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Odd couples

Gurdeep Loyal seeks out bold, adventurous pairings for a Borough Market Christmas cheeseboard


Words: Gurdeep Loyal

Christmas feasting can be a risky time to be risky in the kitchen. With several generations to appease at once, the big Christmas dinner tends to remain rooted in timeless traditions. But that doesn’t mean that even the staunchest traditionalists can’t get experimental with flavours outside of the main event – and a festive cheeseboard from Borough Market is the perfect culinary playground on which to savour something a little unconventional.

The key to cheeseboard adventures lies in both the selection of cheeses and the unexpected delectations you couple them with. Pairings can either be through complementary flavours that accent existing notes within a cheese, contrasting flavours from opposite ends of the spectrum, or bridging flavours that connect different elements. The fun lies in mixing and matching across this continuum to find exciting new combinations.


A bold blue cheese should always take centre stage. Stichelton from Neal’s Yard Dairy is raw cow’s milk cheese made on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire by Joe Schneider and his team at Stichelton Dairy. Made to a traditional recipe, the use of unpasteurised milk gives it its light creamy texture and signature nutty-toasted flavour with delicate blue notes. Classically, Stichelton is matched with Rosebud Preserves’ red onion and port marmalade, Sheridans’ Irish brown bread crackers and luscious, sweet wines with deep fruit flavours, such as the Banyuls Rimage 2021 from Domaine du Traginer. Drizzling over a little John Mellis Scottish heather honey is equally exemplary, the floral sweetness countering the elegant tang of the blue.

But for daring flavour explorers after something a little unexpected, Stichelton pairs wonderfully with high cocoa-content dark chocolate, the cheese’s refined blue funk amplified by the bitterness of the chocolate. It is also surprisingly delicious with fudgy medjool dates or even paired with citrussy Rosebud Preserves’ almond and orange mincemeat. To serve alongside these salty-sweet combinations, try the malted tobacco-leathery flavours of Kernel’s London 1890 export stout or 1890 or the same brewery’s juicy cherry-like damson saison.


To contrast this creamy blue, there is no better cheese than Bermondsey Hard Pressed from Kappacasein. Made by cheesemakers Bill Oglethorpe and Pietro Alberti, its recipe is based on a Swiss gruyere, using raw organic milk from Bore Place in Kent. Visually it has a deep tan rind and golden yellow centre and is texturally closer to a British farmhouse cheddar than an Alpine cheese. Its clean sharp flavour is deeply umami with a festival of nuances that develop as the cheese ages – from spicy Szechuan peppercorns in younger cheeses, to tropical notes of fresh pineapple in older wheels. Classically, Bermondsey Hard Pressed is paired with crisp apples, toasted walnuts, medium sherry, and sweet gewürztraminer wines.

For a break from tradition, amp up the sharpness even further by eating it with Pimento Hill’s hot banana chutney, or contrast the savouriness with the same stall’s sweet, fragrant quince and rose petal jelly and a glass of hazenutty Côtes du Jura vin jaune.


An eclectic cheese addition to a festive cheeseboard is Graceburn from Blackwoods Cheese Company. Created by cheesemaker Dave Holton on a regenerative farm, where a single herd of mixed-breed dairy cows feed on pasture of herbal leys and lush grass just a stone’s throw away from the dairy, Graceburn is a Persian feta-like cheese with a slightly creamier texture, lower acidity, full buttery flavour and distinct roast-dinner-like aromas. There are three variants, all sold in strikingly labelled jars that make a great gift: one marinated in rapeseed oil with garlic, pepper and thyme, one with added black truffle, and a punchy chipotle and lemon zest version.

Classically, Graceburn is either spread over good crusty bread, paired with rye digestives biscuits, or roasted with winter root vegetables. For something a little surprising, fennel crackers add a pop of flavour, along with a sweet, mustardy spoonful of Wendy Brandon aubergine pickle from Pimento Hill. This unique taste explosion is amplified further if combined with a shot of the Levantine aniseed grape spirit arak, whose liquorice tones juxtapose superbly with the rich creamy cheese. Absinthe, pastis, sambuca or ouzo are equally excellent alternatives – served without ice and sipped slowly!


One very special cheese – only available in the winter months – is the comforting vacherin mont d’Or from Mons Cheesemongers, made by Sancey Richard, the only small, family-run producer of this historic cheese still in operation. Unlike other vacherin producers, the cheesemakers ripen the milk overnight, allowing naturally present bacteria to acidify the milk before adding starter cultures in the morning. They also stir the curds and whey by hand. As a result, the cheese has a custardy pudding-like consistency that can range from firm and spoonable to runny and oozy, bound up by a thick strip of spruce bark, which imparts a sweet, woody resin flavour to the rind.

Vacherin tends to be warmed in the oven with herbs, wine, garlic and honey, then paired with cornichons, pickled onions, cured meats and white wine from the Savoie region. For something more unusual, this vacherin is exceptional with jalapeño chilli jam from Single Variety Co – the piquant sweet-spicy pepperiness contrasting wonderfully with the brightness of the cheese. A Brand Bros sparkling German pet nat is an exciting pairing. Similarly, a pickle brine whisky sour can add a whole new dimension, the smoky saline cocktail complementing the piney aromas of the cheese remarkably well.


For something visually striking, the Swiss cheesemakers at Jumi Cheese are renowned for their aptly titled Blau’s Hirni which translates to ‘Blue Brain’, reflecting what this deceptively delicate cow’s milk cheese looks like. It has an airy, almost whipped texture and a mildly sour fresh ricotta-like taste, with notes of smoky rosemary and a little spice from the blue. The younger cheese is aged for one, four or 10 weeks, with the older ones having a beautifully well-rounded roasty flavour. If, however, you’re feeling especially adventurous, there’s also a one-year-old with an intense spicy funk that will knock your Christmas stockings off!

Blue Brain is good spread on crackers with truffle honey or Jumi’s own sweet, tangy fig and apple mustard, served alongside full-bodied reds or sparkling wines like crémant or prosecco. For something less conventional, pair it with fruity sodas, hoppy beers or even cold-brew coffee, whose sharp acidity curiously contrasts the gentleness of the cheese.


To complete this cheesy Christmas voyage, try prize-winning Wyfe of Bath from Bath Soft Cheese Co, made by Hugh Padfield and his team of cheesemakers at Park Farm. This is a beautiful, bouncy oval cheese made with milk from the Hugh’s own herd of Friesian and Brown Swiss cows. Their rich milk gives it a sweet, fudgy, nutty flavour that lasts long on the palate – becoming deeper in its caramel flavours as it ages. Wyfe of Bath is classically paired with fruit like pears and apricots that cut through the rice creaminess, and the scrumptious perry-like notes of Bay Tree cider apple jelly. English sparkling and rosé wines also go beautifully.

For something a little unexpected, try this cheese as a replacement for clotted cream with scones and jam. It’s equally superb on sourdough crackers with a generous dollop of rich tangy passionfruit curd from Pimento Hill. Try this twist on afternoon tea with a dram of single malt whisky or add even more sweetness by pairing with Taylor’s Chip Dry white port.