Guest post, by Ella Martyn
Here in the heart of Melbourne we’re on the tail end of a long and isolating lockdown. It’s been hard, but we’ve gotten through it with unity and hope (and some of us are even lucky enough to have vegan cheese makers for parents to send us care packages). We’re finally beginning to feel a taste of freedom, and the weather warming up is the perfect excuse to make an extravagant cheese board to impress my housemates and make other park goers jealous they don’t have a friend like me in their lives.
I always use a minimum of three cheeses on my boards. The rule of thumb for a dairy cheese board is a soft cheese, a hard or crumbly cheese and a cheese of alternate animal milk, often a chevre style. Following this rule and selecting from the Artisa range my three styles of cheese are a fresh cheese, here a kunyani, a harder cheese, I’ve opted for both a Gladstone and a Tasman Black, and a Ben Lomond, our ashed brie style.
First it’s important to place your large players down on the serving board to assess spacing and balance. I always start with cheeses still in their packaging, things like larger fruit and the dishes and ramekins I intend to serve accompaniments in. I also keep in mind the shapes and colours of the cheeses and side items to keep balance. Cheese plates are supposed to be delicious to both the eye and palette.
Once the spacing has been mapped out, I open the cheeses and begin to place. I like to cut some in half, this providing an extra level of texture, or perhaps exposing some veining or a creamy centre, the cut piece being placed at an angle.
Then I can begin to fill the ramekins - in this case a horseradish mustard, a quince jelly, green olives with cornichon and some dressed up supermarket hummus. It’s a good rule of thumb to have something acidic, something sweet, and I’m pretty sure a hummus free vegan cheese board is against the rules.
While I have chosen a couple of higher end accompaniments I am a firm believer in cutting corners elsewhere. In lieu of making your own hummus, cheap supermarket hummus can be quickly and beautifully dressed up. A drizzle of olive oil, some flaked salt and cracked black pepper is all you need. I also like to add crushed red pepper flakes, paprika, or fresh herbs but this is entirely dependent on your tastes and pantry contents.
With these items arranged, step back and have a look - if it is pleasing to the eye at this point it’s pretty hard to go wrong from here on out.
I like to use two shapes of crackers for a bit more variety and texture. I tend to opt for either wafer or water crackers, coupled with some vegan lavosh or some seed crackers. Begin to arrange your crackers, some in small piles, some fanned out, some wedged between cheeses and dishes but don’t over do it at this point. Always have extra crackers on the side to top up as too many crackers can make a board look a bit bland.
Then start filling in your empty spaces with fruit, nuts, vegetables, vegan deli meats, whatever you like. I’ve used mini cucumbers, split lengthways, some dipped in a mix of sesame seeds, poppy seeds and salt, strawberries, some halved and a pear, sliced straight through the core into pear ‘crackers’, unbelievably delicious with vegan cheese. Pop on a few sprigs of fresh herbs and you are ready to serve.
Try not to take this guide as gospel, you can switch it up however you like. Dried and preserved fruits, wasabi peas, edible flowers, chocolate, nut butters - half the joy of a cheese plate is the experimentation. Keep it seasonal and keep it local, have your platter tell a story. Crack open something alcoholic and delicious, get outside and enjoy your cruelty free masterpiece.
To all my friends in Melbourne, especially my fellow hospitality and arts workers - keep it together, wear a mask and invite me for a picnic - my schedule is literally wide open.