It’s getting close to that time, if you’re not there already, when we all must put in some serious thought to Christmas dinner. Will it be turkey, beef, goose or that lovely nut roast that comes from the freezer for that difficult vegetarian in the family? Whatever you choose, it’s just the preamble to the main event in my very humble (although not humble enough to refrain from write about it) opinion. Cheese. Cheese makes Christmas better, and here are my favourite festive fromages.
Vacherin Mont d'or
Top of my Christmas cheese wish list is always a Vacherin. This soft washed rind cheese is already a firm favourite, but why not give it an extra shout out. Made in the Jura mountains in the Franche-Comte region of Eastern France, this cheese is the perfect example of how things made out of necessity can be blooming marvellous. During the winter months, it was too perilous and difficult to get milk down from the Jura mountains to the co-operatives who make Comte – so instead, the farmers made a more simple soft cheese in their chalets in the forest. They teamed up with the local spruce cutters who cut the strips which wrap the Vacherin while it matures on shelves made of the same spruce – so it’s inevitable that you get that wonderful scent and taste of the spruce infuses the cheese.
Someone once told me that the undulations in a Vacherin are supposed to echo those in the Jura mountains. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but a nice little bit of romanticism to think on while you stuff it into your mouth. Lots of people put it in the oven and cover it with wine and garlic and all sorts, but I implore you to just eat it at room temperature. You’ll still get that oozy texture you crave without muddying the flavours with too much heat and booze. Have the wine on the side: a Vin Jaune if you want to be super authentic or try an Amontillado – Romate is a great one and available at the deli.
Stilton and Christmas go together like Christmas and disappointing telly, tinsel and Gran having more than her usual quota of sherry. Colston Basset is a wonderful cheese, but this year why not try something ever so slightly different. Stichelton came about when Joe Schneider and Randolph Hodgson set out to make a raw milk Stilton. However, the ‘powers that be’ at the Stilton Cheesemakers Association said they weren’t allowed as Stilton must use pasteurised milk. Thus the name Stichelton was born, derived from an old name for the town of Stilton found in the Lincoln Rolls, which is like the Doomsday Book apparently.
So with the raw milk, think Stilton, but extra complex and creamy with the right amount of blue and pockets of chalky paste in the middle. The rind is bright and almost washed in nature and really imparts a load of flavour into the cheese. ‘It’s how Stilton used to taste’ said someone old enough to have tasted pre-pasteurised Stilton – but all I know is that it is really flipping tasty and definitely on my Christmas cheese board. You’d be hard pressed to find a better match than Port and my choice is the Senior Tawny from Niepoort, naturally available at the Deli.
Everyone likes cheddar, so it’s always good to have one in the fridge over Christmas. Don’t think that all Cheddar is the same. It is not. This could not be further from anything you get in those zip lock bags in the supermarket purporting to be Cheddar. Montgomery is complex, nutty, salty, creamy and crumbly at the same time and all together delicious. Yes it’s more expensive than the 2 for 1 sweaty pale stuff from a fictional cathedral or valley, but my it’s worth it.
It’s made by Jamie Montgomery down near Yeovil in Somerset from his giant herd of Jersey Cattle. It’s another raw milk cheese which I really think gives an extra punch of flavour and one that I really like. As it’s from Somerset, I’d have to go with a cider and an apple as my perfect accompaniments – but a glass of Manzanilla or a Calvados would also go down very well indeed.
The last on the list is a bit of a maverick choice but certainly one of my favourites. Anyone who has been to the French Alps under any circumstances will have memories of some kind of Tomme – and to be honest, a lot of memories will be of a fairly forgettable cheese that you ate lots of. This is NOT that cheese. A relative newcomer, Tomme Crayeuse has only been around since 1997 but has already achieved mission impossible by demanding that it must be on my Christmas cheese board. While it might be risky business serving a cheese that people might not have heard of, it will only take a few good men and women such as yourselves to get the word out there. You will not be disappointed. The firm, chalky paste gives way to a creamy smooth texture under the rind and the taste and mouth feel are the stuff of legend(s). This is far and away the best example of a Tomme and the one you want. You won’t have to keep your eyes wide shut at the till when you show the colour of money as Tomme Crayeuse comes in very reasonably. A pairing – tempting to say a cocktail, but in actuality, the end of your glass of red wine is the perfect pairing for this beautiful cheese – something like a Pinot Noir if you’re asking. So despite the litany of terrible puns, you will definitely thank me for introducing you to Tomme Crayeuse as you are sure to fall into an endless love with this one.
(Tomme Crayeuse sounds like Tom Cruise - if you've got to the bottom and this is a revelation to you, sorry for the previous paragraph.)
Have an amazing festive period and eat well and often. Everything mentioned in the blog is available in the deli for your Christmas cheese board. We’ve also got our ready to rumble quick take away cheeseboard available for £25 including Montgomery, Colston Bassett, Brie De Meaux and Ragstone. 2.1kg Baby Colston Bassetts also available for £55 More details available at www.thedebeauvoirdeli.co.uk