Award Winning Food, Drink & Travel Magazine

TheTaste.ie
Perfect Christmas Cheese Board with Wine Pairings by Philippa Moore
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin

Build the Perfect Christmas Cheese Board with Wine Pairings

Creating the perfect Christmas cheese board for the holiday season, or any occasion, can feel like a daunting, sometimes impossible task. Luckily, there is no one perfect combination of cheese yet a plenitude of exceptional quality to choose from, whether Irish, European or from pastures further afield.

Cheese, like fruit and veg, has a season or a peak at which it is perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Too young and some cheeses can be too chalky and unpleasant. Too old and they can taste foul, like the smell of a dirty farmyard. Ask your cheesemonger what they recommend and what is good at the moment. They are constantly smelling and prodding and tasting so will expertly steer you in the right direction.

It is a good idea to allow for 150g of cheese per person. At Christmas I tend to go slightly overboard with a cornucopia of cheese –  six or seven different options. Mixing milk types, and textures, is a great place to start and will ensure an appealing selection of possibilities to tempt every palate. Try to have at least one cow’s milk, one ewe’s, one goat’s and depending on the selection available, one buffalo. 

Below is a non-exhaustive list of cheeses tasting particularly good this time of year with some pairing and serving suggestions to help navigate the whey waters of building the Ultimate Christmas Cheese Board. 

Killeen Goat Gouda

Bought in Elm Epicurean for €38/kg 

Made using traditional rennet and pasteurised goat’s milk by Dutch born Marion Roeleveld in Portumna, Co. Galway, Killeen has a gentle sweetness that makes it accessible to most palates, and also pretty much anyone who thinks they don’t like goat’s cheese. The paste of the cheese, which is stark white and quite striking, has a pliable texture and is suitable for melting over any turkey leftovers. With notes of sweet milk, sautéed onion and macadamia nut this would be a lovely pairing with the yeasty, nutty and subtle floral notes of Deliciosa Manzanilla available at Baggot Street Wines for €14.95.

A stronger alternative: Corleggy, available at The Temple Bar Food Market & Loose Canon. 

Made with raw milk and vegetarian rennet, this natural rind, hard goat’s milk has a more pronounced nuttiness, namely toasted walnuts and a stronger fruit profile. They are also available in small formats, wrapped in twine, which would make for a thoughtful stocking filler for the cheese lover in your life. 

A European alternative: Saanen Truffle, available in Lilliput Stores, Fallon & Byrne and Cass & Co, Dungarvan.

Made with vegetarian rennet and organic milk from the Saanen goat who are considered a model breed for dairy production given their hardiness, calm nature and abundance of milk. The cheese is thermised, a gentle form of heating the milk to a lower temperature for a shorter amount of time than pasteurisation, and spiked with a bounty of black truffle.


Gubbeen Farmhouse Cheese

Bought in Loose Canon for €30/kg

Gubbeen is one of my all-time favourite Irish cheeses. Made in Schull, Co. Cork by the Ferguson family from pasteurised cow’s milk, this semi-soft washed rind cheese was one of the first farmhouse cheeses in Ireland, alongside Durrus, Milleens and Coolea to name a few. The rind is a beautiful pinkish, brown and harbours a lot of umami flavours and if grilled crisps up like bacon. When young Gubbeen is pleasantly chalky, lactic and fruity. When perfectly ripe, it is yogurty in flavour and almost gooey in the centre and as it ages it takes on a nutty and distinct umami flavour. Pair with Kikusui Jumnai Ginjo, available online at Retrovino Sake for €14. The sake has elegant notes of custard apple, confit lemon and fresh cantaloupe melons as well as that typical layer of umami that would work very well with the mushroomy, artichoke flavours of Gubbeen. 

A stronger alternative: Durrus, available in Sheridans, Dunnes Stores and SuperValu.

There is a marked salinity and stickiness to the rind of Durrus, which is made from pasteurised cow’s in Bantry, Co.Cork. When young it is mellow and grassy but when aged it becomes rich, strong and earthy.

A European alternative: Époisses, available in Fallon & Byrne, Sheridans and SuperValu.

Buyer beware, once opened Époisses can ooze spectacularly from its rind like water breaking the banks of a river. The brilliant orange rind, washed in Marc de Bourgogne, a Burgundian liqueur made by distilling the leftover grapes skins from winemaking, is not only eye-catching but meaty, salty and extremely moreish. 


