Luke Mackay seeks out the perfect Christmas cheeseboard—and what to wash it down with
Cheese and booze is almost certainly the best bit about Christmas, isn’t it? No cooking or washing up, infinite varieties and for every delicious artisan cheese, there is an equally marvellous beverage to wash it down. It’s easy, though, to fall into the trap of cheese familiarity—especially at Christmas. Stilton, cheddar, nice bit of brie are all lovely of course, but why not have an explore this year and check out some of the more unusual cheeses that some of the great Borough Market cheesemongers are selling?
Innes Log, Neal’s Yard Dairy
Made by Joe Bennett near Tamworth in Staffordshire, this is aged gently to perfection at Neal’s Yard’s facility in Bermondsey. A classical young goat’s cheese that changes with the seasons, from creamy to chalky, it pleases with a gentle lactic tang and incredible length on the palate—it just keeps going and going, with distinctive mineral notes. If you were to drink wine with this, you must go for something with high acid and no creamy oakiness—champagne would be wonderful, or a zesty sauvignon blanc. For something a bit different, though, I would suggest a cider: perhaps an effervescent Normandy cidre, or even better one of the wonderful offerings from The Cider House in the Market.
Munster, Mons Cheesemongers
If you were lucky enough to visit Luc and Odette’s small farm in Vosges, north-east France you would at first be struck by the lush verdancy of the place; a palette of greens that explains the sweet, sweet milk from their holstein cattle. Fed on grass supplemented with a fermented corn and hay mixture that lends a slightly boozy sweetness of the cheese, these are happy beasts! On the palate, their Munster is at once creamy and savoury, with funky bovine depth—so much so, I would drink something sweet with it to offset that deep umami. A local gewürztraminer crafted from vines on the lower slopes of the Vosges would be the obvious choice, but I’d go further and pair it with a Hungarian tokaji from Borough Wines.
Appleby’s Cheshire, Neal’s Yard Dairy
Cheshire is England’s oldest cheese, dating from pre-Roman times and in fact recorded in the Doomsday Book. So popular was cheshire cheese that for hundreds of years, it was significantly more famous than cheddar. It is a strange quirk that where once there were hundreds of producers, now there is only one still making proper calico-bound, farmhouse cheshire: the Appleby family. Appleby’s Cheshire is incredibly complex, with a moist but crumbly texture and a powerful lemon tang. Having known Paul Appleby since university, I have been lucky enough to sample this magnificent cheese in his own farmhouse kitchen. It’s very special. Being such a quintessentially English cheese, I tried it with a beer and it was a revelation—a Partizan, London-brewed saison from Utobeer, scented with lemon and thyme, which complemented the citrus notes of the cheese perfectly.
Blue Snow, Jumi Cheese
Perhaps this year, instead of your delicious stilton, you might give the evocatively-named Blue Snow a try. Named because apparently it resembles a mountain pasture covered in snow in the winter, this mild blue is from Berne in Switzerland. It has been made on a tiny farm for three generations, using the sweet, unpasteurised milk from their Alpine cows. Semi-hard and deliciously creamy, Blue Snow hits the palate with the ripe tang of mould, rounded with sublime fresh cream and farmhouse butter. Now I’m going to throw a curve ball here, because last year I discovered one of my all-time favourite flavour combinations and it seems prescient here because of the heritage of the cheese. Chocolate. Blue cheese and dark chocolate is stunningly good, and Switzerland makes both superbly. Not a drink I know, but too good not to shout about!
You learn something new every day at Borough Market and today I learned that you can buy cheese that tastes like gin and not only that, it’s weirdly delicious. From a culinary perspective there’s no reason, I guess, that it shouldn’t work—the spices and botanicals in gin work equally as well as food flavourings. In particular, the juniper and star anise shine through here, adding spicy warmth to the creamy blue cheese. So, what to drink with gin-flavoured cheese? Well, gin, basically. Wine, beer and cider clash with the herbs and botanicals. I tried it, almost as a joke, with the amazing BTW tonic water from Borough Wines and it was (I suppose obviously), fantastic. Who’d have thought, gin cheese and tonic…
Oude Beemster gouda, Borough Cheese Co
Aged gouda is a beautiful thing: burnished bronze exterior and caramel interior, speckled with intriguing salt crystals that pop in your mouth, enhancing the sweet, nutty flavour. This Beemster gouda has been made to exactly the same recipe and method for more than 100 years, and you can taste the history with every sliver. The nice man at Borough Cheese said, a little tongue-in-cheek, that the only thing one should drink with this gouda is clear, cool Alpine spring water, lest we spoil the flavour. Personally, I think this gouda would stand up to a classic ‘cheese’ grape variety – a cabernet-sauvignon would work beautifully, the caramel rounding out the leathery tannins.
Cashel Crozier Blue, Heritage Cheese
Generally, the earthy, slightly mineral quality of blue cheese works well with hops. The rich and creamy character of Crozier Blue—a semi-soft, Irish sheep’s milk cheese found at Heritage Cheese—would contrast particularly beautifully with the fruity, citrus flavour of the Borough Wet Hop IPA. Slightly less potent and relatively light compared to other blues, it’d do the job of complementing the tropical fruit notes, without competing with them.