Cheese is a delicious way of preserving and concentrating milk nutrients. Today, hundreds of different cheeses are made all over the world. Some varieties are mass-produced in creameries, while other are still made on a small scale in local farmhouses. Many of the continental cheeses are now widely exported, giving us an endless variety to choose from.
Cheese is a highly nutritious food, containing more protein weight for weigth than raw meat, fish or eggs. It is also an excellent source of calcium and contains useful amount of vitamins A and D, making it an ideal food for children and vegetarians.
Above all, cheese is versatile. There are recipes using all sorts of cheeses to make tasty starters, main meals, cheesecakes and tea breads, as well as flans, pizzas and party snacks.
Cheese should be served at room temperature for optimum flavour, aroma and texture. Remove from the refrigerator 30min to 1h befor serving, depending on the temperature of the kitchen. This is most important with soft,matured cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. Do not allow them to become too warm or they may deteriorate. Cream and curd cheeses should be served cool.
For presentation, a plan wooden board is the most traditional base to serve cheese on. Select cheeses and accompaniment according to the occasion. For example, lunch or supper two hard cheeses, one strong and one mild may be sufficient. A wider selection should include some soft cheeses-mild and matured. French bread and wholemeal rolls are ideal accompaniments for a snack meal, along with salad and fruit. Chutneys and pickles can also be served, but they should not be so strong that they mask the flavour of the cheese.
For an after-dinner cheeseboard, offer a wider selection of more usual cheeses. Only a small wedge of each is required - trimmed of any dry or cracked pieces. Small cylindrical or roll cheeses can be left whole. Serve a selection of biscuits - some salted, some plain- and include semisweet biscuits for the softer cheeses. Water biscuits, wholemeal and bran biscuits go well with all cheeses. Don't remove wrappings until the last moment to prevent the cheeses drying. Alternatively arrange the cheeseboard and cover tightly with cling-film until required.
A garnish of parsley or tomato enhaces the cheeseboard if the selection is fairly simple, but the more unusual cheeses are best left to speak for themselves. If only one or two cheeses are being served, a portion of grapes looks attractive with them. Serve additional fruit in a separate bowl.