The Cheeseboard – Christmas blues

foodbasket-cheeseboardIN the UK, we go crazy for blue cheese at Christmas. There’s something about the spiciness and sense of indulgence that we get from a rich, creamy blue cheese that helps lift mid-winter blues (sorry) and provides a fitting end to the feast, particularly when perfectly matched with port.

Sales of Stilton spike to such a degree that less scrupulous makers freeze (‘deep-chill’ in their parlance) pre-portioned cheese earlier in the year in preparation for the December frenzy and to smooth out their production schedule. British shoppers are so Stilton-mad that M&S make 70 per cent of their annual sales of the cheese over the holiday period!

But there are alternatives: Stichelton is an unpasteurised version of the cheese, made in the same way. It can’t be called a Stilton, as the registered recipe calls for pasteurised milk, even though it’s made within the specified territory of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Locally, we have the superb Dorset Blue Vinny and there are lots of other blue cheeses to satisfy almost every palate.

I have a particular fondness for whole cheeses and was delighted to discover Royal Bassett Blue this year. It’s made in North Wiltshire, near Chippenham, in small individual cheeses of 250gm. Wrapped in waxed paper and boxed in spruce, it’s a joy to open. The first thing one notices is that it doesn’t have a firm rind – the earthy colour of the outside of the cheeses is quite pliant and completely edible (the rind of Stilton or Vinny is not to my taste). The paste therein is smooth, spicy and creamy. It’s a soft blue and the ivory coloured interior is shot with thick blue veins. The smell is of humus and cauliflower. It melts onto a cracker and dissolves on the tongue, hinting at butter, olive oil, mushrooms and mould as it goes. It’ll certainly be gracing our table this year.

The cheesemaker from Brinkworth Dairy, Ceri Cryer, won Gold in the Taste of the West Awards this year for Royal Bassett Blue and went on to grab Best Cheese at the finals. Her father was so excited at the announcement that the organisers were tempted to create a new category for “most enthusiastic award recipient”! Judges proclaimed that the cheese “oozed sexily out of the package”. What more could one want from a cheese at Christmas?

Justin Tunstall, Town Mill Cheesemonger, Lyme Regis DT7 3PU