In Canada, you could serve a football-sized brick of cheddar as an appetizer at a holiday party, without complaint from guests. But a good cheese board has a variety of flavours, textures and aromas. It has cheese of cow, sheep and goat milks, with soft, sharp, creamy and pungent notes to contrast one other, plus great bread, something sweet and something nutty. “I have 500 cheeses to choose from,” says Afrim Pristine, co-owner of Cheese Boutique in Toronto, advising me on what makes a great cheese board, “which makes it hard and easy at the same time.”
Here are some recommendations for a balanced board. And because this is Canada, don’t forget the cheddar.
1. Grey Owl
Beyond creamy, the ash-covered Grey Owl goat cheese (the white and grey will be a great addition to the colour palette) from Quebec is lush, and soft as powdery snow.
This semi-firm Ontario sheep’s-milk cheese gets a smoky, caramel scent from toasting the rind over flames before it’s aged. Its wood and copper colour also makes it pop on a cheese board.
3. Thunder Oak Gouda
Bold Thunder Oak, with its microscopic salt crystals and undertone of butterscotch, will represent next to a full-bodied glass of red wine and contribute firm saltiness to the mix.
ALT: While the Thunder Bay cheese is spreading in popularity, a good alternative for a muscleman on the board is a ubiquitous Dutch Beemster or Gouda.
4. 5 to 10-Year Cheddar
It’s not a Canadian holiday cheese plate without a good cheddar. Make it a sharp one, aged five to 10 years. We do great cheddar well in Canada, with great candidates from Prince Edward Island (Cow’s Creamery) to B.C. (The Farm House Natural Cheese Cheeses).
5. Fruits & Jams
Sweetness rounds out the flavours on a cheese board. We need a bit of fruit — pears, figs, dates, grapes —between bites. For jams, seek texture from fig jam, lemon marmalade or mango chutney — and serve it in a small bowl with a tiny spoon so people know not to make a sandwich of it.
6. Texture & Crunch
Make your own spiced nuts by roasting almonds, cashews or pecans with a splash of oil, cumin and paprika. Either way, add crunch on the board. For the sweetness of honey but way more texture, try honeycomb, or the thick, white, creamy seashore honey from Société Orignal, which smells like the sea and is smooth as melted marshmallow.
- Choose a neutral bread — a crunchy baguette or fluffy ciabatta. Avoid olive loaf or eggy, buttery challah or brioche.
- Cheese is best served at room temperature. Remove it from the fridge at least one hour before guests arrive.
- There’s no such thing as too much cheese, but estimate about 100 grams of cheese per guest.
- Stay away from olives. Their brininess will detract from the cheese’s flavours.
- Place a separate knife next to each cheese. People who don’t like blue cheese really don’t like it, and won’t want it scraping on the cheddar.
Utensils: Cheese Knives, $23, Westelm.Com
Story: Corey Mintz. Photography: James Tse. Food Styling: Ashley Denton. Prop Styling: Carolyn Souch. Creative Direction: Jessica Hotson.
Get more holiday recipes and tips here: The Kit Holiday Issue.