Behold: the humble cheese board. Often assumed to be reserved for those snobby types who shun the sugary enticements of the sticky toffee pudding or chocolate brownie after dinner, this simple yet delightful platter is actually the perfect ending to any meal. Simple yet varied, and difficult to get wrong. Or so I thought.
It is always a terrible shame when a favourite bar, cafe or restaurant serves its last glass of wine and closes its doors for good. Such was the sadness last week when I discovered that Selfridges had decided that the Wonderbar was no longer wonderful enough for the hallowed Food Hall. Given that the aptly named wine bar offered the most pleasing post-shopping cheese-board-and-wine experience this side of Bruges, I was understandably distressed. Imagine my utter dismay, then, upon ordering a selection of cheesy delights from their replacement, Harry Gordon’s.
The premise was the same in both bars: lists of cows, goats and ewes cheeses, from which you could choose as many as desired (usually 3 to 5, so as to not overwhelm the palate, darling). Sadly, the selection had been considerably reduced on Gordon’s menu, possibly to make room for the new fish mini-menu (all vegetarians, hiss together!). Luckily, my favourite – the absolutely gorgeous Montenebro, hailing from sunny Spain – was still for the taking. This might not be so bad after all! But, no, horror! The Wonderbar staff all had a thorough knowledge of their dairy delicacies, and could offer advice on what to choose, depending on your taste and your wine. The Gordon’s waitress had absolutely no idea, and stumbled through the list until uncertainly recommending a French Comté. A hard, blue vein cheese. When we had told her, no blue cheese, please. Sigh. To make matters worse, the crackers and bread served on the board were dry and paltry, and there were no chutneys or relishes to speak of. Disaster.
The art of the perfect cheese board is simple, Gordon’s: Choose between 3 and 5 cheeses for your platter: 1. A firm cheese – think along the lines of a cheddar, and you can’t go wrong. 2. A soft cheese – whilst Camembert and Brie are always crowd pleasers, I urge you again, try Montenbro – you won’t be disappointed. 3. A blue vein cheese – I’m personally not into blue cheese, but many people are, so try not to neglect it. Roquefort and Stilton are easy to find.
Apparently, 70g per person is the ideal quantity for a dessert cheese board. Arrange your cheeses with the hard selection on the outside so as to make them easier to cut. Offer some preserves: mango chutney goes well with Brie, and any sort of plum or apple jelly is always a friend of a cheddar. The lack of any sort of chutney can leave your board dry and lifeless. Generously add crusty bread and simple crackers, possibly some olives in bowls on the side, and finally, surround with edible ornaments such as grapes and celery. It really is that easy.
So, next time you find yourself ordering a sundae after your meal, I implore you to round off your meal with la fromage instead. Enjoy – and R.I.P Wonderbar.