The definitive guide to choosing the right cheeseboard companions
You’ll read (or skim over) a lot of guides to the perfect cheeseboard during the run up to Christmas, but let’s face it—the cheese is the easy part. A hard, a blue, a soft and creamy number and a washed rind, and you’ve all your bases covered. The bigger question, arguably, is: what’s next? What chutneys do you choose? What dried fruit do you go for? Do you serve charcuterie alongside and—most contentious of all—do you plump for crackers or bread? If you’re blinded by choice, it’s worth turning to Borough Market’s traders, who’ll guide you toward those products that will best complement your cheeses—rendering your choices entirely beyond reproach.
First up, chutneys. While Caribbean chutney-maker Pimento Hill might not be the obvious first port of call, it should be if you’re looking for something striking. Rising eagerly to the challenge, Farah kicks off with a red pepper and ginger jelly: a “punchy” preserve that pairs with “every single cheese you can think of, hard, textured, mild, soft and smoky.” More pioneering still is the spicy mango chutney: “A sensation with blue cheese,” Farah insists, before moving onto her preserve de resistance, a hot banana chutney that is “basically a Caribbean piccalilli.” Its origins might speak of sunnier climes, but its vibrant colour and warm spice sing merrily alongside hard, buttery, nutty cheeses such as Borough Cheese Co’s gouda.
Mild and gently sweet
If convention is what you’re after, though, there’s plenty to fit the bill. “Our fresh membrillo is very sweet, so you need to have it with something savoury like roquefort or a very aged comte,” says Océane of Une Normande a Londres’ classic quince paste. Being French, she’s also firmly in the charcuterie-with-cheese camp—particularly when it’s camembert, which “pairs well with our fig saucisson from Lyon”. Meanwhile, Elspeth at Rosebud Preserves finds their fig chutney chimes particularly well with Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Lincolnshire Poacher.
Over at Spanish one-stop shop Brindisa, honey is the order of the day. “Our chestnut honey from Valencia works really well drizzled over fresh cheese,” says Stuart. “With strong, funky cheeses like stilton and gorgonzola or a vintage cheddar, you need the strong, woody chestnut flower honey,” Sam, co-owner of From Field and Flower, agrees. With tangy cheeses, Sam suggests a floral honey “like our light Derbyshire wildflower”, whereas young and salty cheeses such as goat’s cheese or pecorino call for something milder “so it’s not trying to compete”. The best is acacia, “which is very mild, gently sweet and not particularly floral”: the every-man honey for every cheese.
Positing breadsticks as a strong contender for carb of the cheeseboard, Stuart is on the fence when it comes to the crackers versus bread debate. On the one hand, Brindisa’s picos de pan “are versatile, work with our hams, and have a good crunch to them without being too dry.” On the other, good, dark sourdough bread is “robust enough to hold its own against all sorts of cheeses,” he says. “Neal’s Yard Dairy sell a lovely bread made with stout which is great with all cheeses, particularly our blue valdeon.” Matt Jones of Bread Ahead also backs bread, unsurprisingly, and echoes Stuart’s calls for bread of a darker, maltier hue. “Our new Dirty White would be perfect for the cheeseboard,” he enthuses. Dark-crusted, laced with rye and wheatgerm, its tangy acidity and back bite stand up beautifully against the nuances of farmhouse cheeses. “You can just imagine that chewiness alongside a creamy reblochon or Époisses.”
While water biscuits and cream crackers are easily dismissed from the cheeseboard, with the arrival of The Cracker Kitchen in Borough Market you’d be wrong to discount crackers entirely. “They are amazing quality,” says Louis, “and we do cracker pairing so customers can get the right crackers for each cheese.” Their mahogany-brown, 100 per cent rye crackers are perfect for hard, nutty-but-buttery cheeses like gouda or emmental; the sea salt and rosemary crackers a firm, fragrant friend of Vacherin mont D’or and equivalent soft cheese. The digestive biscuit-like oat cakes welcome blues like stichelton and Bath Soft Blue, while the seeded—“our most popular”—love lactic style cheeses such as Blackwoods Dairy’s Graceburn and, should you have vegan guests, Pâté Moi’s vegan mushroom pâté.
Buy for each cheese or—because each one offers something different—buy a selection box and let your guests decide. Any that are left will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container: “They are so good, I often just eat them on their own,” says Louis. If you want to buy bread as well and cover all your cheeseboard bases, you can do so safe in the knowledge that you won’t waste anything—and it’ll be one less thing to argue about come the big day.