Delia's five steps to a good cheeseboard
Keep it simple is my philosophy on this one, and what I would do is choose one cheese from each of the following groups: one soft, squidgy cheese (Camembert, for example), one hard cheese (unpasteurised Cheddar), one blue cheese (Cashel Blue), one medium-soft (Taleggio) and one goats' cheese (Crottin).
Squidgy and creamy
These are called soft-paste cheeses and are distinctive in that they have floury, unwashed rinds. The most famous of these are Camembert, Brie and Coulommiers, all from Normandy. Now there is strong competition from Scotland in their version, called Bonchester, and another beautiful cheese called Cooleeney from Ireland. Other popular squidgy-creamy cheeses are Brie de Meaux, Reblochon, Emlett (sheep) and Tymsboro (goat).
These are slightly firmer than the previous group, but still have a soft texture, and they undergo a washing process that keeps the rind moist and helps to encourage fermentation. Pont l'Evêque is from Normandy, whilst Taleggio is from Italy. Other cheeses I would include in this group include Livarot, also from Normandy, and Durrus and Milleens, both of which are from Ireland.
Hard and not so hard
This family includes pressed, uncooked cheeses, where the curds are drained and bandaged in a cheese cloth, placed in moulds and then kept under pressure for up to 24 hours. The hardest of these are Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano and the world-famous Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano). Pecorino is a sheep's cheese very much like Parmesan, but has a coarser, sharper flavour.
Then comes the less-hard group, including Cheddar, Leicester, Double Gloucester and Cheshire, as well as the hard but crumbly varieties, such as Lancashire, Cotherstone and Feta.
Finally, there are the cheeses with holes, which have undergone a sort of cooking process before being put into moulds and pressed as above. During the maturing period fermentation occurs internally, and this creates the little air pockets, or holes, that distinguish this type of cheese, of which the most famous are Gruyère and Emmenthal.
What happens here is the cheese is injected with a harmless penicillin mould while the cheese is being made. This lies quite dormant during the maturation process, but then later on needles are inserted to allow air in, activating the mould, which then spreads itself in tiny blueish-green veins throughout the cheese during the rest of the maturing period. Three countries claim to have the finest blue cheese: from France, Roquefort, from Italy, Gorgonzola, and from England, Stilton – all great cheeses indeed, although I would say that Cashel Blue from Ireland is another great blue.
Other examples are Shropshire Blue, Bleu de Bresse and Dolcelatte (a milder Gorgonzola).
These can be like any of the groups above, from a soft, spreadable young cheese with a mild flavour, to a well-matured, strong, zesty, very goaty-flavoured one. For eating I like the strong-flavoured French Crottins de Chavignol, the English Chabis, or Mine Gabhar, which is Irish. The log-shaped Chèvre, dusted in ashes, is a medium-matured softer goats' cheese. For a fresh farmhouse goats' cheese with a milder flavour that also grills very well, Perroche is superb. But because the quantity of goats' cheese made on farms fluctuates with the seasons, it is often in short supply. There are farm-made soft-rind goats' cheeses labelled Welsh or Somerset, which are fine for cooking.
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