10 geeky cheese rules for the perfect cheeseboard

Do you cut the ‘nose’ off the gently oozing brie? Use the stilton knife to cut the goat’s cheese? Here’s how to get your cheeseboard right – and take another step towards cheese geekery, says Patrick McGuigan.

10 geeky cheese rules for the perfect cheeseboard

Pity the poor cheese fiend at Christmas (me!) who has to watch his family butcher the exquisite cheeses he’s lovingly laid out for their delectation. Rinds are hacked, honey is drizzled where it shouldn’t be and a there’s a blizzard of cracker crumbs.

While the devastation may induce an occasional wince, I (almost) always keep my counsel. Life is too short to worry about cheeseboard etiquette, especially after a few glasses of Port! But if you really want to know the do’s and don’ts of the board, here are my 10 golden rules.

  1. DON’T serve cold cheese
    Cold suppresses flavour, so get your cheeses to room temperature before serving. The flavour really opens up.
  2. DO mix it up
    There’s an old cheesemonger’s saying: something old, something new, something stinky, and something blue. In other words, variety is a virtue.
  3. DON’T drink red wine
    Controversial opinion incoming! Red wine is the default choice for cheese because it’s usually what’s open at the end of a meal. But here’s the thing: tannins in red wine don’t get along with many cheeses. The refreshing acidity of white wine is a better bet.
  4. DO use separate knives
    If you cut into a whiffy washed rinder, then dig into a dainty goat’s cheese with the same knife, you cross-contaminate the cheese with moulds, yeasts and strong flavours. Don’t be that person.


  5. DON’T cut the nose off a wedge
    A cheese will taste remarkably different at the centre than at the rind. Lop the tip off a wedge of cheddar or oozy camembert and you only get to taste one part of the cheese. Slice lengthways and you get the full experience.
  6. DO serve cheese before dessert
    I’m with the French and serve cheese before pudding. It makes sense to keep savoury courses together. I also worry I won’t have room for cheese if I have pudding first. Admittedly, I have never not had room for cheese, but why risk it?
  7. DON’T start with Stilton
    Start with mild cheeses – think goat’s cheeses and Wensleydale – so you can appreciate their subtle flavours. Build up to big blues.


  8. DO try the rind
    It’s where interesting flavours and textures develop, so give it a go. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it again.
  9. DON’T serve chalky brie
    Cheap, generic bries are ‘stabilised’ and never fully ripen. Look instead for Brie-de-Meaux or Baron Bigod for a truly oozy texture. A thin chalk line is acceptable, but the interior needs to be majority goo. That’s where the cabbagey, mushroomy flavours reside.
  10. DO use wax paper
    Cheesemongers favour wax paper because it lets cheese breathe, so reuse it if you can. Cling film isn’t ideal because it traps moisture. Nobody wants sweaty cheese on Boxing Day.

Here endeth the gospel!

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