23 December 2008

Cheese and Crackers - How to Serve this Fine British Traditional Food

this lens' photo

This traditional serving is fairly tasty, versatile and can go down well on many occasions. It is a personal favourite, which I thoroughly enjoy when I allow myself to have it.

Children and Adults love it, and everyone tends to have their own favourite cheeses.

I make a point of enjoying it at Christmas, it certainly makes for a light snack in the evening following a full Christmas Dinner, when nobody wants to cook or eat a lot. It is also nice for an adult get together or birthdays. It can be part of a full buffet or just served as below.

I will admit, although I say light snack, I have been known to eat cheese and crackers until I cannot eat any more occasionally.

The Basic Idea

Crackers and cheese is classically served either as is or as a part of a buffet. My favourite is to have this as a light Christmas Eve buffet, especially when so much of the kitchen is taken up in preparation for the big meal on Christmas day.

What to serve:

  • A selection of Cheeses
  • A selection of Crackers
  • A selection of pickles – sweet pickle, Piccalilli
  • Some drinks – soft drinks for the kids, red wine for the adults.
  • And fine Potato Chips/Crisps.

With all the selections, remember that the things one person loves, another may hate and vice versa. Buying a good variety ensures there is something for everyone.

Selecting the Cheeses

I have always been a huge fan of Roulade and would not do cheese and crackers without it. However, other people much prefer Blue Stilton, and I will not touch blue cheeses. So you have to think a little broad here.

Here is my general minimum setup:

  • A Roulade – This is a roll of soft cheese with chives and herbs.
  • A medium Cheddar (you can add in a mature one as well, but normally the medium goes down well) – Standard British Cheese – firm and strong tasting.
  • Brie – This is soft buttery cheese. I find the taste subtle. It has a mushroom tasting edible rind.
  • Blue Stilton – Strong tasting, and even more strong smelling cheese with blue veins running through it.
  • Wensleydale – A light favoured, soft and crumbly cheese. Wallace (of the Wallace and Grommit fame) loves this cheese best of all.
  • A processed and smoked continental cheese – smooth, creamy cheese with a smoked flavour. They normally come with an inedible rind in a small sausage shaped tan package.
  • Goats Cheese – A bit of an acquired taste that adults tend to enjoy and children avoid. It is sharp, strong in taste. It is generally spreadable in texture. It normally has an edible rind.

Generally, buying a cheeseboard set in a UK supermarket at the right season will get you that selection.

I then add in a number of other cheeses depending on the crowd, how large they are, and who I know will be coming:

  • Edam – This Dutch Cheese generally comes in a large ball, a section of, or small bitesize balls. It is mild and creamy to the taste and rubbery in texture, and has a few holes in it.
  • Emmental – This is a Swiss Cheese with the infamous holes in it. It has a unique taste to it. The texture is firm.
  • Double Gloucester (from where I grew up!) – Creamy, firm and rich. Crumblier than Cheddar, with a slightly redder colour, this is a whole milk, unpasteurised cheese.
  • Red Leicester – This uses much more of the Orange Annato natural dye used in Double Gloucester, giving it the distinctive red appearance. It is tangy and firm – again crumbly when compared with Cheddar.
  • Cheshire – This cheese is crumbly and salty to the taste. I generally go for the white variety.

Finally, a few speciality/novelty cheeses are good:

  • Spicy Nun – This is a mature Cheddar like cheese, a little moist but firm. It is pressed with garlic, peppers and chillies. I have only seen this at farmers markets – a bit rare, but worth it.
  • Applewood – Smoky flavoured cheddar with a paprika rind.
  • Wensleydale and Cranberries – Sweet and tasty, simply Wensleydale with cranberries set into the cheese.

This set is not exhaustive, I have basically included my own favourites, and those of my family or friends when preparing a buffet like this.

My Favourite Cheeses

I enjoy Roulade (a soft herby cheese) spread on crackers a great deal. Applewood was my childhood favourite.

Spicey Nun is an amazing experience, and I buy it when I can, which is rarely as it is usually only found at farmers market, and only some of those.

I have never said no to Cheddar, even the extra mature varieties which may be too much for some. It is the basis for some of the novelty cheeses – so I think it is Cheddar for the win.

Selecting Crackers

Much like the cheeses, there are crackers everyone loves, and those that you either hate or love. Generally with a good crowd, you want a few varieties, as you can guarantee that some of the haters and likers are in that crowd.


