Organising the cheese board is one of the most exciting elements of Christmas. For many it signifies the end of the family meal at a time of year when faddy diets are forgotten and everyone truly gives themselves over to edible indulgence.
When setting out your cheese board, make sure you leave space to actually cut the cheese. Give them space to breath and for softer cheeses to spread out. Shape and colour should be considered as much as anything else. For instance, perhaps the orange hue of a Shropshire Blue might create a more pleasing contrast compared to the paleness of a white, creamy Stilton.
“My number one rule is to always try cheese before you buy it,” explains Charlie Turnbull, of Turnbull’s Deli, Shaftesbury and Supreme Judge at The World Cheese Awards. “Flavours move, tastes move and seasons move. Don’t just get what you had last year. Try that cheese again.”
Stilton is a Christmas classic, but don’t overlook some of the other regional blues Britain has to offer. “Beenleigh Blue has a lovely sweetness to it,” says Ann Faulkner of The Cheese Shop, Chester. “It’s made from ewes milk and is perfectly light for after a meal.”
Consider different milk varieties. For instance, Woolsery make a fantastic firm goats cheese, fresh and grassy with a faint citrus twang. For ewes milk cheeses you might want to try Wigmore, which is soft, velvety and rich.
Sliced apples are a great palette cleanser in between cheeses and certain fruits such as grapes have long been a favourite for good reason. The depth and faint saltiness of sliced charcuterie with a few pickled cornichons widens your cheese board massively. A simple homemade chutney is also bound to go down famously; just don’t make it too fierce as to blow your guests taste buds into oblivion.
Crackers, the straightman on the plate
When putting so much thought and effort into your cheese selection, it would be foolish to pair them with strong flavoured crackers. “Plain, or charcoal crackers are best, you want to let the cheese do all the talking,” explains Charlie Turnbull. “They’re like the straight man in the comedy duo. You need him, but he doesn’t tell all the jokes.”
To wash it down
If looking for a wine to go with all types of cheese, you will actually be more successful with a sweet white wine as appose to a red. Of course port is a main stay, but don’t overlook Madeira or a sweet oloroso sherry. When looking at cheddar The Somerset Cider Brandy Co make a fine Pomona, made from cider brandy, apple juice and aged like a tawny port. It works impressively with Montgomery’s cheddar, “It’s the best food and drink match in the West Country,” says Turnbull.
You’ve put all this love into your cheese selection, the last thing you want to do is serve them straight from the fridge. Bring them out an hour or two before you plan to serve. Let them come to room temperature and all their characteristics will wake up; their complex flavours will unfold, their aromas strengthen and their texture, simply perfect.
What are your favourite cheeses to have at Christmas and what do you serve them with?