Selles-sur-Cher 

Bought in Sheridans Cheesemongers for €7.50/unit

This raw goat’s milk from the Loire Valley, France falls into a category of small format cheeses that will often be displayed side by side in a shop which makes it easier to discern their ripeness, readiness and differing qualities. Given their small size, they tend to ripen rapidly and their peak window tends to be shorter. That being said, some of these smaller cheeses reach a crest of creaminess that is then followed by them becoming firmer and denser in texture and spicier and steelier in flavour as they mature. Buy them at the appropriate maturation depending on your preference. Selles-sur-Cher has lovely notes of pistachio and a steely minerality that would pair well with a high acid, dry chenin from the same region or as it ages and becomes more robust could stand up to a Cabernet Franc if you prefer red.

A milder alternative: Roves de Garrigues, available in Sheridans and Fallon and Byrne.

This is a much milder, goat’s milk with no rind (although you may find an ash covered version in some shops) from Provence, France. It is rich in texture, tangy and has notes of fresh cream and the mountain herbs the goat’s graze on, such as lavender, rosemary and thyme. It is much smaller than Selles-sur-Cher because the Rove breed of goat produces considerably less milk. If by some miracle you have leftovers, it is delicious grilled on some toast with nduja, a drizzle of honey and some thyme. 

An Irish alternative: An Cnoc Dubh from Galway Cheese, Dunmore, Co.Galway, available McCambridges, Galway, The Little Cheese Shop, Dingle and Mike’s Fancy Cheese, Belfast.

Larry and Anne have been making award winning cheeses since 2013. Meaning black hill in Irish, it is an ash-rind pyramid made using pasteurised milk and vegetarian rennet. When young it is creamy and delicate and as it ages it becomes peppery and spicy and sometimes reminds me of its much stronger Spanish counterpart, Monte Enebro. 


Fleur du Vignoble

Bought in Fallon & Byrne for €50/kg

Made from pasteurised cow’s milk and traditional rennet, this visually striking cheese from the Vosges foothills in France is washed regularly during its ripening process and then covered in a magnificent mix of marigolds, cornflowers, safflowers, and rose. It is fruity, floral and buttery all at once and will most likely receive a slew of well warranted compliments from the table. Pair with Albert Bichot Coteaux Bourguinons, a blend of pinot noir and gamay which has notes of tart cherry and rose petals, available from Mitchell & Sons for €19.95. 

A stronger alternative: Ubriaco Rosso, available in Fallon & Byrne.

Drunken by name and drunken by nature, this pasteurised cow’s milk from Veneto, Italy is washed in barrels of grape must which imparts a powerful piquant, fruity flavour and a broody purple hue to the rind. 

An Irish alternative: Aran Islands Goat’s Milk Speckled with Dillisk, available in Sheridans and McCambridges, Galway.

If you come across this gouda style cheese infused with seaweed harvested from the shores of Inis Mór, you should grab it with both hands. Gabriel’s herd is made up of Nubian and Saneen goats and it is another example of a visually remarkable cheese with a flavour profile to match.


Carré Corse 

Bought in Sheridan’s for €54.30/kg

Literally translated as corsican square, this square shaped, washed-rind cheese hailing from the island of Corsica is made from raw sheep’s milk. The topography of Corsica, with its rugged mountains and wild coastlines, is best suited to the rearing of sheep and goats hardy enough to navigate the unsteady terrain. It is creamy and salty and would pair with Zillinger “Neuland”, a biodynamic Grüner Veltliner, available online from The Allotment Wine Company for €22.99.  

A milder alternative: Brebirousse D’Argental, available in Lilliput Stores and Fallon & Byrne.

A pasteurised sheep’s milk from Lyon, France that is rich, creamy and mild. Quite simply, I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it.

An Irish alternative: Knockalara Mature Sheep’s Milk, available online at www.mezze.ie and www.neighbourfood.ie 

Made using pasteurised milk and vegetarian rennet, Knockalara is a semi-hard cheese with flavours of white chocolate, blanched almonds, sweet milk, marzipan and cooked mushrooms. They also make a younger, fresh version which is sometimes available in Loose Canon and has a sharp citrusy edge.  


Blue de Brebis Regalis 

Bought in Fallon & Byrne for €56/kg

Fuelling my obsession with sheep’s cheese is this wonderful soft, creamy blue encased in a beautiful rind of white wax. The cheesemaker also makes Napoleon, a cheese made in the style of Ossau Iraty, with subtle hints of warmed milk and butterscotch. This blue is reminiscent of Roquefort and has a lovely salty bite with flavours of white chocolate, and a hint of aniseed. Mix some of the cheese through mash for an extravagant yet resourceful way of using up any leftovers. Pair with Saika Nigori Ume, an extremely tart plum sake available to buy online at Retrovino Sake for €49.

