CHEESE AT CHRISTMAS - HOW TO CHOOSE AND CARE FOR
Cheese for Christmas is part of our heritage, but how to select it, and care for it and serve it, can be a challenge.
Here are some ideas and tips from Ann-Marie Dyas of The Fine Cheese Co. to make your Christmas cheese a piece of cake.
SELECTING CHEESE FOR CHRISTMAS
1. Always Buy The Best You Can Source.
If you want your cheese to hit the high notes, then buy from a cheesemonger or a quality delicatessen that is knowledgeable about their cheeses and will sell them to you in good condition. Supermarket cheeses are too often mass-produced, under-matured, over-chilled, and sometimes all three!
Websites can be misleading. Unless you know the company is more than an internet trader – avoid it.
If you are working to a budget, remember that it is better to have one great cheese than three mediocre ones.
2. Keep It Simple
Christmas is about family and tradition and for most people that means the classics of Cheddar, Stilton and Brie.
The classics are a good place to start. Make sure that you buy great examples, whether a Cheddar with real depth of flavour and complexity, a rich and ‘fudgey’ Stilton, or a fruity, full-flavoured Brie.
If you want to add interest, a goats’ milk log like Ragstone, or St Maure adds a texture and flavour contrast, as does a creamy ewes’ milk cheese like La Oveja Negra Manchego (in my opinion the best Manchego money can buy).
Companies such as ours at The Fine Cheese Co. offer ready-made selections that are balanced cheese-boards,whether you are looking for the classics or a new cheese experience. Browse our site and find a selection that appeals to you, or call us to advise.
3. Big Is Beautiful
Don’t be tempted to buy too may cheeses in small pieces.
Not only will they dry out more quickly, but, after one visit, your cheese-board can resemble a bird table!
When in doubt, go for larger pieces (say 500g) and fewer of them. A truckle of Cheddar makes a great centre-piece, as does a baby Stilton.
4. Add A Touch Of Adventure
Christmas in food terms means pulling out all the stops. So try to make your cheese-board fun and a special experience by adding some interesting partners for cheese like a Dottato Fig Ball, some Muscato Dried Grapes, or unusual crackers like Toast for Cheese.
If you put ALL the items on a handsome wooden, ceramic or slate board, the effect is instantly celebratory, even though you may only have one or two cheeses.
CUTTING AND CARING FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS CHEESE
1. Cheese Life Expectancy
When you are making up a cheese-board for the holidays, do bear in mind that some cheeses last better than others.
Whole cheeses – except for fresh cheeses – last better than cut cheeses, and for two-three weeks.
Hard cut cheeses like Cheddar and firm blues like Stilton, if they are properly wrapped, last for a week or more.
Soft, cut cheeses like the creamy blues and bloomy rind cheeses need eating in 3-4 days.
2. How To Keep A Cheese-board In Tip-top Condition Outside The Fridge
Christmas involves a lot of potential to-ing and fro-ing with the cheese-board. Above all cheese hates the variation of temperature, from cold to warm and back again. So here is a solution: keep the cheeses on the cheese-board fresh as daisies by covering the entire board with a CLEAN, wet tea towel that has been rung out so that it is just damp.
This will prevent the air drying out the cheeses; and then the cheese-board should remain covered between lunch and supper in an UNHEATED room, waiting for its next entrance. (Make sure the door is closed, in case Fido is on the loose.)
3. How To Cut A Truckle Of Cheddar Or A Baby Stilton
If it is a large Cheddar truckle (1.2kg+), first remove the top of the cloth with a sharp knife, and roll down or cut off the torn fabric.
(Try to keep cloth on the rest of the cheese, as that will keep the moisture locked in.)
Continue to pull the cloth down/remove the spare cloth, as you work your way down the cheese.
Stilton forms a natural crust, so simply slice off a thin layer to expose the paste below.
When cutting a truckle of Cheddar or a baby stilton, cut small triangular wedges, by cutting across and down, until you complete one round and are back to a flat surface. Then start again, going down the cheese helter-skelter fashion. ( a drawing would be useful here)
4. Is It A Good Idea To Pour Port Into Stilton?
In our book it should be a flogging offence!
Pouring in Port became fashionable in the Victorian era, as a way of making the cheese edible when it had dried-out. Indeed the Victorians invented a spoon for this purpose. Our advise is enjoy your Port with your Stilton, rather than in it.
FINALLY, A REST FOR THE COOK
A splendid cheese-board with fruits, pickles and crackers is the ultimate indoor picnic. It pulls everyone together in an experience that is one of simple enjoyment, as people pick, nibble, and ultimately demolish its contents (and especially if there is wine or Port to hand).
It offers a feast for the eyes, maximum pleasure and minimum washing up.
And, if that is not a blessing at Christmas, we do not know what is.