Cheese boards and Neal’s Yard

I have some rules for cheese boards.

I love cheese. Take some cheese and a glass of wine and you have a meal. You have a good day turned bad. Suddenly a simple drink has turned into an event. You’ve also slyly found a way to prolong any festivities – just pull out a board and the meal will roll on.

My best friends from high school covet their cheese. Their boards are infamous. These platters groan and ooze, pregnant with possibilities; some hard and soft, others sticky and crumbly. Some come from paper, others rescued from casings of plastic or wax.

Yet I rarely touch them.

I’d got away with my abstinence for years, until someone finally called me on it. ‘Why don’t you ever eat off our cheese boards?’

It was then that I had to come clean. Because they make my skin crawl.  I’m not what you’d call obsessive. I wear tops inside out- sometimes by accident, sometimes by sloth. When I make pastry I’ve been known to wipe my hands on my jeans. I’ve  had to learn to hook my engagement ring onto my earring to save it from scabbings of flour and butter.

But the enthusiasm of cheeses pashing against each other, crowded on a plate- and even worse- knives being muddled and mixed, cross pollinating into a chaotic mess of a good time; these all make me cry out inside. In the peaceful cheese platters of my dreams the blue must be cleaved from the curd, delineated by a clear line. If you fancy a ripe and oozing brie, then best keep its swamp like state to a plate of its own. And heaven forbid, if a knife encrusted with white mould touches the hard precipice of a cheddar, leaving smudgings of ooze down its side then that’s enough to make me flee for the door.

So this is how I get around it. I don’t eat off those cheese plates. I stick to the crudites and the wine.

When it’s time to make my own, I keep it simple. One or two cheeses to a board. At least one knife per cheese. Or even better; a more obvious choice of cutlery- a knife for the wash rind and a spoon for a drooping curd.

I add one condiment- usually a pear, sliced very thinly just as people arrive so it escapes the tainting of tan. Then there are some crackers- or even better; slips of toasted Staffordshire oatcakes (the love child between a buckwheat crepe and an oatcake).

These days I’m most likely to go and  buy my cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy, adjacent to Borough Market.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a great draw for why we moved to Borough. And it’s straight out crime if at during some point during a friend’s visit if  I don’t take them there.

Neal’s Yard buy cheese from about seventy cheesemakers on farms around Britain and Ireland. Most of the cheeses are matured on the farms or in their maturing rooms in Bermondsey in brick railway arches under the main line from London Bridge to Dover. The Victorian brick insulation helps maintain happy conditions for the cheese: humid and cool. They keep a team of five to take care of the cheese, turning them and sometimes brushing or washing them until they ripen.

To visit Neal’s Yard for a cheese lover is like escorting Charlie into Wonka’s factory. It smells like rain, sweet hay and aged milk. There’s a long bench, flanked with scores of cheeses and  staffed by frightfully charming staff. At the front there are doughnuts, eccles cakes and granola from St John. There’s bread from Polaine and verjus from Maggie Beer. Beyond there it’s easy; approach the bench and tell them what you fancy- then taste cheese after cheese along with the staff , discussing its merits on the day. Then make your selections.

Tonight we were celebrating the presence of an old friend in our flat. Our cheese board contained just two specimens;  half a cube of Tymsboro; a Somerset goat, slightly chalky and sweet, set in a darkened rind of rennet and half a scoop of puckeringly fresh goat curd (the other half  I served for dessert, drizzled with maple syrup, along with rhubarb baked with morello cherries and raspberries, with trampled ginger nut cookies for crunch).

Yet my favourite part of the evening came via a recent purchase; a stern, but sensibly sized piece of black slate that arrived with a piece of chalk as a sidekick.

I placed the curd in a small vessel so it didn’t ‘t creep all over the plate. I added the  Tymsboro and kept them at a cool room temperature. I scrawled what they were on the board in chalk; for clear communication, to delineate their boundaries and for sheer novelty.

We then poured a glass of wine (or two) and relaxed.  Conversation flowed. It was perfect. This is the kind of magic that happens when you combine order, chalk and cheese.

Tell me I’m not right.

Chalk and cheese boards available here (novelty present issue; solved)

Neil’s Yard Dairy
6 Park Street London, SE1 9AB
T+44 (0)20 7367 0799
Monday – Friday 9:00am to 6:00pm
Saturday 9:00am to 6:00pm (Sunday closed)

  1. Dribble, I can totally understand your horror at mixing up cheese knives etc, your way is far more elegant, and I also love putting a thinly sliced pear on the board. Now I want cheese. I work near Paxton & Whitfield….mmmm now I’m going to have to pop over there!

  2. You are SO right! Another thing that drives me crazy about cheese platters (and I too love all cheeses dearly, the runnier or moldier the better if you ask me) is people cutting cheese the wrong way, leaving crooked, asymmetric, ugly little stumps or even worse, cutting off all the oozy parts and leaving a dry empty crust for the others.

  3. Woo! One knife! Anarchy reigns!

    • I’m sure everyone has a part of their personality that is painful. I think we all know that this is mine 🙂

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