The Daily Telegraph

Fancy a crack at cheese­board­ing?

As snaps of well-cu­rated wedges take off on In­sta­gram, He­len Chan­dler-wilde in­ves­ti­gates how to make the per­fect board

- Food · Recreation · Comfort Food · Instagram · United Kingdom · Jermyn · London · Stilton · Paxton & Whitfield · Leicester · Langres

Have you seen what the in­flu­encers of In­sta­gram are up to now? Tired of pos­ing for self­ies while din­ing in the lat­est “it” restau­rant, with arm­fuls of de­signer shop­ping bags, or in the pool as they sip sun­down­ers in an ex­otic lo­ca­tion, they have fi­nally dis­cov­ered the rel­a­tively low-key plea­sures of … the cheese­board.

A well put-to­gether plat­ter was once the pre­serve of the mid­dle-aged dinner party. But, in the hands of the so­cial me­dia-savvy gen­er­a­tion, it’s be­ing taken to the next level al­to­gether.

So long gone are the days when a few hunks of Stil­ton, Brie and Camem­bert, topped off by a bunch of grapes and slices of mem­brillo, raises a mur­mur from ap­pre­cia­tive house guests. Th­ese days, it’s not a cheese­board un­less you’re dis­play­ing your bounty like a 16th-cen­tury still-life. And it’s not com­plete un­less the cheeses in ques­tion

– we’ll get to those shortly – are sur­rounded by wedges of drip­ping hon­ey­comb, a tum­ble of pis­ta­chios, pret­zels, pop­corn, ar­ti­choke hearts leav­ing a slug’s trail of olive oil, peppy pink slices of grape­fruit, and, for some rea­son, or­chids. Mean­while, the hash­tag #cheese­board

has clocked up half a mil­lion posts, #cheese­board­sofin­sta­gram col­lates the most out­stand­ing ex­am­ples of “cheese­board­ing”

– as the on­line art form has in­evitably been called – and it’s de rigueur to re­fer to your­self as a “cheese­flu­encer” in your on­line bio. The brains be­hind the @thatcheese­plate ac­count, which has racked up just shy of 100,000 fol­low­ers, re­cently told Harper’s Bazaar how she’d given up her day job to be­come one full time.

Cheese­board­ing is a grow­ing in­dus­try, with around 150 firms of­fer­ing the ser­vice in the UK, ac­cord­ing to To­ria Smith of Grape and Fig (gra­pe­and­fig.com), which pro­vides “graz­ing ta­bles” – at £295 a me­tre.

“When I got mar­ried, I didn’t want stuffy canapés,” says Smith. Cater­ing com­pa­nies of­fered cheese­boards, but none “got the aes­thetic I wanted. They were do­ing cel­ery and grapes in ramekins, so I had to style and de­sign it all my­self – on the morn­ing of my wed­ding”. She now runs the busi­ness full time as de­mand for th­ese art­fully styled cor­nu­copias is so high. Her spreads are so in­sta­grammable that In­sta­gram it­self is a client. “Peo­ple spend less on their dé­cor now, be­cause the ta­ble is a big part of the dec­o­ra­tion,” says To­ria.

Des­per­ate to get a slice of the ac­tion, I head to Jermyn Street in Lon­don, to Pax­ton and Whit­field (pax­to­nand­whit­field.co.uk), one of the coun­try’s old­est cheese­mon­gers, to try my hand at cheese­board­ing – and to tell if it’s just a flash in the pa­neer.

The 200-year-old shop is a leader in the UK in­dus­try: the big cheese of Big Cheese, if you will. As soon as I ar­rive, I re­alise I have dressed spec­tac­u­larly badly for the shop, where the com­fort of cheese comes be­fore that of hu­mans. The air is kept in the low dou­ble dig­its – bad news for me, given that I’m wear­ing a cheese­cloth sum­mer dress.

I meet Hero Hirsh, the com­pany’s head of re­tail, who is fully au fait with the cheese­board­ing trend. “We’ve seen a lot of peo­ple who want to zhuzh up their cheese­boards,” she says. “They want to put on blackberri­es, blue­ber­ries or what­ever looks good.” To cater for th­ese cus­tomers, the shop is rolling out DIY cheese­board kits, which come with in­struc­tions show­ing how to lay them more at­trac­tively.

Hirsh likes any ex­cuse to eat cheese, ob­vi­ously. (She is even wear­ing a round badge which proves her level two cre­den­tials at the Academy of Cheese.) But she is un­sure about pimp­ing a board solely on what looks good: “Don’t place things with­out think­ing about the taste,” she says. “Cheese is pho­to­genic al­ready.”