  • The Cream Cracker – This is the iconic cracker for cheese. It is crisp, flaky, slightly buttery/creamy in taste. It is also palette cleansing – which between trying different cheeses is quite important.
  • The Rivita – I am not a fan of these. They are high-fibre large rectangular rye and mixed grain crackers. They are dry. They are also rumoured to be the most healthy of the crackers.
  • The Digestive – Although this is a sweet biscuit, it works fairly well with Cheddar. For real indulgence, butter it slightly, then put a slice of cheddar on it. The biscuit is fairly high fibre, being made with coarse wheat flour. The texture is almost that of oatmeal.
  • Crackerbread – this is a light yellow coloured puffed cracker – rectangular, lightly crispy, a little salted. These can be bought in wheat, wholegrain and multi grain varieties.
  • Cheese Thins AKA Ritz – thin, crispy quite salty and cheesy round crackers.
  • Water biscuits – These are thin, crunchy crackers. Despite the name they feel a bit dry, this is because they do not have the butteriness of other crackers.
  • Butter puffs – Thick flaky round crackers with a buttery taste.
  • Hovis Crackers – these are similar to the digestive, but slightly less sweet.
  • Seeded or herbed crackers – good for some variety, there are salt and black pepper, chives, cumin, and sesame crackers, generally square and based on the cream cracker.

A fairly good selection can be bought with a “biscuits for cheese” selection box, although these tend not be enough to serve more than 2/3. I generally buy one of these and then add some separate packs of my favourites to finish the selection.


Some like cheeses on their own with a cracker, some cannot do without a little pickle. Personally, I like both so I can have the most taste experience and variety. By pickle, I mean either a pickle sauce (like sweet pickle) or sliced pickled vegetables.

Getting the pickle right can give real contrast.

  • Sweet pickle/ploughmans – This is the traditional pickle for cheese. Goes most excellently with cheddar. It is tangy, crunchy and chunky pickle with a mixture of vegetables.
  • Pickled Onions – There are a few varieties of these and depending on the aging and spices used, their piquancy varies. I have had pickled onions that made my eyes water on more than one occasion.
  • Piccalilli – This is a sharp and spicy pickle based on mustard, with cauliflower and other vegetables. I enjoy this but it is a bit much for some. Be careful when buying this – it looks similar in colour to coronation sauce and I have bought the other in error at least once.
  • Onion and Redcurrant Chutney – Sweet and sharp, a favourite with some of the cheese that is less potent than strong cheddar.
  • Pickled Gherkins – I prefer the sliced, crinkle cut variety for cheeses.
  • Pickled beetroot – Sweet and tangy, a pleasing combination. Careful though – these will stain anything quickly.
  • Sauerkraut – Although not traditionally part of the line-up, I have found that a jar of this complements some cheeses fairly well. After all – it is tastebud stimulation this is about, not standing on ceremony.

Great combination - Mustard


Last night, since we had eaten out in the day, we were kind of lazy and decided not to cook. I went for some cheese and crackers.

A classic – Cathedral City Cheddar and Cream Crackers, but there was no pickle in the fridge. There was however some wholegrain mustard.

What can I say – a really tasty treat when mustard is combined with the cheese and crackers – but be warned, it is quite moreish, and you can easily overdo it – I ate a little too much last night, and I regretted that much mustard shortly later.

If combined with other styles like pickles, sliced salad veg and similar, it’d be great – not all on the same cracker though.


Red wine or port traditionally go a treat with cheeses, however for those not drinking and for kids, then a non-alcoholic selection should be available.

  • Port
  • Red Wine
  • Red grape juice (sparkling kinds like Schleur go well).
  • cranberry juice.
  • Pomegranate Juice.

I do not recommend any milk based or citrus drinks with cheese and crackers.

Crisps/Potato Chips

Crisps (the British word for Potato Chips) can be served alongside this as well. Not to go on the crackers! But with some of the crackers, cheeses and pickles, there will a buffet feel, and I enjoy the crisps.

Although perhaps a little unsophisticated compare with the other selections, they do get eaten. A large bowl with mixed crisps, both in flavour and texture for this – I go for some simple straight cut potato chips, puffy types, crinkle cut crisps mixed together.

In the UK we are rather spoiled on potato chip flavours and types, even in the local corner shop, there is a huge selection.

It is a bit of a cheat, but Marks & Spencer actually carry bags of premixed crisps with different textures, although they are still all one flavour.


A great treat, but don’t eat too often

This is obviously not the most healthy of meals and really should only be reserved for special occasions as mentioned above. Cheeses apparently do scientifically make people feel happier, although they are fairly high in fat. Processed cheeses will probably contain more fat, including saturated fats.

The crackers are high in carbohydrates. Both cheese and crackers can be high in salt too. However, pickles are fairly healthy as they are high in antioxidants. Some pickles are sweetened with high fructose syrup, which does not help.

The point here is that enjoyed occasionally, it is quite delightful and tasty. Do it in moderation and it will still be a special meal without giving your health (or wallet) a kick. This makes it perfect for a bit of Christmas indulgence.

Smart’s Traditional Gloucester Cheeses

A family farm, making traditional, handmade Gloucester cheese.

I grew up in Gloucester, and on cheeses from Smart’s Farm. We used to get a visit from Diana Smart, in a van full of vegetables which we’d buy, milk fresh from the farm, and sometimes we’d order a chicken too.