The cheeseboard is a Christmas highlight for many of us - but that's not the only place for that wedge of Stilton or chunk of Manchego. This year, up your cheese game with these delicious, inventive suggestions from Britain's foremost fromage fiends. Anyone for drunken cheese?
Mulled wine and Persillé du Malzieu
Hot, sweet and fragrant, mulled wine is a tricky match for cheese, but the salty kick of a blue makes for an interesting contrast. The punchy, almost alcoholic flavours of Roquefort are a good complement, but Anna Leroide, cheese buyer at Sourced Market in St Pancras Railway Station recommends another French blue ewe's milk cheese. “I like the melt-in-your-mouth Persillé du Malzieu, which we buy from Mons Cheesemongers. It comes from the Auvergne and is sharp, spicy and creamy.”
Baked Winslade with festive dukkah
Winslade is a gorgeously gooey cows' milk cheese encircled by a band of spruce à la Vacherin. Like its Continental cousin, it is elevated to new heights by being baked in the oven. At the Cheese Yard in Knutsford, Cheshire, owner Sarah Peak studs the velvety paste of Winslade and its sister cheese Tunworth with slivers of garlic before baking in the oven for 20 minutes. At Christmas they are served like a festive fondue with a dukkah of chopped almonds and dried cranberries and skewers of toasted bread for dunking.
Warning: you will get cheese on your chin.
A temple of French fromage, the London outpost of famous Parisian cheese shop Androuet also has a surprisingly decent selection of British cheeses. Owners (and brothers) Alex and Leo Guarneri use Stilton to make a show-stopper terrine, which is actually very easy to make. Gently mix 500g of crumbled Stilton and 60ml of port with your fingers until the wine has been absorbed then press half the mixture into a terrine tin lined with cling film. Layer thin slices of poached pear on top then cover with another layer of cheese. Chill overnight, turn out and cover the whole thing in crushed, toasted and caramelised walnuts.
Recipe from A Year in Cheese, £16.99 from Telegraph Books
Hangover cure Manchego muffins
Arch House Deli in Bristol knows a thing or two about a good party - its popular wine and cheese nights are always merry affairs. Luckily, co-owner Debbie Atherton has a miracle hangover cure up her sleeve for the morning after. She lines the wells of a muffin tin with Serrano ham and then fills them with grated Manchego, sunblush tomatoes and a 50/50 mixture of double cream and egg, before baking them in a hot oven until set. “They take five minutes to make and are perfect for New Year's Day morning,” she says. Italophiles could use Parma ham and Parmesan or go British with ham and cheddar.
Mince pie with a slice of Kirkham's
Britain has a proud history of cheese and cake matching from Christmas cake with Stilton to Lincolnshire Poacher and plum bread. But John Axon at The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury swears by a slice of Kirkham's Lancashire with a mince pie. “It's like a festive version of the classic Lancashire and Eccles cake combo,” he says. “The cheese has a sweet buttery flavour and bit of bite, which stands up to the spicy mincemeat.”
Alternatively, remove the lid of a mince pie, pop a piece of Gorgonzola Dolce inside, put the lid back on and warm in the oven until the cheese melts. Cheese and cake nirvana.
Make your own drunken cheese
Forget feeding the Christmas cake, it's the cheese you need to keep well topped up. Paxton & Whitfield pours a little sweet Montbazzilac wine over French blue Fourme d'Ambert each day for a week or so to create its own 'drunken cheese' in the run up to Christmas. It has an amazingly rich boozy flavour and luxurious texture. The cheesemonger also sells kits so you can make your own at home.
A sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano propels a roasted parsnip from supporting actor at Christmas dinner to the star of the show, says Helen Webb, director at Aston Marina Farm Shop in Staffordshire. “The hard salty cheese seasons the parsnip and gives it a lovely golden crunch,” she says. Par-boil the skinned parsnips for a few minutes, coat in a mixture of finely grated Parmesan and flour and roast them as normal in hot oil for 20 minutes or so.
Non-meat eaters should go for Old Winchester – a hard British cheese, made with vegetarian rennet.
The cheeseboard gourd
Rhuaridh Buchanan, who's eponymous London cheese shop has just been named Cheese Counter of the Year at the World Cheese Awards, has a novel solution for leftover cheese at Christmas - bake it in a squash. “It's a really simple, meat-free meal for when you've had enough of cold cuts and cooking,” he says. Buchanan likes to use smaller, orange and green skinned gourds, although butternut squash would also work. Slice the top off the squash and scrape out all the seeds to leave a cavity. Then fill it with your cheeseboard leftovers plus some leeks and crème fraiche. Bake until the squash has cooked and the cheese has melted.
Serve with crusty bread for dunking in the cheese and a spoon for scraping out the sweet roasted squash.
Lanark Blue, pear and hazelnut toasts
Made by Selina Cairns with raw milk from her own herd of sheep near Edinburgh, Lanark Blue is Scotland's answer to Roquefort. Rich, creamy and piquant, it works beautifully with fruit and nuts. Award winning cheesemonger Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy in Yorkshire uses it to make a rousing Christmas canapé by topping a slice of baguette with a sliver of ripe pear, a chunk of Lanark Blue and a scattering of hazelnuts. Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. A great foil for a crisp fino sherry.
Brussel sprout gratin
Everything tastes better with the addition of cheese and smoked pork. That's the thinking behind Brussel sprout gratin, which will win over even hardened sprout haters, according to cheesemonger David Deaves at La Cave a Fromage in Hove. “It's a great way of using up leftover sprouts on Boxing Day,” he claims. Fry cubes of pancetta and flaked almonds in olive oil, then adds cooked sprouts and crème fraiche. Bring to a simmer, tip into an oven proof dish and cover in a mixture of grated pecorino, Gruyère, and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes.
Sprouts will never be the same again.