The Anatomy of a Cheese Board

What makes a cheese board that looks great and tastes better?

cheese variety

According to Cecelia Groblicka of the Cavern: “Go for variety, especially if the board is for several people. You want a little something for everyone; a double or triple cream-style cheese, a semi-firm such as a washed rind cheese, a firm aged cheese and maybe a blue.

“Double and triple creams such as Brie de Meaux, Délice de Bourgogne, and Brillat-Savarin are spreadable decadence,” says Cecilia; “extra special at the holidays.”

Next are the semi-firm cheese such as Gouda, Comté, Taleggio, Gruyère. “I’m in love with Swiss alpine cheeses—they don’t look like much but taste so good. Swiss is approachable, interesting but not polarizing.

“Washed rind cheeses have a soft texture and a wonderful umami, almost beefy,” says Cecilia. “People who love charcuterie love them. My favourite is Époisse, from Burgundy. It’s washed with brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the brandy from the region.”

Select a good Canadian cheddar, aged and sharp, from Ontario, Quebec or the Maritimes as the firm cheese for your board. Or, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Piave Vecchio, or an aged sheep’s milk such as Manchego, Ossau-Iraty or truffled pecorino.

“I love the Canadian blue cheeses such as Bleu Bénédictin but if you want more punch, try Shropshire, Stilton or Roquefort,” says Cecilia.

As you start to make the board, pay attention to the shapes of the cheeses and the colour of the rinds. The hard cheeses are best crumbled into chunks as they can be a bit unwieldy to cut at table. The triple cremè could be served with spoons. Cheese taste best at room temperature. You can make the board early and keep in a cool place (not the refrigerator) until ready to serve.

Condiments are easier to handle in small bowls each with their own little spoon or serving utensil. Break up the grapes into smaller bunches. To bring colour, add some mandarin oranges, roasted or candied nuts, olives, and crackers of different shapes and colours. Bite-sized is good especially if it’s a stand-up party. Everything on the board should be edible but use some greenery for (pine fronds are ideal at the holidays) to separate cheeses and provide some colour.

If it’s the main event, select charcuterie from Meuwly’s and the Italian Centre to accompany the cheeses. “Show a good array of sweet and savoury and pickled accompaniments, such as traditional cornichon, especially with the Alpine cheeses; Marcona almonds; chocolate-dipped almonds, jams and jellies; mustard and chutneys along with good bread and some crackers meant for cheese,” says Cecilia.

If it’s for dessert or after dinner, cheeses are best by themselves with some dried fruit, chocolate, some grapes.

Cecelia and her husband John Brodie bought the Cavern from Tricia Bell, the founder, last year. “My husband’s family tradition on Christmas morning is cheese and charcuterie and pâté with Champagne and fresh-baked croissants. We sit around in our pajamas and nibble all morning while we open gifts.”

Cecilia’s cheeses of the season

is a washed rind cheese from Burgundy. My favourite, it’s stinky and complicated, so delicious.

is made in Champagne and comes in a 160gm wheel, ideal for a cheese board. The classic way to serve it is to cut an x and pour Champagne into it. It brings out the bready yeasty flavours of the cheese.

14 Arpents
is from Quebec. It’s a little square loaf, silky and smooth, with an orange rind and melts at room temperature. It’s buttery and almondy and gives the French cheeses a run for their money.

Old School Cheesiry
is a small family-run cheesiry in Vermillion. I like their fantastic Brie-style cheese called Bebe Lune and the Eclipse Bebe which has an ash vein.
They also make really great cheese curds.

Grey Owl
from Quebec is a surface ripened goat’s milk cheese pressed with ash. Grey outside, bright white inside. It’s often on the Butternut Tree’s cheese board.

Besace Berger Cendre
is from Dordogne. The name means saddle bag or something of the like. It’s a ripened goats milk cheese rolled in ash, a little bundle of joy!

Tête de Moine
is from the Jura. Monks starting making this cheese in the eighth century (in the shape of monk’s head.) The best way to eat it is to scrape the top with a girolle.*

Five Brothers
I’m super excited about Canadian Swiss-inspired cheeses such as the Five Brothers from Gunn’s Hill in Woodstock Ontario. Similar to Appenzeller or Gruyère in texture and flavour, it ages on cedar planks for nine months. Melts absolutely.

Quebec le Silo
is seven-year old raw milk cheddar that is aged in a silo. It’s so moist and juicy for being so old. Sharp, with tons of Bovril-like taste. When you cut into the crystals the cheese develops angel’s tears (a good thing).

Cows Creamery Cheddars
out of PEI is a raw milk three-year old cheddar. We usually have the applewood smoked and the cloth bound cheddar from them too.

Bleu Bénédictin
is made by monks at their abbey in Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Quebec. Crumbly and moist and creamy with an aroma like mushrooms and forest floor. It’s not a salt bomb either. Made from pasteurized cows milk.

Bleu d’Élizabeth
A Quebec blue similar to Roquefort with lovely creamy, mushroomy flavours. It has phenomenal balance and I love the crumbly and dense texture, almost like a washed rind.

is a Spanish blue from Leon. It’s wrapped in chestnut leaves. It’s spicy and piquant awakening the sinuses and sides of your tongue with its earthy and herbaceous flavours.

Cavern (10169 104 Street, 780-455-1336, will be closed December 25-January 15.

* The girolle is tool with a spike and a cutter attached to a wooden board. The idea is you spike the Tête de Moine and let the cutter revolve around the top to make florets, which boosts the aromas and flavours of the cheese.

Mary Bailey, editor of The Tomato, is a cheese head.