How to Create the Perfect Irish Farmhouse Cheese Board

by Kristin on December 19, 2011

In the 1970s, there were only a few people making farmhouse cheese in Ireland. Today, though, there are around 50 artisan cheesemakers producing 130 different cheeses, so there’s more choice and variety than ever. But with so much choice, it can be hard to know where to start or what to choose, so I met Elisabeth Ryan from Sheridans Cheesemongers at their Dublin shop to ask her how to assemble the perfect Irish farmhouse cheese board.

What Cheeses to Choose

“There are different ways to do a cheese board,” Elisabeth says, “but a good rule of thumb is to have three cheeses – one hard cheese, one soft/semi-soft cheese and one blue cheese.” Another option is to have one cow’s milk, one sheep’s milk and one goat’s milk cheese. If you want to push the boat out a little and add a fourth cheese, Elisabeth suggests going for an oddity, like something with a strong washed rind. However, you should avoid smoked or flavoured cheeses, since they will overpower the other cheeses. No matter what cheeses you choose, don’t forget that cheese is best served at room temperature, so make sure you take it out of the fridge at least an hour before you want to serve it.

Three Cheese Boards to Try

I asked Elisabeth what Irish farmhouse cheeses she would put together on a board and she wound up giving me three different board suggestions. But these aren’t hard and fast guidelines – at the end of the day, you should choose the cheeses you like best. For my board in the photo, I went with two of her three suggestions for the strong board but swapped out the Milleens for the Durrus.

Appearance

Appearance is important in a cheese board. Elisabeth recommends serving large portions of cheese, which look more dramatic. If you want something beautiful to present your cheese on, check out Bunbury Boards for a unique range of wooden cutting boards that would do double duty as a rustic serving platter or Slated for handmade slate cheese boards (shown in the photo).

Extras to Serve with Cheese

Adding extras to the board, such as fruit, crackers or chutney, will look good and will add variety. Elisabeth noted that sweet, dense, soft fruits work best with cheese, such as grapes, figs or pears, as well as other sweet things like black cherry jam, quince jelly, fig compote or honey. Or try drizzling some Highbank Orchard Syrup over a sharp cheddar (such as Hegarty’s or Mt Callan), like New Englanders in the US do with their boiled apple cider syrup, or for the holidays, these sparkling cranberries would look beautiful on a cheese plate.

Crackers or bread are a must. Choose a neutral cracker that won’t compete with the cheese (or even make your own), oatcakes, which work particularly well with blue cheese, or thinly sliced crusty bread. A fruit and nut bread, such as Nigel Slater’s fig and hazelnut loaf, Dan Lepard’s fig, honey and wine loaf cake or even panforte during the holidays would also work well. Sheridans has just launched their own range of crackers and the brown bread ones are a new favourite for me, while Robert Ditty’s traditional or smoked oatcakes are hard to beat.

What to Drink with Cheese

Even though wine has traditionally been served with cheese, Elisabeth thinks it’s actually very difficult to pair them together. There’s a new trend now to match artsian cheese with craft beer instead. Speaking at a session during Foodcamp at the Savour Kilkenny food festival in October, Claire Dalton from Dungarvan Brewing Company said this isn’t just a case of sticking two Irish products together arbitrarily. She said there would have been a tradition in the UK and Ireland of drinking beer with cheese – it was a case of using what you had and what we had was beer, while France and Italy had wine. Plus the carbonation in beer nicely cuts through the fat in cheese. Bord Bia put together some notes on pairing Irish cheese and craft beer for their first Farmhouse Cheese and Craft Beer Weekend earlier this year, so check it out for lots of suggestions.

Extra Resources

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine December 19, 2011 at 11:31 am

This post is just beautiful. It’s not only an ode to our wonderful cheeses, but a rallying call to put more thought into assembling the perfect cheeseboard. All your links invite further investigation, and I’ll do this in the new year, since many at our family table rate the cheese course to be much more important than dessert. Thanks for the inspiration!

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Kristin December 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Thanks for the lovely comment, Catherine!

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Clare December 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I’m a sucker for a great cheese board and this is a fantastic guide to Irish cheeses! The best part of my Saturday morning is standing at the Sheridans Cheese stand sampling their booty! :) Such good stuff. Also love your suggestion for pairing paneforte with cheese, never thought of it but what a great idea!

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Kristin December 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I thought of the panforte because I made a batch last week from Nigella’s Christmas cookbook and she suggests serving it with a sharp cheddar.

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Amee December 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Great post – I would have a cheeseboard over a dessert any day and I love a lot of the Irish cheeses you mentioned. In fact I think I may be putting one of the Sheridan children through college with the about I frequent the shop. But I think we both know that you would be just as happy with a dull knife, a new book and an entire Mossfield Organic to yourself than all the fancy artisan cheese boards in the land.

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Kristin December 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm

You know me well now!

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Alan Bourke December 21, 2011 at 11:47 am

> There’s a new trend now to match artsian cheese with craft beer instead

The Dungarvan Brewing Co dark beers are great with cheese.

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Kristin December 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I think the Dungarvan beers are great with anything! Have you tried their seasonal coffee and oatmeal stout yet?

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Sheila Kiely December 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm

A friend once told me that her idea of the perfect dinner was an entire French baguette, some creamy cheese & white wine :) Great pic.

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Kristin December 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Mmm, sounds perfect to me too!

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Brenda December 30, 2011 at 2:36 am

This is such a great post. I miss Irish cheese sooooo much. This board will be on my wishlist for 2012.
Hubby’s ears have just pricked up. Cheese and beer, sounds like a good way to mix it up for the New Year ! Any tips for buying cheese in New England ?

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Kristin January 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hmm, tips for buying cheese in New England – I don’t suppose there’s a Whole Foods where you live or a good deli where you could ask someone’s opinion about the cheeses they carry?

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Brenda January 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Hi Kristin, sorry for the very broad cheese question. I’m afraid I was in a very festive mood at the time ! There is a little deli where we live, they carry a lot of Boars Head cheese which I can take or leave. Whole foods is still on the list of ‘must get to places’. There is one about 30 mins. from us so hopefully I get there soon.

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Kristin January 3, 2012 at 8:30 pm

It’s just as well there are no Whole Foods stores in Ireland, I’d spend all my disposable income there. Any store I’ve been in has a great cheese selection, so I’m sure you’ll find lots there – maybe even a few Irish ones?

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Slate Cheese Board January 23, 2012 at 3:39 am

Chess Boards from IdentiLase (UK based personalised gifts)

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