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 last cheeseboard is a riot of some of the most quirky, funky or downright weird cheeses we can find...
Cows, raw, traditional rennet, Belp, Switzerland.
Additive cheese, or 'cheese with bits in' is always a bit controversial in the cheese world. The vast array of poor quality cheddars or homogeneous territorial styles blended with everything from cake to cocktails drives cheesemongers to apoplexy, but done well this style of cheese really can be something special. Goudas with spices, blues coated in crushed berries or - as has become something of a tradition in the last couple of decades, a decadent soft cheese laced with truffle. This is the best one I can find.
La Bouse is a delicate, ultra-smooth little cheese (don't be put off by the name, apparently it means 'the cowpat') that has a natural sweetness of fabulous milk. Rather than adding a layer of minced truffle, the Glauser Dairies mix a paste of fresh curds and sliced black truffle, sandwiching it between halves of the Bouse. As a result, the truffle flavour is heady rather than harsh, and marries beautifully with the richness of the cheese.
Avoid anything heavy here. Fruity Pinot Noir can cut through the creaminess, or, since you're already in the heights of luxury with all that truffle, splurge on a vintage Champagne. Similarly, avoid heavily spiced accompaniments - a simple Fig Jam will add a different layer of sweetness.
Cows, raw, traditional rennet, Zurich, Switzerland.
Chällerhocker (pronounced 'Holler hocker' ) means 'Sitting in the cellar', a name derived from the maturing rooms below the Raas dairy, where the cheese is aged for ten months; a process that sets it apart from its closest cousin, the mass-produced Appenzeller. The milk for Chällerhocker comes from a dozen or so small, local farms, the cheesemaking becoming a collaboration between farmers who can't produce enough milk alone and the cheesemaker who has the time, expertise and - crucially - the space to mature the cheeses for so long.
A slightly sticky rind hides a buttery-smooth, pale golden coloured paste with deeply savoury notes of roasted onion and browned butter. The sweetness typical of Alpine cheeses is restrained, coming through as a gently salted caramel finish, long after the cheese has gone.
A fortified wine will add the sweetness here - Madeira or a well-aged sherry, with their dark, raisin notes are complex enough to match this extraordinary cheese. A sharper accompaniment is then called for, tocut through all the sweet- and richness - our own Pickles for Cheese are perfect.
Chevre Buche aux Fleur
goats, pasturised, vegetarian, Loire valley, France.
The Jacquin family have been making cheese in their dairy near Selles-sur-Cher for four generations. The Loire Valley is famous for it's goat's cheeses, with many of the historic greats originating in the small towns along the valley, and taking the same name. The Fleurette is a relatively modern creation, but tastes as spectacular as it looks.
A very fresh, young cheese with a paste that crumbles easily but is beautifully creamy on the palate. The flavours are full-on citrus with a little bosky vegetal note from the flowers the cheese is (carefully!) rolled in.
Definitely one to pair with white or sweet wines; a fruity Moscato or Rose d'Anjou will bring sweetness to balance the citrus acidity. A dollop of Morello Cherry jam will round things off nicely.
Goats, raw, vegetarian, Pylle, Somerset.
Washed rind cheeses are nothing new, the style has existed for several hundred years. Whilst most washed cheeses are made with cows milk, the team at White Lake decided to use goats milk for theirs. Then, just to make it even trickier, they use a local ale to wash it with - the bitter, hoppy notes of ales are harder to balance with the lactic, barnyardy flavour typical of goat's milk. The result is a testament to their skill (and probably a lot of trial and error!)
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.
I've rarely managed to find wines that match the flavours of ale-washed cheeses, so usually go for a small glass of a deep, rich ruby ale. Peroni Gran Reserva Rossa is a readily available choice (don't be put off by the brewer, this is quite different to the regular lager!), with wonderful malty notes to balance the hoppy funk. A simple, nutty biscuit carries the cheese well, Step & Stone Lavosh crackers are great.
Blaus Hirni (Blue Brain)
Cow's, raw, traditional rennet, Belp, Switzerland.
Looking like it might be more at home on the set of a horror movie, this quirky little cheese was created when the Glauser family set out to make a fresh, lactic cheese flavoured with herbs. Finding that they were persistently getting a blue, bloomy rind they changed direction and created the Blue Brain.
Whilst it looks slightly terrifying (though not as disconcerting as it's aged counterpart!), the paste of this cheese is lighter than you might expect, with a sharp peppery flavour balanced by the densely fluffy texture. Rather than veins throughout the cheese, the blueing is entirely on the rind and adds a salty, earthy edge to round out the palate.
A tricky one to match with any drink, but works surprisingly well with a dry-ish Prosecco. Add a crunchy Spelt & Fig Crispbread to bring a little nutty sweetness.