This is an article filched from Yorkshire Life, in which we get an honourable mention. Also mentioned are our friends Wensleydale Dairy, Shepherds Purse and Simon Lacey – who would have thought there were so many cheese makers within such a small radius!
‘A meal without cheese is a one-eyed beauty,’ wrote French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, and it’s pretty much taken as read that a Christmas feast or Boxing Day banquet would be incomplete without an aromatic cheeseboard. But if you automatically think Stilton at Christmas why not be a little more adventurous and choose from the many excellent cheeses to be found very close to home.
‘While Christmas without Stilton would be like a stocking without a Satsuma, there are in fact more than 700 named varieties of British cheese – and many of them made in Yorkshire too,’ says Nigel White, secretary of the British Cheese Board (BCB). ‘The festive season is the perfect time to branch out and try something different.’
And with dozens of named Yorkshire varieties to choose from – from Ribblesdale and Swaledale to Wensleydale and Bells Bluemin White – how do you go about putting together a regional fromage feast?
‘I would be looking for a combination of different colours, textures and flavours, ranging from firm, crumbly, fudgy to creamy and smooth,’ says cheese maker Iona Hill from Ribblesdale Cheese in Hawes, which produces around eight different cheeses including Ribblesdale Blue Wensleydale and Smoked Yorkshire Goat Gouda.
‘Five is a good number to make sure that there is something for everyone’s taste including a natural rinded blue; a moist, gently acidic, crumbly cheese, like a Wensleydale, Lancashire or Caerphilly; a mature hard cheese such as a matured cheddar; a soft cheese such as a good runny Brie, Camembert or even a creamy goat log and a matured, natural rinded goat cheese.’
The Wensleydale Creamery, home to Real Yorkshire Wensleydale (which cannot be beaten with a slice of Christmas cake!), recommends not overcrowding the cheeseboard and also suggests adding some colour. ‘Blue cheeses are traditionally associated with Christmas and our Jervaulx Blue combines the traditional blue cheese characteristics with a softer more creamy and sophisticated texture and flavour,’ says Sandra Bell, from Wensleydale Creamery. ‘This is often preferred by those who don’t like the harsh, sharp aftertaste of Stilton.’
Simon Lacey, director and cheese maker at Laceys Cheese in Richmond, which makes up to nine different cheeses including one with chilies and another with olives, says Christmas is the time to surprise. ‘Always include a curve-ball cheese, to get people talking,’ he says.
‘We always advise people try something different from their last cheese and experiment.’ Cheese maker Judy Bell from Shepherds Purse, in Thirsk, who is responsible for 12 different cheeses including Yorkshire Fettle and Mrs Bells Blue, recommends a wedge of Katy’s White Lavender – a ewes milk cheese coated in lavender flowers and matured for four weeks – to ‘add interest and as a talking point’. Planning ahead can make the difference between a fragrant and a faulty cheeseboard too. ‘Buy softer cheeses in advance so that they have a chance to ripen,’ says the BCB’s Nigel White. ‘And take them out of the fridge at least two hours before serving to bring out their full flavour; cheese should always be served at room temperature.
‘Avoid using the same knife to cut different cheeses to prevent flavours contaminating one another, and once you’re finished, wrap individual cheeses in cling film and pop them in the fridge to prevent them drying out.’ What’s more, just as you might glam up your tree or mantelpiece with some twinkly decorations, why not serve your cheeses on slate or glass instead of the traditional wooden board and don’t forget the festive foodie trimmings. Nuts, fruit and flavoursome chutneys can enhance a cheese. ‘I tend towards the traditional,’ says Iona. ‘Blue with port, Wensleydale with mince pies or Christmas cake, a crisp, sweet apple with our Goat Gouda, and other cheese with chutneys on top of warm crusty bread, spread (as it’s Christmas) with gently melting butter.’ For Judy Bell it’s more the merrier. ‘I usually have fresh figs, apricots, almonds, walnuts, quince jelly, blossom honey, and an assortment of biscuits (herb, charcoal, fine oatmeal and water biscuits).’ While for Simon Lacey it has to be red onion chutney with strong cheddar. ‘Fresh, raw onions sliced thinly with our blue cheese is lovely,’ he says. ‘The sharpness cuts through the rich blue perfectly.’
A full-flavoured cheese board also deserves the gift of a warming wine at Christmas. Nigel White recommends Wensleydale cheese and cranberries with a Denbies Greenfields Cuvee 2004, a Yorkshire Blue with Bookers Dark Harvest 2005 or a Swaledale paired with Three Choirs Bacchus 2006.