First, we se­lect the cheese. As a rule of thumb, Hirsh sug­gests about 100g per per­son is a good amount for a dinner party. If there are six of you, three to four types are best: any more and it be­comes a mad scram­ble for who gets what.

I tell her what I be­lieve to be the golden rule of cheese­boards: some­thing hard, some­thing soft, some­thing goat, some­thing blue. “Not a bad start,” she says, not en­tirely con­vinced.

“The tra­di­tional English board is a Ched­dar, a Stil­ton and a Brie, which is hard, blue and soft. We try to get peo­ple to branch out of those three va­ri­eties, though.”

I pick four cheeses. I choose Lan­gres for the soft, a French cheese with a dip in the top: Hirsh says gour­mands who don’t mind a bit of mess could fill this with cham­pagne. For the blue, I go for fourme d’am­bert, an­other Frenchie which is served in round slices.

But then I fall straight into the In­sta­gram trap and pick two more based on looks alone: mi­mo­lette, a hard cheese stained red with an­natto, the nat­u­ral dye used for red Le­ices­ter; and meringue à la la­vande, a goat’s cheese dec­o­rated with a scat­ter­ing of laven­der petals. I then pick some ac­ces­sories: tiny pots of sweet chut­ney and dark black char­coal crack­ers, which will nicely off­set the colour of the cheese.

Im­por­tantly, cheese­boards now con­tain meat, too – a shame not to be­cause, as Hirsh ex­plains, “it works so well with drinks, or as part of a big­ger graz­ing ta­ble” – so I se­lect a Cornish salami. “A night­mare for veg­e­tar­i­ans,” she says, but heaven for the rest of us.

And then it’s time for board­ing up the cheese … well, nearly time. First, you have to pre-slice it – which might seem oddly anachro­nis­tic, given that the great­est joy is surely break­ing into a vir­gin Brie. But, Hirsh says, it al­lows us to fan tranches around the board and make pretty pat­terns. It also stops a whole range of aw­ful ta­ble man­ners, such as us­ing the wrong knife or, worse, poor tech­nique.

Best prac­tice is as fol­lows. Cut par­tic­u­larly hard rinds off, says Hirsh, but leave the rest. Once you’ve done that, cut slices where “each has all the de­li­cious­ness of the whole cheese”. Ba­si­cally, work with the cheese like you’re cut­ting a cake: each slice should have a bit of the out­side rind, and some of the squidgi­est, or “ripest”, bit in the mid­dle. House guests, note: cut­ting the nose off a Brie is very bad form.

I quickly learn that cheese­board­ing

‘It’s the best so­cial me­dia food trend since pantry porn’

has a lan­guage of its own: food­stuffs are called “el­e­ments”, crack­ers are dis­played in “rivers”, salami form “pools”. Hirsh teaches me to lay the largest and hard­est el­e­ments first, which means mak­ing two rivers of crack­ers that cas­cade across the board. They form sup­port for the next el­e­ment to be placed: the hard stuff.

We stack the mi­mo­lette so it but­tresses the crack­ers – strong foun­da­tions are im­por­tant for runny cheeses or any small el­e­ments prone to roll about, such as grapes or olives. The chut­ney pots come next, in the mid­dle as a vis­ual cen­tre­piece. Then the sliced Lan­gres.

We leave the laven­der cheese whole be­cause – well, be­cause it’s just so pretty as it is – then dig space to make two pools of sausage.

Et voilà! A dish to boast about – and post on In­sta­gram, ob­vi­ously – that took just 10 min­utes to make!

Even if you think that all this is a bit silly, you must at least ac­cept that it’s the best so­cial me­dia food trend since pantry porn (post­ing pho­tographs of your pris­tine, or­gan­ised larder shelves). It’s cer­tainly bet­ter than any­thing foodie that’s pre­fixed with “uni­corn” (muffins, gin…), or those aw­ful “freak shakes”, where sev­eral dif­fer­ent desserts are piled on top of a milk­shake.

In com­par­i­son, the cheese­board is still mod­est and el­e­gant, even if it now has a flir­ta­tious cou­ple of figs on the side. If you’re a board purist – well, hard cheese.

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 ??  ?? Big cheese: those at the top of their ‘cheese­flu­encer’ game, such as those be­hind Cheats and Meeses, top and bot­tom, and That Cheese Plate, above, have made cheese­board­ing their full-time jobs
Big cheese: those at the top of their ‘cheese­flu­encer’ game, such as those be­hind Cheats and Meeses, top and bot­tom, and That Cheese Plate, above, have made cheese­board­ing their full-time jobs
 ??  ?? Say cheese: Hero helps He­len cre­ate an In­sta­gram-wor­thy cheese­board, be­low
Say cheese: Hero helps He­len cre­ate an In­sta­gram-wor­thy cheese­board, be­low
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