This Valentine’s Day, break away from the stereotype of roses, wine and chocolate and build a cheese board from scratch. “Start from the base by picking the right platter,” says Manasi Jasani, founder of The Cheese Collective in Mumbai, a cheesemonger known for selling homegrown and imported cheeses, hosting cheese pairing workshops and creating spectacular cheese platters.
To serve the cheeses, Jasani recommends using a flat board made of wood, porcelain, glass or black slate. Avoid plastic at all costs, she says. Next up is the selection of cheeses. A cheese platter has a balance of flavours—sweet, salty and spicy—and textures—gooey, soft and hard. “It’s just like love,” says Jasani.
“Start with a milder soft cheese and then move to firmer and ripened cheeses,” says Chef Anil Sharma, Executive Sous Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu. Soft cheeses can include burrata and Boursin, while some semi-soft cheeses are brie and camembert, taleggio or munster. Sharp cheddar, manchego, gruyere, gouda and emmental are some examples of semi-hard cheeses. If you and your partner like blue cheese, Sharma recommends gorgonzola or Roquefort. His advise is to not serve the cheeses chilled. They need to rest in room temperature to allow the flavours to mature.
Accompaniments in a cheese platter are the equivalent of bread in a main course dish. Good cheeses are high on salt because it acts as a preservative, so, the accompaniments like crackers and nuts should be preferably unsalted or low on salt. Chef Sharma suggests lightly toasting nuts such as pistachios, almonds and walnuts to make their flavours emerge. For a bit of textural variation, throw in apricots, dates and prunes.
To make a meal of it, add a carb component with bread sticks and toasted bread slices, which also pair well with cheese dips and preserves. Since the theme is romance, include jams, fruit preserves and honey.
Jasani has a few tricks up her sleeve to infuse the cheese board with the Valentine's Day mood. Add a touch of red with fresh strawberries, dried cranberries and cherry tomatoes. And, meat lovers will be delighted with salami rolled like roses. “On YouTube, look up how to make salami roses and create a heart with cherry tomatoes halves on a toothpick,” she says. An aficionado of colour, she says green accents with fresh mint leaves and springs of thyme or rosemary will complement the red. Finish with flair by garnishing with flowers. “Avoid baby’s breath. They are considered to be poisonous. Roses can be an overkill. Sprinkle edible flowers and your cheese platter will come alive,” she advises.
If you like to experiment, make an Italian, Mexican or Turkish cheese board. Olives and truffle-flavoured cheeses will give it an Italian spin. Hummus, cucumber and carrot sticks with a yoghurt dip will make for a quasi-Turkish cheese platter. “For a Mexican theme, add salsa, tortilla chips and serve with side of bean stuffing that goes into a Taco,” says Jasani. She likes to play around with unusual cheese pairings and is hosting an online event to pair cheeses with chocolate in collaboration with the home-grown brand Maison & Co on Friday. To register, check the Instagram page of The Cheese Collective (@thecheesecollective) that ends with gin tasting. Armed with new knowledge, be ready to romance your Significant Other or just fall in love with cheese.