In this blog post, we give you some tips on how to create the perfect Maltese cheese board, what ingredients you need and how to combine them.
Picture this. It’s the end of a long week and you are spending the evening at home. Rooftop. Dimmed lights. A bottle of red wine. What would make this evening complete? A well designed Maltese cheese board with local Hanini and Gobon Tan Nar cheese. Perfect, right? It is a perfect way to enjoy a romantic evening, especially if you are able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Maltese fireworks in a not-so far distance.
If you think creating a visually stunning cheese board is a daunting task, think otherwise. We are here to help you! You just need to follow a few rules, understand your personal preferences, and choose the items accordingly. You will create a beautifully designed cheese board in no time.
There are many different ways to design a cheese board. Generally everyone loves cheese, and the more visually attractive, the more tempting. Focus on getting a number of good tasty cheeses, instead of buying a large amount of lesser quality ones. Don’t keep it too simple though. The idea of working your way through a variety of cheeses is part of the excitement! Preferably choose cheeses of different flavours and textures because not only are they visually pleasing, but also they give your guests a wide range of variety.
The first task is to choose your cheeses. Here on the Maltese islands we have a wide range of cheese options which are perfect for creating a Maltese cheese board. Our selected brands for this board was Hanini and Gobon Tan-Nar cheeses. We had tried a few Hanini cheeses before, in particular the cheeselets. This time we decided to go a step further and add a larger variety of Hanini cheeses such as the Cheeselet roll and Tan-Nar cheeses.
Hanini cheeselets come in a range of different types and flavours. We normally tend to opt for the plain or peppered (tal-bzar) sheep cheeselets (gbejniet) because those are the ones that appeal more to our taste.
There are three types of plain cheeselets on offer – sheep, goat or cow. Each has a distinct taste and texture. We loved the sheep cheeselets because they remind us of the traditional cheese we have become accustomed to. We tried them all to give you an idea of what we thought of all of the cheeses.
You cannot go wrong with the Hanini Mature Sheep White Cheeselets. Not so hard exterior with a soft interior. Perfect combination with bread and a nice (not so strong) red wine.
The Hanini Mature Goat’s Cheeselet which was fairly whiter than the other white plain cheeselets. This cheeselet was smokey and tasted aged. This tasted a lot cheesier than the other cheeselets and we enjoyed this a lot.
We were quite impressed with the Hanini Mature Cow White Cheeselets. These did not rise like the other cheeselets and seemed a bit more squashed. The texture was quite impressive. It had a harder exterior but crumbled more easily. This was Jonathan’s favourite!
To give our cheese board even more variety in taste and a more personal feel, we added the two types of peppered cheeselets offered by Hanini. The Mature Sheep Peppered Cheeselet is like the typical Gbejna but a lot softer than what we are used to.
The Mature Sheep Smoked Cheeselets took the winning prize for our favourite peppered cheeselet. This one has a muddier appearance and a vinegary taste. We loved it because it reminded us of the typical peppered cheeselets traditionally served with drinks in bars around the islands.
Thinking of colour for your Maltese cheese board? Here are more options. The Mature Sheep Sundried and Garlic Cheeselets, had an aftertaste of spices, which we found not too strong but overall pleasing. The same can be said for the Mature Sheep Basil and Chilli Cheeselets.
The Mature Sheep Herbs Cheeselets were absolutely lovely. Very smokey and with a nice texture. They were very different to any other cheeselet we have ever tasted. One of our favourite cheeselets from the whole lot, along with the Cow cheeselets and the Smoked Sheep Cheeselets.
Unfortunately we did not have a whole lotta love for the Hanini Gibnarolls. We found the Gibnarolls to taste somewhat bland. Between the two types (Peppered and Herbs), we preferred the peppered option, but unenthusiastically so.
We feel that adding fresh cheeselets is an interesting option for a Maltese cheese board. Spread on slices of bread, they add a very nice touch. We tried the fresh cow and the fresh goat. We prefered the Fresh Goat cheeselets over the Fresh Cow one, because we found them to be slightly saltier.
Having said that, both versions were quite lovely and we feel would go well with a nice full bodied red wine. Also an option in this case is the Hanini Fresh Irkotta, which is very soft, milky and light. This is the kind of irkotta which would go well with almost everything.
Now, for something special. Gobon Tan-Nar. We knew we had to add these to our Maltese cheese board because of the pleasant aesthetic they add to the whole board. The Brigantinu type was particular with it’s darker appearance. As it turns out this was our favourite from the ‘Gobon Tan-Nar’ range, perhaps even from all of the cheeses we tried. It has a lovely smokey taste and a really enjoyable soft texture. We cannot recommend it enough. Can anyone try it with a Sauvignon Blanc and let us know the result?
The other Gobon Tan-Nar types were also quite interesting. The Original was, in our opinion, a cross between Maltese cheese and Edam cheese. It is very soft and creamy with just a touch of smokiness. The Gobon Tan-Nar Peppered has a very similar taste to that peppered hard cheese we are used to but with a much softer texture. This has a nice taste and is not too salty. We had mixed feelings on the Fennel Gobon Tan-Nar. Jonathan quite liked it whereas I was not a fan. The fennel taste is quite prominent so it would really depend on your feelings on this herb.
Now that you have all your cheeses selected, you need to think of how to place them. We approached the task of putting together a Maltese cheese board with the aim of creating a contrast of texture, taste and shape using the variety of cheeses we had. You can choose to go clockwise, going from mild to strong, on the basis of dark to light colours. You can also opt to separate the soft from the hard cheeses, comparing the two along the way. In the end, creating a perfect Maltese cheese board is also about aesthetics, as much as it is about taste.
We like to combine the cheese with bread, nuts, fruits and in our case some jams and honey. Whilst some would recommend avoiding sugary spreads like jams which can be strong and compete with the cheese, personally we find the option as pleasing, as long as it is in small amounts. In the end, it is really a question of taste!
Every year we end up with a large number of loquats and always use the opportunity to make some homemade marmalade. It does take a few hours and a lot of sugar, but we are always satisfied with the result.
Another point of contention is the bread and biscuits. Whilst some would not recommend using biscuits, and insist on bread only, we find that the hardness of some biscuits or crackers combines well with soft cheeses.
We focused our board on cheese but you do not need to shy away from adding meat. Grissini wrapped with Parma Ham are always a welcome addition, as are Salamis, especially the spicy ones where Jonathan is concerned. Maltese sausage with it’s strong salty taste is of course a good option in this case.
Olives, fruit and nuts complement the different tastes and colours presented. Fruit in particular brings a lot of interesting colour to the board. We always find apples to be great because of their not-too-sweet taste, and nice aesthetics. We are also great fans of walnuts, dried apricots, and grapes and blueberries because of their great dark colour!
We planned this cheese board for two people (Jonathan and myself) but if we had to be honest, this cheese board could have easily catered for 4-6 people. Not that we were complaining!
Original article by OMGFoodMalta.