A well produced artisan cheese is a fantastic treat. I always find it amazing that a handmade product created using the simplest of ingredients and then carefully matured can create such a variety of different flavours and textures. It's not well known that artisan cheese is a seasonal product. For example fresh, new-season goat's cheeses are produced in the spring when goats graze on new fresh pastures. Although this seasonality does mean that some cheeses can't be enjoyed all year round, such as the delicious mont d'or – only available from October through to March – it does mean that there's a large range of different cheeses to enjoy throughout the year.
How to keep
How you treat the cheese has an important impact on your enjoyment of it. Once bought, I would recommend always storing the cheese in a cold room or the bottom of the fridge, wrapped in waxed paper, if possible, as this allows the cheese to breathe. Before serving, bring the cheese out to warm to room temperature, 20 minutes should be enough – particularly in a warm house. Letting the cheese warm a little will help improve its flavours when you come to eat it.
How to cut
Generally, if cutting from a wedge of cheese that has itself been taken from a larger piece, always cut from the middle to the edge where the rind is. By doing this you'll get a variety of the different flavours of the cheese. Where you have smaller individual cheeses, such as a log-shaped cheese, you can cut through for a whole slice.
There are also some cheeses that you don't need to slice at all, such as mont d'or. Here you just need to carefully cut off the top rind then spoon out the delicious cheese!
My top tip when you’re putting together a cheeseboard is to buy fewer varieties in bigger pieces. You can still have a great selection, it's just that larger cuts of cheese store better than small, meaning they will keep for longer. All you need to create a cracking cheeseboard is a hard cheese, a blue, a soft cheese and a piece of cheese that is slightly different or surprising.
What to drink
Traditionally, most people drink red wine or port with cheese but there are so many other options. Blue cheese goes very well with sweet wine, like monbazillac. White burgundy is a good wine to serve with a selection of cheeses as it has good flavour/body that won’t dominate the palate.
A new-style cheeseboard
I've selected five different styles of cheese that come from different regions of the British Isles. Some are relatively new, but they're all brilliant examples of their kind. For the perfect pairing, check out our easy recipe for Barwhey's savoury biscuits.
This is a semi-hard, washed rind cheese made from thermised goats' milk and has a mellow nutty flavour that's not too 'goaty'. Made by Peter Humphries from White Lake Cheese on Bagborough Farm, near Shepton Mallet, Somerset, Rachel sold over the festive season will have been made at the end of the summer, giving the cheese a distinctive floral flavour. This is a great British artisanal cheese and has won many awards since first being produced.
This is a soft camembert-style cheese made from cow’s milk. Made by Hampshire Cheeses in the village of Herriard, it has a delicate white rind and a rich, creamy interior that oozes but doesn't run. With a nutty aroma and a hint of mushroom, the flavour is rich and sweet with some fruity, earthy notes. Tunworth was judged to be the Supreme Champion 2013 at the British Cheese Awards, beating over 900 other entries.
This relatively new artisan cheese was first produced in 2005. It is the creation of Alison Bey, who decided to set up a dairy in Maybole, Ayrshire, to help reinvigorate cheesemaking in the area. Barwheys Dairy, where the cheese is made, uses milk from its own herd of pedigree Ayrshire cattle. The milk is very rich and gives the cheese a full bodied, smooth and complex flavour. The cheese is clothbound and aged for between 12 to 14 months and has a slightly crumbly texture with subtle notes of spice, caramel and nuts.
WASHED RIND: Golden Cenarth
This round, soft, washed-rind cheese has a buttery flavour and supple texture. Made by Carwyn Adams of Caws Cenarth Cheese, a small artisan family cheesemaking business based in West Wales, the cheese came about through his experiments in cheesemaking. All the milk used in Golden Cenarth is GM-free cow's milk sourced from local farms. The rind of the cheese has a light orange colour that comes from the brine wash given early in the maturing process.
BLUE: Crozier Blue
This award-winning cheese is made by Cashel Farmhouse Cheesemakers on Beechmount Farm, Tipperary, Ireland. It was first made in the early 1990s as a collaboration between Jane and Louis Grubb from the dairy and the Clifton family, who run the nearby Ballinamona Farm. Today the milk for the cheese comes from Ballinamona Farm’s herd of about 300 Friesland ewes. The ewes graze on limestone rich pasture which helps create a lush, full and sweet milk. Crozier blue has a creamy flavour that isn't overpowering, with a pleasant saltiness and some nutty notes.
3 gifts for cheese lovers
Cheese Making Kit
All the essential equipment to make hard and soft cheese at home – just add milk! (£45)
Glass Bell Dome
A recycled glass bell dome offers a stylish and elegant way to store and display cheese. Our glass dome slots neatly into a sustainable mango-wood base. (£90)
The hatchet is a cheese knife for harder cheeses such as aged gouda, parmesan or mature cheddar. The handle is made of pakkawood and the blade of stainless steel. (£15)
All cheeses and gifts available from paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk
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olive magazine podcast ep55 - bourbon tasting, cheesemaking in France and what the heck is hyperlocality