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Christmas Cheeseboard #4: Old Favourites

We're going to be highlighting a few cheeseboards over the coming weeks, to give you a little inspiration on the cheeses that could grace your festive table this holiday season.

Our next cheeseboard is a trip down memory lane with some of our favourite cheeses.

Gorgonzola Dolce

Cows, pasturised, vegetarian, Navara, Italy.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a dollop of Gorgonzola oozing it's way over the cheeseboard! Our most popular cheese, this magnificent creation has a wonderfully luscious texture thanks to it's youth - at just three months old, this is a baby amongst blues!

Less punchy or sharp than older, piccante Gorgonzolas, this is full of mouthwatering creaminess, like the top of a gold top milk. The blue brings a welcome tang to cut through the richness, whilst it will occasionally add a slightly boozy, fermented note too.

A sweet wine such as Sauternes or Montbazillac are typically served with saltier blues, but do work nicely with the Gorgonzola. The best pairing is a Hungarian Tokaji, with it's slightly higher acidity to counter the sweetness, much as the blue balances the richness of the cheese. With all that sweet, richness going on, a simple cracker is called for - Stag Water Crackers of Peter's Yard Sourdough Crispbreads bring texture to the mouth without over-complicating flavours.

Westcombe Cheddar

Cows, raw, traditional rennet, Westcombe, Somerset.

There's a lot of history at the Westcombe farm, once home to Edith Cannon (more about her story another time!), but the Calver family who run the dairy and farm now are no strangers to innovation as well. Recent years have seen them introduce regenerative farming practices, with their cattle grazing herbal lays rather than heavily controlled pasture. The completion of their own cheesecave, built into the hillside and cooled with the natural spring that rises there, has seen an already fabulous cheese achieve a wonderful character.

Striking the perfect balance between the flaky, drier cheddars and the creamier, more modern styles, Westcombe brings layers of buttery, grassy and nutty flavours to the board. Some fruitiness can be expected at this time of year, adding a smidgen of zingy acidity.

You just can't beat Cheddar and Cider, and with a wealth of exceptional ciders now available you're also spoiled for choice! Hunt out a crisp keeved cider for a sparkle or Somerset Pomona (a blend of cider brandy and apple juice) for something a little more intense. Big, aromatic flavours also work; Extraordinary Pickle (Charlie Turnbull's near-legendary relish) is superb with cheddar, and also with your Christmas ham!

Brebirousse d'Argental

Ewe's, pasturised, vegetarian, Lyon, France.

With a mottled rouge and white rind, this ewe's milk cheese looks far more fierce than it really is. I usually describe it as a session cheese, something you can go back to time and again, thanks to it's gentle flavours.

Ultra-rich and full of heavy cream flavours, Brebirousse brings the surprisingly delicate sweetness of ewes milk. A cheese that can be enjoyed a little younger, when it has a touch more sharpness or fully broken down and running away, when it develops a hint of barnyard hay.

The cheese that works with almost anything! Rich enough to stand up to the biggest reds but with a lightness of flavour that doesn't overwhelm the most delicate whites. Similarly versatile with accompaniments, I love a gently spiced Boxing Day Chutney with it.

Mont d'Or

Cows, raw, traditional rennet, Jura, France.

Despite it's varied names (Vacherin de Joux, du Haut-Doubs or Vacherin Mont d'Or, depending on the precise location of the dairy) the beginning of the Vacherin season is always eagerly anticipated among turophiles. Historically made in the winter months, when the cattle and dairy farmers moved into the valleys for the season, it's now strictly controlled by the terms of it's PDO, which dictate everything from the date of the first and last makes each season (15th August and March, respectively) to the minimum age of each cheese and even the altitude of the dairy (700m or more)! Whilst so many restrictions seem over the top, the cheese that they create is something truly extraordinary, and worth protecting.

Typically lighter and fresher at the beginning of the season, with flavours of clean milkiness and a crème frâiche like tang. More powerful flavours develop later in the winter, with brothy and barnyardy notes coming to dominate.

Typically served with the wine of the region, Vin Jaune or Savagnin, also good with a Rhône Viognier. Slices of sticky medjool date add a great dark, almost burnt caramel flavour.

Aged Gouda (Borenkaas)

Cow's, raw, traditional rennet, Ijsslestein, Netherlands.

When industrial cheesemaking was launched in the Netherlands at the end of the 19th century, the traditonal cheeses that had been made for centuries, almost disappeared. Borenkaas (lit 'farmer's cheese') may have a name that suggests lower quality, but is the distinction between cheeses made commercially and the traditonal artisan methods. Always made with raw milk, the three regions of Borenkaas (Goudse, Leidse and Edammer) can be made from cow's, goat's, ewe's or even buffalo milk, can have spices or seeds added - a traditional way to add value and one of the few additive cheeses you'll ever find in our counter!

Deeply sweet with butterscotch and toffee flavours, but with subtle notes of roasted hay, at it's very best this cheese has a character that's almost whiskey-like, thanks to the intensity of the flavours. The texture is very hard but melts on the tongue to release those wonderfully complex notes.

An off-dry white is called for, to contrast with the sweetness of the cheese, Rieslings or Scheurebe bring a little sweetness but also a flinty minerality that works well. A surprise accompaniment is a square of dark chocolate - look for cacao from Peru for nuttiness or Brazil for a more fruity flavour.

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