overboard. I know you’re only meant to buy two, possibly three pieces, but there’s so much choice!
This year, to help myself, and any other folk having a ‘carpet picnic’ on Valentine’s, I enlisted from Clare Jackson, who runs specialist cheese shop and deli Slate in both Southwold and Aldeburgh, for some truly expert advice.
Clare had enviably just returned from a trip to the Lincolnshire Poacher dairy- living the dream!
“What I recommend for Valentine’s,” she revealed, “is a melting cheese. Something very sumptuous and velvety. They are perfect for a nice evening. Get the ones that come in the box, like Tunworth or Vacherin, which is at the end of its season. Take off the wrapper, keep it in the box and pop it on a tray in the oven at 180C for 15 to 20 minutes. You can pimp it up with a few sprigs of rosemary in slits on top, maybe half a glass of dry white wine, and a few gloves of garlic.
“Once it’s baked it will be gooey in the centre and bubbling. Just break it open and dip in crusty bread as you would a fondue. Maybe add some charcuterie too, or some pickles, because the acidity goes really nicely against the creaminess of the baked cheese.”
A local cheese such as Baron Bigod (currently on sale in heart shapes for Valentine’s) would bake well, as would Winslade – sister cheese to the award-winning Tunworth, and largely thought of as the UK’s answer to sexy, luxurious winter Vacherin. “Winslade’s got a spruce collar,” says Clare, “so to bake it you have to pop it in a dish, but it gets some wonderful pine notes and a bit of a floral flavour. It’s gorgeous.”
If you’ve never tried Tunworth, Clare says it’s well worth seeking out. “It’s a very very well thought of, multi-award-winning cheese with classic camembert tones of mushroom and earthiness. Excellent for melting.”
Wine-wise Clare recommends a light Beaujolais on the side, or a minerally, dry Chablis to cut through the unctuousness of the cheese.
Melty cheese not your thing? How about a cheeseboard instead? “For me,” Clare says, “it’s all about a few cheeses and their companions and I’d start by thinking about a classic trio of a hard, soft and blue cheese.
“The soft one could be a local Baron Bigod, or I’d go for a Neufchatel which is a heart-shaped soft cheese. It is one of France’s oldest cheeses going back to the Hundred Year War where they were made in Normandy as love tokens for English soldiers.”
For the hard cheese option Clare says it may be a bit obvious, but you could opt for Godminster - a buttery, creamy, smooth cheddar which comes heart-shaped and encased in wax. “But, I think, personally I would go for Licolnshire Poacher, having just come back from there. It’s a real favourite and I’m totally loving it. There’s the vintage or the double barrel, which is matured for two to three years and has a punchy, almost meaty flavour. I could almost taste a hint of duck pate in it. It’s very savoury and bold so you don’t need much of it.
“As for a blue, a really good one at the moment is Sparkenhoe blue. It’s a stilton-style cheese made with raw milk. Or buy some stilton. We have a little leftover from Christmas in the shops and that really is the optimum time to buy it because it’s been made with the summer milk.
“Locally, I’d go for Binham Blue from Mrs Temple.”
For Clare, what makes a good cheese great is all the accoutrements that go with it. “My favourite crackers are Peter’s Yard sourdough crispbreads because they’ve got a really good crispy texture to offset against velvety Baron Bigod or Neufchatel. I’d recommend a chilli jam with Lincolnshire Poacher. And get a few nuts to add crunchiness to the blue cheese. Walnuts or pistachios are excellent. Also try a drizzle of honey. Honey and cheese is one of the best things and blue cheese with walnut and a drizzle of honey is just amazing!”
Clare even recommends adding a bit of chocolate! “A crumble of really nice dark chocolate is actually great with cheese.”
Well, you learn something new every day. I’m off to stock up on a few wedges now. Only three this time. I promise (fingers crossed).
Five great East Anglian drinks for cheese
1. Horatio Blanc de Blancs 2015, Chet Valley Vineyard: Winner of a Bronze from Decanter this is a floral, almost tropical number with a biscuity hint and almost a touch of honey. Wonderful with creamy cheeses.
2. Pinot Noir Precoc 2017, Flint Vineyard: Aged in three-year-old French oak barrels this is a soft, earthy wine with a distinctly Pinot character. It’s great with creamy and blue cheeses and is gluten-free and vegan-friendly.
3. Bacchus 2015, Winbirri Vineyard: A Decanter platinum winning wine, all grassy, citrusy and elegant. Serve with creamy cheeses but it also works well with a blue on the milder side, and a delicate cheddar or hard cheese.
4. Ghost Ship, Adnams: Light and hoppy with a hint of citrus, this beer is awesome with hard cheeses, particularly smoked cheddar.
5. Premier Cru Cyder, Aspall: A crisp, dry cyder with refined bubbles. Wonderful with hard cheeses.