The festive season brings out the desire for cheese in just about everyone. Even people who don’t eat cheese the rest of the year seem to feel compelled to have a selection of cheeses in the fridge at this time of year.
For people familiar with the delights of assembling a cheese board, Christmas cheese holds no fear, but for others whose cheese familiarity is limited to strong Cheddar coupled with something soft, it can be a challenge. Most supermarket staff have very little knowledge of the cheeses they sell, and are not much use if you need help and advice. Supermarket cheeses themselves are generally made in a factory from blended milk of unknown origin and can be pretty uninspiring. So, if you really want to enjoy some delicious cheeses that are at their peak for Christmas and the New Year find a reputable cheesemonger who can advise you and allow you taste their cheeses on offer. Cheese selection is really a matter of personal taste. However, there are a few cheeses which seem to play an integral part in the traditional festive larder.
Stilton is regarded as “King of the Blues” and the most familiar makers are Colston Bassett and Cropwell Bishop. Both produce excellent examples. My favourite is Stichelton made by Neals Year Dairy. Not strictly Stilton as it is made with unpasteurised milk rather than pasteurised, but, in my opinion, it is more unusual and has more complex flavours.
No festive cheeseboard would be complete without a really good Camembert and as I specialise in stocking cheeses from the British Isles, I’m going to recommend Tunworth, which is a soft cheese made in Hampshire. It has all the lovely characteristics of a well-made Camembert – truffley, cabbagey and as stinky as they come, with a lovely wrinkled rind.
Another favourite at this time of year is the very pungent Stinking Bishop made in Gloucestershire. The combination of barnyard and smelly socks is a real winner. Of course, there are a number of other rind washed beauties for you to enjoy, including Burwash Rose, washed in rose water and made in Sussex.
Wensleydale has always been a feature of the festive cheeseboard. My personal choice would be Richard Third Wensleydale, made in Richmond, North Yorkshire. So called not because it was found buried in a car park, but because Richmond has links to the life of the famous King. A fine Wensleydale teamed with a piece of Christmas cake (minus the icing and marzipan) is a thing of beauty.
I like to limit my cheeseboard to 5 cheeses, so my final choice would be Sage Derby, not the green dyed variety famous in the 1970s, but the handmade version. A Cheddar style with a band of dried sage running through it. Thought to aid digestion, this cheese is mentioned by Dickens. Its savoury style is delicious.
I’ve left out goats or ewes milk cheeses but they would be also be delightful. So it’s up to you what you choose. Just make sure it’s really well made and enjoy it! Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Categories: Andrew Polmear