How to make the perfect picnic: choose the right cheese
How could you have a picnic without cheese? Here award-winning cheesemonger Hero Hirsh, of Paxton & Whitfield, shares her top tips on preparing a fantastic cheese picnic, including how much to take, where to store it, and what drinks will work with which cheese.
It’s best to use a cool bag with ice bricks to make sure that you cheese keeps cool. Hard cheeses such as Cheddar or Comte will maintain their structure better in heat, and the flavours will be more pronounced. But soft cheeses including Pont L'Eveque or Camembert will go runny when they're exposed to warm conditions. I’d suggest bringing the cheeses out of the cool box about 10 minutes before you want to enjoy them, but keep them out of direct sunlight – so they warm up a little and the flavours are enhanced. It’s worth avoiding really soft blue cheeses such as Roquefort, as they have a tendency to become quite soggy in packaging and difficult to handle. If you really want to have blue cheese, it may be best used in a sandwich or a salad.
It's worth considering how much other food there will be at a picnic and choosing the quantity of cheese carefully. Unless you've selected a fairly hard cheese, you probably won't want to take any leftovers home afterwards. As part of a picnic with several other dishes, I'd recommend about 75g per person. If cheese and bread are going be more central to the meal, allow 100-150g per person. It's likely that the cheese will be something that people come back to and pick over for a while, so make sure you have plenty of crusty bread!
As an ingredient
A lot of cheese dishes are designed to be eaten at room temperature, making them ideal for picnic situations – homemade quiches, feta-stuffed peppers, greek salad, pizzette, tomato and mozzarella salad and, of course, sandwiches.
Most picnics will feature sandwiches as they're so easy to prepare and don't require plates and cutlery. If you're using cheese for sandwiches, consider which fillings will work well with the style of cheese you have: Cheddar with ham and pickle is the classic combination; blue cheeses work nicely with rich meats like roast beef, but also with sweet flavours including grapes or quince paste; goats cheese and chorizo is a nice combination and both work well with roasted red peppers or a chilli jam; Alpine cheeses like Comte or Beaufort work really well with salami and cornichons; soft bloomy rind cheeses like brie work beautifully with peppery watercress.
Matching with drinks
Unless you're having a fairly intimate picnic for two, it's likely that people will choose different drinks to consume with their picnic. No cheese will work perfectly with every type of drink, but hard cheeses like Comte are good all-rounders. Whilst apple juices and ginger beer work well, lemonade doesn't sit so well with cheese. If you're having a picnic for two and you know what you will drink, the following matches work well: Champagne – with either a full cream cheese like Brillat Savarin or a hard aged cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano; crisp white wine – goats or sheeps cheeses; light red wines – great for soft bloomy or washed rinds; cider – really good with salty cheeses like Mahon or Cheddar; beer - works well with hard territorial cheeses like Lancashire or Cheshire.
It's worth the effort of taking a sharp knife and a small chopping board, which can double up as a serving platter.
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