Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Good things to eat (volume 8): A Christmas Special

This is going to be mostly about cheese. I've written very little about cheese, not through a lack of love for the stuff, but rather because I don't actually eat it that often. The occasional block of mature cheddar for toasting purposes, the odd hunk of stilton with a glass of red, parmesan for pasta and that's about it.

For reasons I'm not quite sure about cheese has turned into a special occasion food for me, a celebratory treat rather than an everyday fridge staple. Christmas is inevitably the big one. Time to hit the cheese.

Continuing a recent theme of untraditional Christmases this year, for the second in succession (last year was curry) I avoided a roast dinner entirely, instead feasting on a sort of über-buffet at my Sister's house. My brother-in-law and I compiled a list of pretty much everything we like to eat and drink the most, and that were suitable for grazing and snacking, and made or bought the lot.

We ate jamon iberico, gordal olives and sherry. There was paté, and wonderful sourdough bread, and cured salmon.

We ate fat wedges of pork pie (my first ever pork pie - a success!) with cornichons. Fresh, sweet scallops were enjoyed au gratin and sautéed in herb butter, as were garlicky prawns. We ate buffalo wings and drank beer, rich, dark porter and also fragrant, fruity pale ale.

And we ate cheese. Lots of lovely cheese. It's the cheese that I want to talk about, because I haven't said much about cheese, and these are some of the finest cheeses I know, and I really would recommend that you seek any of them out if you want to assemble the ultimate cheeseboard. Cheese heaven. Really.

Montgomery's Cheddar

Photo credit: Forman and Field

The King of Cheddar as far as I'm concerned. It has a hard, craggy almost crystalline texture that breaks down into creaminess in the mouth. The flavour is almost parmesan-like in it's umami depth, intensely savoury but also with bursts of fruitiness. This is perfect on its own but when blended with Comté it makes the best Cheese on toast I think I've ever tasted. I had it for lunch two days running and now there is none left.


One of the wonders of cheese is its infinite variety. Comté is a hard cheese made with unpasteurised cow's milk, just like Montgomery's Cheddar. They also share some flavour characteristics, fruitiness and depth. But in other ways they're completely different. Comté has a smooth dense texture, and tastes rich and buttery with a lingering sweetness. Wonderful alone, or as I said before, blended to make the cheese-on-toast-of-the-gods. I'm salivating obscenely just thinking about it. There is also none of this left. Boo hoo.


Photo credit: Tasty Treats

A sweaty-French English cheese, Tunworth is reminiscent of a good Brie or Camembert. Ours was quite a ripe specimen, and oozed a rather cabbagey stench that was slightly too much for my nose. I can't always handle the riper of French cheeses. On tasting any reservations were waylaid. It's wonderful. The stronger, funkier notes rapidly give way to a long lasting sweet, nutty, slightly tangy taste as the soft paste dissolves in your mouth. I like this one with oatcakes.


Photo Credit: Cartmel Cheeses

This was the curveball. The only cheese I'd never eaten before. It's a washed rind goats cheese. Deceptively subtle as the strong flavour of the rind gives way to quite a mild, herbal goaty interior. Really delicious and one I'd definitely try again. I think this would be best eaten entirely on its own to appreciate it fully.


Last but certainly not least, Stichelton. This is quite possibly my favourite cheese of all time. It's essentially a Stilton, but Stilton has protected designation of origin status, and must be made with pasteurised milk. Stichelton is the unpasteurised gatecrasher at the party. A welcome gatecrasher though, replete with fine wine and witty repartee, not a four pack of Carling and a tendency to vomit.

I still have some of this left, so I'm going to eat some now and write down the sensation immediately. I'll apologise now, it will probably be gibberish. Here goes: Smooth, sharp and salty. Saltiness rising into intensely savoury filling the whole mouth, metallic but with milkiness in the background. Slightly acidic. Fading into creamy, sweet, mellow as it dissolves and disappears.

Er yes, told you it might be gibberish. Detailed description of taste is not my strong point, but you get the idea. It's complex and delicious and beautiful. Personally I think you should bin the crackers and chutney and just eat this on its own, maybe with a glass of red wine. But not port which I find too sweet, the sugar killing the flavour of the cheese. In short, it's amazing. Get some.

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