3 steps to creating the ultimate festive cheeseboard

12 December 2023, 08:00 AM
  • For cheese lovers, a carefully curated cheeseboard is the centrepiece of any festivity. Here, cheese experts share how to create one worthy of party season
3 steps to creating the ultimate festive cheeseboard

For most shoppers, Christmas just isn’t complete without a cheeseboard. While some only indulge in an array of cheeses, chutneys and pickles as part of the Boxing Day feast (but do so without fail), for many the festive cheeseboard is a centrepiece in itself – worthy of its own slot in the meal schedule as well as a snacking format throughout the 12 days of Christmas.

But while budgets will be more stretched than usual for many of your customers, that’s not to say that you should hold back on the upselling opportunity. “Christmas is a time to show off your merchandising skills, add those extra special cheeses to the range and hone your selling skills to upsell at every opportunity,” says Tracey Colley, operations director at the Academy of Cheese.

The shopping experience presented by indies will be more appreciated than ever by shoppers of all persuasions, as they visit speciality retailers for an enjoyable foil to a drab hour in a supermarket. “Buy whole cheeses to create a mouth-watering display and then show off your cutting and wrapping skills,” advises Tracey. “Whole wheels are great for keeping the price lower and your customers can choose what size they need.”

Versatility is the name of the game for cost-conscious shoppers. “Recommend full flavoured traditionally made cheeses that can double up for the cheeseboard and as an ingredient such as clothbound Cheddar, Comté, aged Gouda, or Gruyère,” says Tracey, “and for the counter, you will, of course, have ordered the classics; Stilton, Brie and Cheddar.

“Ensure you have variety to entice your customers to ‘take one more cheese’ and have backups in case of supplier shortages.”

An opportunity to indulge

Of course, whatever the budget, Christmas is the time of year for indulgence and for many seasonal cheeses – such as Vacherin Mont D’or – to shine alongside a glittering feast of spiced accompaniments that would only appear at this time of year.

Vickie Rogerson, co-founder of Homage2Fromage and the Virtual Cheese Awards, is firmly in the ‘more is more’ camp. “My favourite part of Christmas food is always the indulgence of a full to the brim slightly toppling over cheeseboard,” she begins.

“I’m a kid in a sweet (cheese) shop and I spend the whole of December curating the cheeses I want to include and invariably end up with far too many.”

With the kaleidoscope of cheeses available it would be easy for customers – and retailers – to become overwhelmed and decide to not venture far from the year-on-year classics, instead strictly limiting themselves to a category-based board, but to do so would be to miss a valuable trick.

“I’m a bit of a maverick and I don’t buy into the theory that you should have one of each type of cheese (hard, soft white, blue, goats etc) as I think this is far too limiting. It’s Christmas so have fun and choose all the cheeses you love; it doesn’t matter if they’re all hard cheeses, no one is looking. And for good measure, throw in a couple cheeses you’ve never tried before.

“My cheeseboard always has at least two Cheddars,” continues Vickie, “and this year I’ll go for Keens Vintage Cheddar which recently won Supreme Champion at the Virtual Cheese Awards and Lincolnshire Poacher Knuckleduster which is their seasonal three-year-old Cheddar and it packs a punch! Unpopular opinion, but I am not a fan of Stilton (sorry!) so instead I choose soft unctuous blues like Bavarian Montagnolo Affine or a Gorgonzola Dolce which should ooze onto the table. Blue cheeses always benefit from a squeeze of honey.”

UK cheesemakers get a good outing in Vickie’s ultimate festive cheeseboard: “I love my British territorials so I’ll have a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire. My wild card will be a Fat Cow from Highland Fine Cheese Company, which is based in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. It’s a holey nutty alpine style cheese which has a washed rind ‘the colour of a crusty baguette’.”

Accompaniment-wise, Vickie chooses to keep it simple and stunning with an artisan take on the classic oatcake. “Staying in Scotland, my new cracker of choice is made by Island Bakery based on the Isle of Mull. Their Oatcakes are delicious partners to cheese but do try their traditional Cheese Biscuits as well as they melt in the mouth.”

Add sparkle to your sales

Morgan McGlynn, owner of Cheeses of Muswell Hill, also sees the festive season as the ultimate opportunity to go all out – classics, new indulgences and all.

“Christmas is the season for entertaining, so the shop is full of the Christmas classics but also some exclusive cheeses to the shop like our 1000-day old Comté or cherry-stuffed Camembert. Not to forget the Champagne-doused cheeses to give your cheeseboard something a little bit special.”

As a cheese aficionado herself, Morgan has suitably decadent favourite pairings: Lancashire cheese with Christmas cake, Camembert with figs and honeycomb, and Langres with Champagne.”

Once you have advised your customers on the perfect cheese combinations and accompaniments, it’s time to share advice on how to make their cheeseboard display extra special. “Christmas is a time to go all out with an impressive cheese board full of amazing cheeses and sensational pairings,” says Morgan.

“Start with your cheese – it is the star of the show after all. My cheeseboards always start with a soft, hard, blue and a goats cheese, this covers all bases, and add a smoked in for good measure too. Then fill in the gaps with stunning charcuterie and amazing accompaniments like chutneys and pickles. Don’t forget crackers and bread, and finish off with a beautiful garnish like rosemary to add colour and fragrance.”

Morgan and her team at Cheeses of Muswell Hill get just as excited as their customers about the festive season, and ensure that customers never feel left out in the cold. “Forget Christmas - Cheesemas is the best season of the year!

“Christmas in the cheese shop is lovely as our shop is so little the queues go up to the top of the road, so we have dedicated staff that go up and down the queue while customers wait handing out cheese samples and mulled wine!”

Focus on the detail

At Holleys Fine Foods, the premium grocery distributor with an aim to enable more to enjoy outstanding foods, the focus is on additional details to make the season feel special. “Delis should offer different ranges during different seasons, as the consumers are generally trying to find something different to make their occasion special and memorable,” begins Alicia Rogers, marketing executive.

“Of course, cheese is the most crucial part of a cheeseboard, but we believe this is only the case if placed alongside a range of outstanding accompaniments. Add some festive garnishes and chutneys to your selection, and for a festive tweak try adding gingerbread, dark chocolate, cinnamon nuts or Christmas spreads.

Thankfully, Holleys offers a wide range of accompaniments that are sure to add interest to any festive cheeseboard. From its West Country Legends range of Biscuits for Cheese – including Wholemeal, Beetroot and Charcoal – to Gourmico’s rage of fine pates, from Chicken Liver and Traditional Pork or Wild Boar to Duck with a slice of Orange, Pheasant with Armagnac and Venison with Cognac, and Halkidiki’s selection of pitted and stuffed olives, there’s plenty to satisfy discerning fine food shoppers’ palates this season.

Cashing in on seasonality is a smart move for independent retailers. “To keep customers interested we feel that seasonal ranges of products should be at the heart of any deli,” explains Alicia. “Not only does it help to differentiate the brand within the season, but it keeps the customers on their toes while having to decide what to try this time!”

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