In recent years the British cheese scene has become a lot more exciting. Moving past the typical stalwarts, artisans and experts are exploring the world beyond Cheddar and Camembert-style curds, opting instead for more exotic strains.
The Great British Cheeseboard no longer need feature the usual Stilton, Cheddar and Leicester Red to champion home-grown varieties. This Christmas cheese-lovers have got a lot more to choose from, and from a surprisingly fledgling crowd of cheese-makers.
Lynda Hill of The Marlow Cheese Co. only started selling her debut cheese Cygnet in August this year, and already her tiny, hand-turned pucks of soft lactic cheese have been called ‘stunning’ by local gastro-pub chefs and have recently become part of Tom Kerridge’s cheeseboard at the famed Hand in Flowers in Marlow.
Made from 100% Guernsey cow’s milk from the nearby Lacey’s dairy, the cheese at 2 weeks is fresh and citrusy with a consistent texture throughout. From 4 weeks the cheese begins to ripen and soften from within, developing a richer flavour and creamier texture with a strong smell similar to the whiffier French varieties.
Another newcomer to the scene is David Jowett and Antony Curnow’s Rollright cheese. Named after the Neolithic and Bronze Age Rollright Stones formation on the farm at King Stone Dairy deep in the Costswolds, the mellow, buttery-rich, washed-rind cheese is sort of like a Reblochon but less intense. The herbaceous flavour of the Rollright is due to the diverse clover pastures of the King Stone Farmland.
Ireland’s Cashel Farmhouse cheese-makers Louis and Jane Grubb have been at it for a lot longer. They’ve been making their iconic Cashel Farmhouse Blue for over 30 years now, but the Crozier, is by comparison much younger. Established in 1992 and made with Friesland Sheep’s milk, the semi-soft blue has been well-received even in Roquefort country (also a ewes milk blue). It’s soft yet crumbly and very creamy with a less intense, but delightfully complex and rather sweet blue character. This cheese is a show-stopper.
If you’ve got to have a hard cheese on your plate, then try Barwheys Ayreshire cheese. Matured for 10-12 months, the hand-pressed, hand-wrapped cheese has a long and complex flavour. Pleasantly tart at first, the texture is surprisingly creamy and lingers lushly in the mouth long after with a salty, nutty character that yearns to be washed down with a hearty glass of red.
Be creative with your cheeseboard and serve these young, exuberant varieties with some of Paxton and Whitfield’s Creamed Honey & Walnuts (which would go terribly well with the Cygnet), some plump Medjool dates, slivers of pear and a variety of simple water crackers and thin slices of ciabatta. If you absolutely must have chutney, then why not try The Garlic Farm’s Roast Garlic Jam.
You can buy these cheeses online, at farmer’s markets or at the champions of cheese, Paxton and Whitfield.