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As artisan food lovers, we are all well aware of the joys of the perfect cheeseboard. But, with a myriad of individual preferences – not to mention reams of delicious products – to contend with, the art of pairing cheese with its perfect partners can seem an insurmountable task. That’s why Speciality Food spoke with some of the pre-eminent professionals in the fine food sector right now, to find out the techniques they use to create flavour-bomb combinations and uncover their favourites.
For James Grant, owner of No2 Pound Street, the process of seeking new flavour combinations to delight his customers with is a pleasurable one. “As a cheesemonger, my palate is constantly searching out new flavours, including textures that stimulate the senses,” he says.
He’s not one to turn away great taste experiences in the name of purity. “In the purists’ eyes a cheese must be left to enjoy on its own and eaten at the right temperature,” he explains, “and whilst I agree cheese is brilliant on its own, what many cheese connoisseurs may not have experienced is the perfect condiment that brings another taste sensation to the palate. Recommending condiments should come naturally, as soon as a decision has been made on a cheese make sure to mention what condiment works well with that cheese.”
At Forest Deli, run by Debbie and Simon Jones, the format of their bricks and mortar site means that conversation around pairing suggestions comes naturally. “For us at Forest Deli, the layout of the shop and the cheese counter means that we are always directly engaging in conversation with customers so we can ask if they need anything else to go with their cheese board,” explains Debbie. “If a customer asks what would be a good accompaniment we’ll suggest different things depending on the cheeses they have selected.”
With deli shoppers often being a little more adventurous than the conventional consumer, there’s plenty of scope to excite their palates. “We find it’s always a good idea to encourage customers to try combinations that they wouldn’t normally try – this works particularly well with regulars who now trust our recommendations even if sometimes if does seem a bit left-field! One of our best-selling accompaniments is Candied Jalapenos from one of our local suppliers The Preservation Society; people are often sceptical and then return the following day for more!”
The Forest Deli team has found that floral notes pair surprisingly well with punchy cheeses. “We have a lovely locally made elderflower jelly which matches really well with a strong Cheddar,” she says, but “if a customer is unsure or less adventurous then having a good go-to familiar and great quality product is a great way to build up trust for the next recommendation.” Debbie’s tip for a mouthwatering, failsafe pairing? “For us a local Apple & Ale Chutney together with Peters Yard original sourdough crackers is a bestseller.”
How to upsell
We all know to position cheese accompaniments in full view of the cheese counter to inspire additional purchases, but Debbie and Simon have found that “in terms of merchandising it’s always a good plan to put higher value accompaniments next to the till. For example, our Slow Roasted Dottato figs are situated next to the till directly above the serve over chiller and people often ask what they are, providing a great opportunity for upselling.”
“In terms of shelving layout,” continues Debbie, “we’ve deliberately placed all the biscuits, chutneys and pickles together, that way if a customer is looking for a particular item to go with their cheese then all available options are in easy eye line and it makes it easier for us to direct them from behind the counter.”
Many independent fine food purveyors have a condiment producer or two on their doorstep, and highlighting the local credentials of such products is another way to up the ante on cheese accompaniment sells. “Our range of local chutneys and pickles are clearly highlighted if they are locally made as this is often a key purchasing decision,” explains Debbie.
It’s not only accompaniments presented on the cheeseboard itself that benefit from a local approach. “We also stock a wide range of local beers and ciders, some which are exclusive to us,” says Debbie. “It’s important to remember people’s evenings are no longer just cheese and wine, so it’s about matching lighter beers with lighter cheeses, especially during the summer months.
Perry Wakeman, sales director at Rennet & Rind and Virtual Cheese Awards 2022 judge, recommends pairing Ashcombe with Malt Loaf (Pain ‘epice). “I’ve always been a big lover of Malt Loaf, usually with a big slab of butter, but I have no idea why it took so long to make the leap over to subbing butter for cheese,” he says. “After a testing/tasting session of several British cheeses, I have discovered the best to go with Pain d’épices style bread. Ashcombe. A British Morbier style cheese with a striking ash line through the centre. Milky, nutty and delicate with a smooth pliant texture pairs perfectly with the sticky treacle raisin loaf. Level it up by sticking it under the grill for three minutes. Visually striking, and a pairing that is off the charts.”