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A Question of Cheese!

I don’t know about you but I really look forward to Friday nights! There’s something about that delicious anticipation of a weekend stretched out in front of you as you settle in for the evening with a glass of something perfectly chilled in hand, but what to eat? Well, in my opinion nothing beats a great cheeseboard so with that in mind, I thought I would share with you ‘what’s what and what’s not’ when there’s the question of cheese!

Cheese is as popular here in Australia as it is in Britain, but what separates the two nations is the point at which the cheese is served during a meal. With the strong Italian influence (the fourth largest ethnic group in Australia) it has brought about the widespread inclusion of cheese on the antipasto platter which is traditionally eaten, as the Italian name suggests, ‘before the meal’. During summer, when Mr R and I have friends round for casual drinks alfresco, we always serve a substantial cheeseboard together with locally grown olives, chilli and fennel salami, home-made pesto, crostini and crackers, some olive sourdough bread and perhaps a fig & fennel paste. Of course the trick is to be fairly speedy in enjoying its delights before the heat has us and our guests forced to seek refuge in the cool and comfort of the air conditioning. There is a second reason, too: any significant rise in temperature will have the cheese spoil quite rapidly which is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.

When Mr R and I host a dinner party English style, even though my good husband is Australian, our guests are served cheese in the more traditional way which is after the pudding (and there exists a moot point, more of which later in another blog perhaps!). The cheese is selected to provide for a broad range of tastes and textures, and it should ALWAYS be served at room temperature to ensure a full flavour. Ideally, the cheeseboard should include the following: a soft cheese (d’Affinois is my favourite and is available from good delicatessens, although I did spot it recently in my local supermarket); a hard cheese such as a cheddar (Warrnambool Heritage extra tasty is pretty good); a mild cheese which might include a goat’s cheese (Meredith’s is fabulous); and a sharp cheese, perhaps a blue brie (Tarago Shadows of Blue is outstanding in my opinion), or a Stilton.

The cheese should be presented beautifully ensuring that it is also arranged, and eaten, in order from the mildest through to the strongest. A separate cheese knife for each cheese is a must, and never take the ‘nose’ off the cheese; that’s almost as heinous as saving the pork crackling for yourself and giving your guests overcooked morsels. Instead cut the cheese like a slice of cake ensuring the pointed end of the cheese (the nose) is always intact. Remember to include some fruit; grapes or Muscatel raisins are a perfectly acceptable accompaniment as are fresh figs or pear, and some sticks of celery will add interest and texture.

And finally, if there is just one wine, fortified or otherwise, that I would suggest as a pairing with a selection of mixed cheese, a glass of Champagne it is – as if one needed an excuse at all!