“For a cheeseboard you definitely want to have a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a blue cheese,” recommends Pip Peagram, manager of Paxton and Whitfield in Stratford-upon-Avon and an expert on the savoury slice.
“Then you can add something like a goats cheese, something with a washed rind or a smoked cheese.
“In its most basic form a washed rind cheese is washed in salt water but a cider brandy is used quite often. This gives it quite a pungent smell and a bright orange rind. A lot of people like to go for something unusual and that’ll tick that box for them.”
Christmas is a time for cheese – and we’re not just talking about the more saccharin TV adverts.
The big seasonal three, says Pip, are Stilton, brie and cheddar. However, customers are also tempted into buying slightly more unusual cheeses “to add the wow factor”.
To accompany them Pip recommends crackers or perhaps an artisan bread.
For flavour enhancement, chutneys and pickles can come into their own. Something like No 93 Ale Chutney, made from Bramley apples, plums and real ale (£4.75) will appeal to traditionalists but a rich and fruity preserve can add another dimension to the taste.
“We launched Nuts about Figs this time last year and we had such a success with it we expanded the range to Nuts about Prunes and Nuts and Chestnuts (£2.95). The have an almost puree like texture to them and a sweet and fruity taste and they’re selling really well. They’re quite different so they play into people wanting something more unusual on their cheese board.”
But when it comes to assembling it, Pip recommends bigger wedges of maybe three cheeses rather than lots of little slivers of a variety of cheeses.
“That way everyone gets to enjoy the same flavours and it also looks good on the board.”
St Eadburgha (£9.50 per cheese) has a powerful smell combined with a delicate taste. Made by Gorsehill Abbey Farm, run by Michael and Diane Stacey on the edge of the Vale of Evesham, it is named after the saint of the old church in nearby Broadway.
The daughter of King Edward the Elder and granddaughter of Alfred The Great, she became a nun and an Abbess. An organic cheese, it is made from the milk of Friesians and Simmental/Montbeliarde cows who graze in ancient pastures and orchards of Perry pear trees used to create the cider-style drink.
A white rinded cheese similar to good Camembert, the centre becomes softer and creamier as the cheese matures while the flavour becomes stronger and more pungent and the rind darker.
Windrush Goats Cheese (£5.50 per cheese) is made in Oxfordshire from the cheese of pedigree goats.
A gentle cheese with a citrus flavour, it comes plain or flavoured with cracked black pepper or garlic and herbs “This is good if you are catering to a lot of people and don’t know their tastes,” says Pip.
“It is a safe one to go with. Lots of goats cheeses have a farmy, animally taste. This has a yoghurty, custardy taste – definitely a good starting point for a goats cheese.”
Beauvale (£6.25 per 250g) is a newish blue cheese from the Cropwell Bishop Creamery, a family-run enterprise based in the Vale of Belvoir in Nottinghamshire, which has been producing award-winning cheeses for three generations.
Today it is run by cousins Robin and Ben Skailes, and it was Robin who created Beauvale, spending two years developing it before it was launched in 2011.
Made from a different strain of penicillium roqueforti, it has a rich and creamy texture. It is described as an “entry level” blue cheese with a full and savoury texture and a hint of spice. “It is a relatively small scale production, not something you are likely to find in the supermarket. The idea behind it was much more of a continental style and a softer texture than an English blue cheese which is much firmer,” says Pip.
“It breaks down and becomes more runny in the centre with age.”
Berkswell (£8.50 per 250g) is a hard cheese made from ewes milk by the Fletcher family at Ram Hall Farm in Warwickshire.
It is renowned throughout the British cheese industry for its consistent quality. It is full flavoured with a savoury yet fruity quality. Pyreneean in style with a rustic brown orange crust, it is a translucent, pale white and firm but crumbly cheese. “A lot of people have the misconception that sheep’s milk is like goats milk cheese but they are very different,” explains Pip. “This has a pecorino or parmesan style to it but it does stand up on its own. I think the nice thing about cheese is you don’t want something too boring, you want something you are going to go back for more. At Christmas the board stays out for a long time and people will go back to it, continuing to graze with a glass of port or wine.”
St Egwin (£26 per kilo) is another produced at Gorsehill Abbey Farm and continues the tradition of being named after a local saint. Egwin was a former Bishop and founder of Evesham Abbey, who undertook a pilgrimage to Rome with his feet shackled. It is an aromatic hard cheese made with organic cows milk from Stratford-upon-Avon. The cows graze in a perry orchard, imparting a lovely, fruity taste to the cheese.
A moreish cheese, it is somewhere between a Gruyère and a Cheddar with a slightly more granular texture.
* For more information visit www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk , telephone the Stratford-upon-Avon store on 01789 415544 or visit it at Wood Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Last minute gifts
1. Santa isn’t the only one who can rock red at Christmas. This Flower Ball Shoulder Bag from Folli Follie is a scarlet sensation. The useful carry all is available in a range of other colours and costs £200. Folli Follie have a counter in Selfridges or look up www.follifollie.co.uk for other stores.
2. Fujifilm is going to know a thing about picture perfect looks. It is also an expert at creating flawless skin away from the lens with its Astalift anti-ageing skin care brand. Its intense Jelly Aquarysta is a rejuvenating concentrate with ceramides, collagen and Astaxanthin, a natural antioxidant. The Luxury Minatures Collection is the perfect size for testing or travelling. Containing Nurturing Eye Cream, Complete Make-Up Remover Oil, Jelly Aquarysta, Day Cream and Night Cream, it is £49 from Debenhams.
3. Bowers & Wilkins’ P3 headphones are its most portable on-ear headphones yet and feature a custom-made, ultra-light, acoustic fabric and memory foam cushion on the ear pad. Available in stylish black, white, blue or red, they cost £169.99. Lily Allen is a fan, which seems appropriate given they are for sale in John Lewis as well as Apple Stores.
4. Sprouts are normally the scourge of the festive table, often over boiled and bitter tasting. This year the veg has been given a makeover, reinvented as a sweet treat made out of marzipan by Shepcote for Selfridges. A pack of seven ‘sprouts’ costs £9.99 and is a witty alternative to the familiar marzipan fruits.
5. Add a discreet yet vibrant dash to a plain shirt with these stylish Paul Smith London Spin multi-stripe cufflinks. Made of brass and enamel, they are £89 from House of Fraser.
6. Jackson Pollock was dubbed Jack The Dripper because of his distinctive style, slashing and dripping splashes of colour across canvases in messy creativity, an expression of his belief that art derived from the unconscious. This framed print of Convergence (painted in 1952 and perhaps his most famous work) costs £200 from John Lewis.
7. Take a sniff of Tom Ford’s Tobacco Oud and be instantly transported. The designer’s private blend fragrances are olfactory memory joggers, sparking the imagination. This eau de parfum harmonises oud wood resin and aromatic tobacco, conjuring up “a secret history of addictive Arabic passions”. It is £140 for 50 ml from Harvey Nichols or Selfridges.