Impress your festive guests with cheeseThursday, December 15, 2011
The experts at Trethowan’s Dairy guide MARK TAYLOR through the cheeses to tantalise tastebuds and wow friends and family at Christmas
Why go overboard on cheese for Christmas? That’s the message from the experts who run Bristol cheesemongers Trethowan’s Dairy in St Nicholas Market.
Cheese is as essential a part of the festive season as turkey, sprouts and figgy pudding, but the key to a really memorable cheese board is keeping it simple, with a few carefully selected truckles and accompaniments.
“A well-chosen selection of artisan cheeses is perfect to bring out later on the big day, usually at the point when playing that new board game, or fighting over the remote, calls for diversionary tactics,” says Alex Te-Strote of Trethowan’s Dairy.
A former chef and restaurateur with 40 years’ experience, Alex is responsible for the wholesale department of Trethowan’s Dairy, advising and supplying some of the best chefs and restaurants in and around Bristol.
“Something savoury and tasty that takes no preparation can be a lifesaver and is also useful because whatever family and guests are drinking at that stage – port, wine or ales – you can be sure they will find something to enjoy with them.
“That said, I do have to make an exception for those cream-based liqueurs that ‘Aunty Vi’ is merrily swigging.”
With so many to choose from, creating the perfect cheeseboard can be a daunting task, whether you are shopping in a supermarket, a delicatessen or a specialist cheese shop such as Trethowan’s Dairy. The answer, according to Alex, is to keep it simple.
“Rather than buying loads of different cheeses, it is well worth considering buying three or four bigger chunks and keeping half of each cheese in reserve for Boxing Day to go with cold meats, chutneys, a bowl of winter salad and perhaps some jacket potatoes for warmth.”
For most of us, the Christmas cheeses may be accompanied by a few crackers, chutneys and a bunch of grapes, but there are plenty of other ways to present the cheese and really impress your family and friends.
Alex says that fruit cake and cheese is a tried and tested pairing that is a part of our British heritage.
“A crumbly cheese such as Wensleydale, Lancashire or Caerphilly is a classic match.
“On a chilly December afternoon you can take the concept a step further. Place medium thick pieces of a clean, fresh-tasting cheese like Gorwydd Caerphilly on top of slices of moist fruitcake or malt loaf and melt slightly under a hot grill.
“Cut them into canape-sized squares and hand around while still warm. If you serve them with glasses of mulled cider, your guests will be glowingly grateful!”
Another twist on the sweet/ savoury match is Stichelton mince pies. Stichelton is a soft, creamy Stilton-style cheese which works superbly with the spicy fruit.
Alex says: “Make or buy some good quality open mince pies, and serve them warm with a teaspoon-sized dollop of the cheese on top.
“Other creamy blue cheeses such as Cashel Blue would also work if you cannot find the Stichelton. And a mulled port would add extra style to these.”
Dried fruit and nuts are synonymous with Christmas, but Alex says there are more exciting ways to enjoy them than simply passing around the box as a post-meal after-thought.
“Dried figs are one of those items often found in Christmas selections, or bought on a whim and left languishing under the tree.
“This is a missed opportunity because they have a great affinity with goats cheese and again can be swiftly converted into a classy canape.
“All you have to do is cut off the stalk and split the fig in half lengthwise. Top the fig halves with discs of creamy goats cheese log (Ragstone is the perfect size and shape for this), and you end up with a delicious and sophisticated canape.
“You can go even further and warm a little bit of good quality honey, add a splash of brandy and drizzle over the cheese. A few toasted walnuts or seeds sprinkled on top will add extra texture.
“I would serve these with a naturally sweet wine such as orange Muscat.”
Of course, no Christmas party would be complete without cheese straws and nothing beats homemade versions of these classic snacks.
Alex says: “A pack of pastry and a little good quality Cheddar can create a sublime and moreish cheese straw.
“The variation of additions is infinite. Try a few caraway or black onion seeds, but generally the better the ingredients, the less you need to build on the flavours.
“Try an all-butter puff pastry such as the one made by Dorset Pastry (www.dorsetpastry.co. uk), grated Keen’s Cheddar and just a little dusting of English mustard powder.
“These would be great served with a good ale or stout, such as those made by Bristol Beer Factory.”
When it comes to a comforting cheesy treat after a wintry Boxing Day walk, Alex suggests indulging in a baked Vacherin Mont d’Or.
“This wonderful winter cheese, often spiked with garlic and herbs, can be baked in its box for an instant fondue-style treat.
“Whether it’s a light supper or a late lunch after a bracing walk on Boxing Day, it’s quick and delicious. All you have to do is spike the cheese with a couple of sprigs of rosemary or thyme and bake gently for 15 to 20 minutes.
“Remove the herbs, top with a layer of soft brown sugar and flash under a hot grill until caramelised. Serve with a spiced fruit compote as a pudding. You will be amazed and so will your guests.”
If you want to find out more about cheese and how well it goes with other ingredients and drinks, you may like to find out more at the Cheese School, run by Trethowan’s Dairy with Bristol-based wine and cheese expert Fiona Beckett.
Stichelton, Keen’s Cheddar, Ragstone and Vacherin Mont d’Or are available from Trethowan’s Dairy Shop, 33-34 Glass Arcade, St Nicholas Market, Bristol. Call 0117 9020332.
The shop is open every day until Christmas. For details of forthcoming events at the Cheese School, go to www.cheeseschool.co.uk.