There’s nothing more reliable, easy and crowd-pleasing than cheese when entertaining, and Australia is home to some of the best producers in the world. With the festive season on our doorstep and the inevitable increase in cocktail parties, long lunches and Sunday afternoon drinks, our friends at The Dairy Kitchen have put together a guide with everything you need to know to impress your guests with cheese from our own dairy regions these holidays.
1. Variety is key
Serving up the perfect cheese platter is all about nailing the texture and flavour combinations. Three cheeses on a platter is a good rule of thumb; choose something soft, something strong and something hard (like brie, blue and cheddar). Likewise with the accompaniments, go for something crunchy, something sweet and something tangy (to refresh the palate). Try like nuts, fruit and pickles or apple for the perfect balanced cheese board.
2. Buy Locally
Show your support for Australian producers and choose Australian cheese this Christmas. Whether you find it at your local farmers market, from your favourite cheesemonger or at the supermarket, there is a locally produced cheese out there to suit every palate!
3. Ripe cheese
Cheese is a bit like fruit in that it changes with the season and should be consumed when ‘ripe’ for optimal flavour and texture. Ask your cheesemonger for their recommendation on what’s ripe and ready for eating. Make sure you ask to taste it too! If you’re at the supermarket, look for cheeses within a week or so of their best before date as this is usually when they’re at their peak. When choosing whole wheels of soft ripened cheeses like brie or camembert test it like you would an avocado, - if it feels slightly soft, it’s probably going to be ripe and oozy when you serve it. If it’s hard, then it probably needs a little longer to mature.
4. Pantry prep
Interesting accompaniments don’t require too much effort and most pantries are usually packed full of the perfect things to jazz up your cheese board. Think honey on blue cheese or balsamic glaze on a wedge of parmesan. Walnuts go well with almost all cheeses, and add a flourish with fresh or dried fruit, pickled vegetables or a sprinkling of dukkah.
5. Keep it cool
It’s handy to have some cheese on hand for the inevitable and spontaneous drop-ins throughout the festive season. Cheese is the perfect ‘go to’ when you’re unprepared as it takes minimal effort for maximum impact and flavour. Hard varieties like parmesan and cheddar can be stored in the fridge for long periods and they match with just about everything in your pantry.
6. The room temperature rule
The cardinal rule of serving cheese is to always serve it at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving (20 to 30 minutes if it’s hot). You can arrange the cheese board and cover it with a barely damp tea towel to keep the cheese from drying out. Fresh cheeses like mozzarella, burrata, ricotta and labne should be served cool.
7. Don’t chuck it out
So long as it’s not sweating away in the sun, there’s no reason to waste any leftover cheese. There are plenty of things you can do with that little nugget leftover at the end. Ricotta can be sprinkled on spaghetti, cheddar can be grated for sandwiches, and camembert can be served over chicken. This of course assumes there are leftovers to be saved!
8. Keep it fresh
Once you’ve used a portioned cheese, wrap it up in some baking paper and put it in the fridge in a container with a loose fitting lid. Don’t forget to keep those more stinky cheeses in a different container! Return small whole cheeses like camembert and brie to their original packaging and pop them in a container in the fridge
9. Get creative
If you don’t have a wooden serving board, add it to your wish list this Christmas! You can also get creative with your presentation as cheese looks great on just about every flat surface, enamel trays, a cake platter or even a washed floor tile will do the trick.
10. Don't mix your knives
One knife per cheese, please! No one likes bits of blue cheese stuck to the brie. If you don’t have enough cheese knives, use pate or butter knives for the softer cheeses.