The Holiday Cheese Guide

It’s not Christmas if there isn’t a cheese platter tucked amongst the fir needles and sparkles adorning the table. Serving cheese during the holidays has been a tradition passed down for generations, it used to be handed out as a gift, particularly when fresh cheese was coated in nuts – both were luxury items back in the day. Now, I guess we can consider it a gift to ourselves – you made it through another year, let’s celebrate with cheese!

Building a holiday platter fit for a magazine cover is something everyone can do, and it’s a lot of fun! With a few key rules to keep in mind and a spark of creativity, you’ll surprise yourself with what you can fashion in no time.



Cheese is a lot for the palate to take on, especially with several types. Keep your taste buds excited by building a variety of textures, milk types (cow, goat, sheep…), and cheese groups (see below). To really impress your guests you can also vary countries for a global cheeseboard, or explore the cheeses of just one country.


A platter always needs some accompanying food to counter all that richness, something that cuts through the fat and refreshes the palate. Tart, sweet, or acidic would be great – fruit and jellies work well. Having some bread, crackers or toasted nuts also help reset your taste buds.


Scan through some magazines or online for some inspiration for different board styles. You could keep it clean and contemporary and line the cheese up in a line, serving sides in small bowls or jars. Or you can go crazy and cozy everything up on one board in creative patterns. Cut up firm cheeses in triangles for easy serving and leave soft cheeses in one piece.


A granite slab or wooden board may not make the cheese taste better, but they do add stunning visual impact. Even a cutting board would suffice – but beware of flavours lurking in the wood, nobody likes oniony cheese. Having some small serving utensils (Capital Iron) make practical use of limited space, while also adding a polished effect. Whether you label the cheese or not is up to you. Maybe the egg nog will be flowing and the names aren’t of much importance, maybe there will detailed note taking and contemplative nodding. Just make sure to include the name, origin, and milk type(s) if you do.

Ottavio Boards

Cheese Groups 

There are five main groups of cheese. Selecting a cheese from each category is the first step to creating a wonderfully balanced board.


Cheese that is made to be eaten without aging. They are soft and delicate with simple flavour profiles. Some examples are chevre, fresh mozzarellas, and ricotta.

Surface Ripened

Think Brie. These cheeses have been inoculated with moulds, which produce the fluffy white coat on the outside of the cheese. The ripening starts under the rind and works into the centre, giving young cheeses a firm, chalky centre with a goopy band under the rind that spreads with age until the entire cheese is soft and supple.


Stinky cheese! Cheeses that have been washed with a salty solution throughout the aging process, typically brine or whey but sometimes wine, beer, or cider. The washing introduces good bacteria to the rinds, which develop orange tones and meaty, savoury flavours.

Natural Rind

The cheeses are left to ripen au natural, gaining whatever moulds or scents that are present in the aging room. They are typically quite earthy and rustic, with a variety of grey and brown (and sometimes yellow or blue) moulds and yeasts on the surface. Eating the rind is optional and varies with each cheese – some are lightly earthy, and some are like licking the cellar floor. Regardless, leave the rind on to show the authenticity of the cheese.


The milk is innoculated with mould during the cheese making process. These moulds add a sweet/salty/savoury complexity to the cheese, with varying degrees of strength – there is a blue for everyone! Some are mild and approachable with minimal blue veining, while others are have huge pockets of blue and can pack a punch.


So head to your local cheese counter this Christmas and choose your favourites or ask your cheesemonger to set you up – don’t forget bread, crackers and accompaniments. If you are having a special wine, white wines are the friendliest, reds best with hard cheeses and sweet wines, like port, cover all the bases. Enjoy the holiday season and consume cheese responsibly, and often!

[Pictured at the top: Clockwise from bottom left – Moonstruck Cheese Board: Beddis Blue, Baby Blue, White Grace, Ash-Ripened Camembert, Aged Feta, Blossom’s Blue, Savoury Moon.]


— By Andrew Moyer and Laura Peterson

Spoiled Milk is a continuing, monthly column exploring the world of cheese. It is written in collaboration with Ottavio – Italian Bakery & Delicatessen

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