One of the highlights of my Christmas is foraging for my cheeseboard that makes a ‘substantial’ appearance at my annual mince pie and mulled wine party. I don’t eat much cheese during the rest of the year (just because of calorie restrictions!), but at Christmas, I indulge and have great fun deciding what to choose.
I was particularly inspired by an article on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour programme on what makes the perfect cheeseboard by the cheese expert Juliet Harbutt. Juliet explained that cheeses can be broken down into categories and when planning your cheese board, either have one large chunk of cheese on your board or, for something more spectacular, choose one cheese from each of the various cheese categories. I’m in the ‘something more spectacular’ range!
Juliet identifies 7 categories namely:
- Fresh cheeses
- Natural rind
- Soft white
- Flavour added
Using this as my starting point, I was particularly keen to source British cheeses (did you know that we make more than the French?!) and, being Yorkshire based, to ‘fly the Yorkshire flag’ as much as possible. How did I do? Well, I ended up with 14 cheeses: all were English, with just one exception, and of the 14, 6 were from Yorkshire. All details revealed below!
My cheeseboard consisted of the following. The categories are my interpretation of Juliet’s description so may not be entirely correct!
- Camembert (this is where my only non-British cheese features) from Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference range.
- Barncliffe Brie : Yorkshire!
- Bluemin White : Yorkshire!
- Somerset Goats’ cheese from Sainsbury’s
- Wensleydale with Cranberry & Orange available from Sainsbury’s deli counter: Yorkshire!
- Cornish Yarg produced by Lynher Dairies
- Applewood by Ilchester
Apart from the specific mentions of supermarket cheeses above, my other sources were:
- Haley & Clifford Delicatessen – a Leeds-based deli sourcing Yorkshire products and ingredients from further afield.
- George & Joseph – a Leeds-based cheese mongers sourcing locally produced Yorkshire cheeses, pickles and chutneys; and
- The Cheeseboard in Harrogate – the aroma when you walk into this delightful little shop speaks of nothing but cheese!
With the cheese sorted, what was to accompany it? Crackers, bread, fruit?
To complete the decorations of the board, I added some red and white grapes which I just love with cheese; I could have used apples but it’s always difficult to keep these looking nice and fresh without going brown. Then, a very special addition was some preserved green figs from South Africa – this is a wonderful tradition in from my Southern African roots where the figs are basically stewed in sweet syrup and then bottled whole. The sweetness of the figs is a perfect partner to the savouriness of the cheese in particular the Stilton and Goats’ cheeses. They can be bought commercially (I’m not sure if they are available here in the UK) but for those that might be interested, here’s a link to how to make them at home with some pictures on what they look like.
This year I decided to make the biscuits and also some walnut & raisin bread. Having never made any of these before it was an experiment all round. I am pleased to say, I was thoroughly pleased with the results. I was concerned that, after all the effort, the final finish would be a bit heavy and not crispy enough but these concerns were unfounded. I had three flavours of crackers in the end and one bread. My inspiration for two of the crackers were from this year’s Great British Bake Off finalists, Brendon Lynch and John Waite.
- Spelt biscuits – this was a recipe from Richard Bertinet’s ‘Pastry’ book. The basic recipe is made like a pastry using spelt flour. The dough is sliced very thinly and then baked.
- Multi-seed savoury crackers – I adapted this slightly as I didn’t have pumpkin seeds and so used sunflower seeds instead. I also didn’t use the full quantity of sesame seeds; I decided to do half sesame and half poppy seeds which didn’t appear to affect them at all as they tasted great and had a nice crispy finish.
- Asian Spice Crackers – I didn’t adapt these at all and they came out great.
- Walnut & Raisin bread – I used Richard Bertinet’s recipe from his book, ‘Dough’. I was really, really pleased with how this came out; it was a delight to eat. I made the quantity into two small loaves and served it as thin, halved slices which went down a treat (unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of this!). I’ve put the leftovers in the freezer and look forward to the odd piece of toast with a dollop of butter!
It was a lot of very enjoyable effort to put all of this together. I was encouraged by the appreciative comments from my guests are anything to go by, it was a veritable feast fitting for a very festive Christmas!
Post note: I have since discovered that there is a British Camembert made by the Lubborn Creamery in Somerset. Next year might just be a 100% English cheese affair!