A milder alternative: Montagnolo, available in Sheridans, Dunnes Stores and online at www.batch.ie 

A pasteurised, veggie rennet, German cow’s milk cheese that will convert any naysayer to blue. It is a triple cream cheese, up to 75% fat content, that is rich, decadent and velvety with a very delicate hint of spice from the blue veins.

An Irish alternative: Coolmary, from the Blue’s Creamery in Co. Tipperary, available every Thursday at the Kilkenny Farmer’s Market and online at www.mfcheese.com

This raw sheep’s milk is made with vegetarian rennet and has a slightly firmer, crumblier texture and is more on the earthy spectrum with notes of forest floor and mushrooms. The milk is sourced from Barry and Lorraine Cahalan in Terryglass who are the cheesemakers behind Cáis na Tíre, a sheep’s milk cheese somewhere between Manchego and Napoleon in style.


La Fleur des Alpes

Bought in Elm Epicurean for €41/kg

Similar to Comté in flavour but much smaller in size, La Fleurs des Alpes hails from the hills of Moléson, overlooking Gruyére, and is matured for eight months in damp cellars intensifying its sweet woody flavour. It is nutty, and brothy with a nostalgic taste of roast chicken and it always proves a popular addition to any cheese board, especially at this time of year when we crave comfort. Pair with Domaine Lupin Frangy, available at Mitchell & Sons for €22.95. The notes of pear and nougat in the wine as well as its high acid will marry beautifully with the rich, nutty mountain truckle. 

A stronger alternative: A 36 Month Comté, available in Fallon & Byrne

Easily recognisable by its unmistakable flecks of tyrosine crystals which form when proteins in the cheese begin to break down, Comté is an Alpine classic and yuletide staple in our house. Made in the Jura Massif region of France using raw milk from the Montbéliarde cow, they say there are up to eighty three potential flavours you can taste in a wheel from butter to coffee to roasted onion to plum and seventy nine others in between. 

An Irish alternative: St. Gall, available in Loose Canon.

Made using raw milk and traditional rennet from The Natural Cheese Company in Fermoy, Co. Cork. It is fruitier and more yogurty in flavour than La Fleurs des Alpes and has a lovely yeasty finish.  


Mont D’Or

Bought in Elm Epicurean for €14/unit

Depending on how many people you’re catering for, an effortless way of enhancing your cheese board is with the simple addition of a Mont D’Or, made from the milk of the same celebrated cows who produce the milk for Comté. At this time of year, the herds come down from the mountain and are fed hay rather than fresh grass and their yield is much lower. Baking Mont D’Or is common but I have a soft spot for it in its naked form. Unbaked, I find the delicate nuance of flavours shine through. Wrapped in spruce bark which imparts a gentle flavour of sweet pine on the paste which is delicate, and creamy with notes of hay and warm milk. 


Cheese accompaniments

This time of year I tend to lean towards darker fruits, like plums, figs and red grapes to accompany my cheeses. Their flavours and flesh are delicate enough to enhance the cheeses without overpowering them. I also like toasted walnuts and adding Nocellara olives for their verdant colour and their meaty and briney flavour. Corleggy makes a powerful Port Jelly which is absolutely delicious with strong blue cheeses and a small ramekin of local honey makes for a lovely addition to any board.

Drink pairings can be tricky and it is rare to find a bank balance that would allow for each cheese having its own individual pairing, unless in a restaurant setting. Sparkling wines like Cava, Crémant, or Champagne if the budget permits, generally hit the mark. Their acids cut the richness of the cheese, the splendent sparkle cleanses the palate and the soft fruit and secondary aromas of bread dough and brioche prove a suitable match for most cheeses. 

Equipped with this rough guideline you will hopefully create a festive cheese board worthy of rapturous acclaim or, at the very least, worthy of the soft sound of snoring from a dairy induced afternoon nap on Christmas day.

Full disclosure: I work in Elm Epicurean but any cheeses I bought there are also available in Fallon & Byrne and Sheridans. 


A Magic Moment on Manor Street - A Fianco Review - Philippa Moore

Build the Perfect Christmas Cheese Board with Wine Pairings – By Philippa Moore

Philippa has worked in many facets of the food and wine industry since she was 18, from cheese shops to wine bars to restaurants to grocers. She spent a year in New York training as a cheesemonger in the Bedford Cheeseshop and has completed her level 3 WSET in Wine. She is fiercely proud of the quality of Irish produce and not only does she love to eat it and sell it but she loves to write about it too. Philippa is also a food guide for Fab Food Trails and when not working enjoys a dip in the sea, drinking wine and mildly obsessing about her dog (sometimes in quick succession). 

Recently Added

 Receive regular updates, special offers, reviews, competitions and much more..