The autumn leaves have fallen, the skeletal trees are silhouettes on the hills; and Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is with us again. On these damp miserable afternoons our thoughts wander towards December and Christmas.
This year will be different in so any ways but somethings never change. Decisions have to be made beyond presents and who you will be celebrating with. The most important decisions revolve around food and drink. As traditionalists we opt for turkey and Christmas pud and of course cheese. My dilemma is what to choose beyond the expected Stilton, Cheddar and Brie. These three have to be the best available as they are the yardstick by which the entire board is judged. However the demand for these cheeses at this time of year is so great that the maturity of them may not be as it should. The answer is to try before you buy from a reputable cheesemonger. We are fortunate that we have a choice of Stiltons, Cheddars and Bries and they all vary by age, texture and taste and, of course, maker. In short, trust your cheesemonger! Beyond the main three there are endless opportunities to explore. In years past we would often number more than twenty adults so we needed a particularly large cheeseboard and over the Christmas period there could easily be more than 15 different cheeses to cover different meals.
Caring for that many has its problems not least where you keep them. Fridge space is at a premium at this time of year and not everyone has cellars and sculleries. So cheeses that really need to be kept in the cold are the fresh, soft and blue ones and the harder more robust can live in a cool dry place. The aromatic washed rind cheeses can be kept in the fridge in a closed plastic container so as not to taint other foods. I’m a great believer in re-using the waxed paper that cheese was supplied in. There is always the temptation to reach for the cling film but resist if you can. Having said that I only ever use it to cover the cut surface of the cheese and never wrap cheese entirely in film as it will sweat and become sticky on the rind. Another temptation to be avoided is to wrap several cheeses together or to wrap the whole cheese board; this leads to stronger flavours tainting fresher cheeses…not a good idea.
This year it is likely that we only be six people for Christmas and I have already shortlisted my preferred cheeses and I shall make the final decision around 23rd December. I’m in the very fortunate position that I have a lot to choose from but by leaving it so late to choose I risk being disappointed as our sales for all cheese goes stratospheric. So maybe I’ll just have to see what’s left.