It used to be that knowing your wines was a sure-fire way to impress at any social gathering worth its salt. Now, it’s not so much about knowing your syrah from your savvy b, but being the party’s cheese connoisseur, armed with a bevvy of handy tips for how to get the most out of our favourite dairy indulgence.
So, want to know how to talk cheese like a pro? Here are seven things to know when talking, buying and eating cheese. You’ll be a pro in under 3 minutes…
#1: Do You Need A Dedicated Cheeseboard?
You’ve shelled out on some seriously delicious wedges, a box or two of thins that cost more than the wine you’re pairing them with, and you’re dying to set up a cheeseboard that looks like it’s straight out of a Gourmet Traveller shoot. But having a decent cheeseboard is about more than looks.
Cutting boards, especially wooden ones, tend to absorb flavour and aroma from foods that are cut on them. This is why it’s always best to have a dedicated cheeseboard rather than use the same one that you cut things like onions and garlic on. Because brie shouldn’t taste like last night’s veggie medley.
#2: What About A Cheese Knife?
Having a decent knife will help you get the most out of a cheese too, especially if you’re chomping down on hard cheeses such as regato or pecorino. Using a sharp blade for hard cheeses allows you and your fellow cheese fiends to cut thin slices of rich hard cheeses, and generally makes serving cheese a less messy affair.
#3: So, Tell Me The Basics…
First up, cheese is made from milk curds—the solid part of the milk when it goes sour—which are then compressed and aged using a variety of different methods. I know, it sounds crazy… How the heck is soured milk so delicious?!
Cheeses can be discussed in many different ways, but the most common way of describing cheese types is talking about texture and consistency. Nine times out of ten, you should be talking about soft (eg. Brie, Port Salut) or hard cheeses (eg. Cheddar or parmesan). Saying you ‘like the ones that come in the blue packet’ is never impressive.
#4: Do You Eat The Rind?
Errrr, it depends. There are five key rinds to know about:
Waxed: Think edam. The cheese is covered in a layer of coloured, inedible wax to protect it. DON’T EAT THIS, even if a mate’s bet you an entire wheel of camembert on it.
Washed: Think gruyere. The cheese has been cured in anything from a simple saltwater brine, to a spiced fruit juice, or even a beer, so that a light mould forms on the outside. You can eat this, but it’s best to take it in small doses at first as these cheeses really pack a punch.
Bloomy: Think brie, camembert, and anything else that has that soft cloud-like coating on the outside. You can eat this rind too, but sometimes it can be a little bitter, so again, taste test before stuffing the entire thing into your mouth.
Natural: This does exactly what it says on the tin—no tampering, no washing, no fancy-pants techniques. The rind itself is usually a bit tough, so don’t eat this one. Oh, and make sure you’ve removed any cloth or paper that’s been used to protect the cheese before cutting into it. Linen stuck in teeth = Not a good look.
Herbed or ashed: These ones are pretty obvious. Does the cheese look like someone’s dropped it on the forest floor, or rolled it in the remains of a barbie? It’s been coated in herbs, seasoning or ash. You can 100% eat this rind. Yum.
#5: Go Easy On The Condiments
You want to actually taste the cheese, so as good as that quince paste is, go sparingly with the condiments. Nothing says cheese amateur like someone who’s going for a 50/50 cheese-quince ratio.
#6: When In Doubt, Cut In Triangles
It’s super-rude to butcher a piece of cheese into weird oblongs, not only because it looks ridiculous, but also because you’re often cutting off the best/worst parts of the cheese, all in one go. When in doubt, cut in triangles, and always take a little of the rind for yourself, even if you’re not going to eat it, otherwise the person left with the last portion gets a piece that’s pretty much entirely crusty rind.
#7: Never Cut The Nose Off A Wedge!
This is literally CHEESE BLASPHEMY. Because cheeses that come in wedges such as brie or camembert are made in circles, the best part of the cheese is the pointed nose of the wedge.
Cutting this off and eating it all for yourself is like a mate offering you a drink and you helping yourself to the last glass of the top-shelf champers. Instead, take a slice from the side of the wedge, so you get a tiny bit of the tip, rather than the entire thing. Then look condescendingly at the next person who slices the nose off a brie. Philistine.
Image credit: Twyla Skeggs