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Food: Say cheese and don't get bored

Sam Nightingale, associate of the Academy of Cheese and owner of Cambridge Cheese Events, explores what makes an interesting Christmas cheese board

When we think of Christmas food, our thoughts turn to turkey, mince pies, pudding and, of course, cheese. Whether we want a cheese course as part of the main meal or just fancy something special to nibble while watching the TV on Boxing Day, many of us will plump for a cheese board on offer in our local supermarket. But why not select a range of artisan cheeses instead? The flavour profile far surpasses that of factory produced cheese – you can taste the provenance and history in every bite.

For a hard cheese, I’d choose Pitchfork Cheddar from Trethowans Dairy in Somerset. Made from organic unpasteurised milk, giving it a complex savoury flavour that is lost in the homogenisation of factory produced cheddar, and matured in the time-honoured way, wrapped in cloth, it came fourth at the World Cheese Awards in Italy this year - not bad at all, considering there were 3,804 cheeses from 42 countries competing!

When it comes to soft cheese, brie is a real favourite. To elevate your brie, choose a Brie de Meaux. This carries the PDO mark - look out for the yellow and red circle on the packaging - showing its Protected Designation of Origin, which guarantees it’s been produced using traditional methods and local ingredients. The curd is still ladled by hand into moulds using a scoop-like tool called a ‘pelle à Brie’. Known as the ‘King of Cheeses’, it was a favourite of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages.


For your blue cheese try a Shropshire Blue. Legend has it that it started out as a Scottish attempt to replicate Stilton, but with an added twist of adding annatto, a natural food colouring, to give it an orange colour. It has a mellow flavour and crumbly texture that even those guests who tend not to like blue cheese may find palatable.

Next add a goat’s cheese. Goat’s cheeses have a hint of whatever the goat has been eating – nettles, bushes, fruit - and can often smell quite, well, goaty! Made from the milk of a single herd of Toggenburg-Saanen goats from Button Farm on the edge of Dartmoor, Ticklemore Goat is a moist, herbaceous, not-too-goaty goat’s cheese named after a street in Totnes where there is a popular cheese shop.

For your fifth and final cheese, it’s always good to try something that has an unusual colour or texture. My recommendation would be an artisan - and that’s very important - Sage Derby. Originally made for Christmas, although produced all year round now, it was thought to have health-giving properties. Yellow in colour with ribbons of green sage throughout, it looks great and tastes divine. Softer than cheddar with a melted butter taste and a hint of herb, it will be great melted on toast for breakfast the next day – if there is any left!

Visit cambscheeseevents.com to find out more.

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