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The Ultimate Cheese Guide

Few things match the joy of a varied cheese board. ShortList’s Jimi Famurewa grabs some crackers and pays tribute to one of life’s great accompaniments to wine and beer

Save the best until last. It’s sage advice that can be applied to most situations in life, not least the dining table. For, after the sugary dessert should come the glorious, creamy indulgence of a hubcap-sized cheese board. It’s the course that even the perilously overstuffed will find room for. The culinary equivalent of a rock star headliner.

And it’s a great time to be a cheese obsessive — in spite of a certain Britpop bassist-turned-farmer — knowing about cheese is now a desired skill. Artisan cheesemongers are transporting our tastebuds from cheese triangles and yellow plastic slices into uncharted sensory territory. But where do you start? And how do you pick a complementary drink? Quieten your stomach as we guide you through all things cheese.

10 best British cheeses

Neal’s Yard Dairy buyer Bronwen Percival talks us through her home-grown favourites

Stichelton: “A raw milk blue cheese from Nottinghamshire that has amazingly varied flavours, from caramel to juicy fruitiness.” Drink with: “Barleywine, which is a type of beer, from JW Lees in Manchester.”

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Appleby’s Cheshire: “A brilliantly crumbly British territorial classic. It has a real zesty and fresh succulence to it.” Drink with: “It’s made for English ale.”

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Colston Bassett Stilton: “A blue cheese with sweet, rich liqueur-like flavours and a fantastic melting texture.” Drink with: “Great with an aged tawny port.”

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Montgomery’s Cheddar: “One of the driest and richest cheddars. The mature one is aged for a year in muslin to give a deep flavour.” Drink with: “A nice Somerset cider.”

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Innes Log: “An ash-rolled goat’s cheese from Staffordshire that comes in a log shape and has aromas of hazelnut.” Drink with: “It’s light enough to go with champagne.”

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Kirkham’s Lancashire: “The most exciting cheese. It’s buttery, complex, layered and voluptuous. The flavour is endlessly long.” Drink with: “A nice, English ale.”

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St James: “This washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese from Cumbria is not one for those afraid of strong cheese.” Drink with: “A glass of IPA.”

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Tunworth: “Hampshire’s answer to camembert, it’s even impressed French cheese professionals.” Drink with: “A fruity white.”

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Hafod: “Cracking Welsh cheddar. It’s intense, layered, nicely complex, grassy and even a bit hoppy.” Drink with: “Again, good with a glass of IPA.”

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Stawley: “Another goat’s cheese, this is from Somerset and has gentle, sweet honey flavours.” Drink with: “A Loire chenin blanc.”

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10 best imports

Top cheese experts Hadi Aknan and Mahon Fitzgerald help you assemble a continental cheese board

Saint-Nectaire: HA: “A semi-hard French cheese with a natural rind. It has a lovely subtlety to it.” Drink with: “A light, fruity red is ideal.”

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Manchego: MF: “Spanish favourite from La Mancha. Buttery, sharp and zesty with nutty hints.” Drink with: “A Basque chacoli.”

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Vacherin Mont-D’Or: HA: “Named after a mountain on the Swiss-French border, this is mellow and clotted cream-like.” Drink with: “Goes well with a riesling.”

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ValenCay: HA: “A goat’s cheese, but chalky, mild and fresh. Its earthy flavour develops into a citrus tang.” Drink with: “A sauvignon blanc will do the job.”

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Brie de Meaux: MF: “First voted ‘King Of Cheeses’ at the congress of Vienna in 1814. Rich and sweet with a smoky flavour.” Drink with: “A smooth chardonnay.”

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St Felicien Cremier Ceramic MF: “A cow’s milk cheese with a buttery flavour from the Rhone-Alpes in France.” Drink with: “Try with a pouilly fumé.”

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Banon: HA: “An unusual French goat’s cheese. Wrapped in a chestnut leaf, it’s mild with a sour hint.” Drink with: “A glass of pinot noir.”

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Roquefort HA: “A classic for a reason: it’s simple but you can taste the care that goes into it with every mouthful. Drink with: “A sauternes.”

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Crottin de Chavignol MA: “This small goat’s cheese from central France has a surprising spiciness to it.” Drink with: “Sancerre.”

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Taleggio MF: “Italian cheese with a strong aroma but mild flavour that has tanginess and a fruity finish.” Drink with: “Italian nebbiolo reds go best.”

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Know your cheese type

Can’t tell the difference between a fresh and a semi-hard? Stop sniggering at the back…

FRESH

Types: Cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella

What: These haven’t been ripened or aged and tend to be paler, tasting more like milk. They’re ready to eat straightaway, but have a high moisture content, so can’t be stored for long.

SOFT

Types: Brie, camembert

What: Historically French and partly ripened, these cheeses have a white mould that forms a rind to protect the flesh. Ensure the cheese is sufficiently aged so there’s no chalky white stripe in the middle.

SEMI-HARD

Types: Edam, gouda, jarlsberg

What: Ripened for a few months and elastic in texture, this is the category wax-covered lunchbox favourites fit into. Some of these cheeses have their rinds washed by wine or beer to add flavour.

HARD

Types: Cheddar, parmesan, manchego

What: These have been pressed and had the moisture squeezed out of them to increase their shelf life. They’re then matured from 8 to 12 weeks (for crumbly wensleydale and mild cheddars respectively) or three years for the vintage parmesans.

BLUE

Types: Stilton, roquefort, gorgonzola

What: Most other cheeses can be transformed into blue ones by adding a special blue mould (penicillium roqueforti, to Latin fans) during the ageing process to accelerate decay and create a sweet, intense taste.

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Red? White? Pale ale?

Wine guru Fraser Jamieson’s guide to cheese and drink matching

1. “Firstly, despite its reputation, cheese is actually one of the hardest foodstuffs to match with wine. There are so many different types with vastly varying flavours that you need a different one for every occasion.”

2. “Don’t instantly assume you need to go for a red wine. That’s as much of a mistruth as only drinking white wine with fish. Because cheese is so rich and fatty you’ll often find the acidity of a white wine will manage to cut through it much better than the tannic grip of red.”

3. “Red wines work well with hard, mature cheeses though, as they can effectively balance that strong flavour. One of the most sensational pairings I’ve ever had was a light red barolo paired with fresh chunks of strong parmesan.”

4. “The lighter the cheese, the lighter you should go with the wine. Pairing a delicate goat’s cheese with a nice bottle of sancerre can be wonderful.”

5. “If you want to wine match precisely, I’d recommend choosing a big lump of really good cheese rather than going for a mixed board. It’ll be much easier to find one wine that works rather than trying to seek a separate wine for each cheese.”

6. “Don’t ignore ciders and beers. Stinking Bishop, which was actually named after a pear, works with the acidity and sweetness of a perry or cider. Plus, Meantime London Pale Ale goes well with Appelby’s cheshire cheese.”

Compass Wines can be purchased from Jasparcorbett.co.uk

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Upgrade your cheese kit

Sawing your cheddar with a bent butter knife? Stop immediately

Laguiole Horn-handled: A retractable cheese blade made by hand in Aveyron. Adds some Indiana Jones-grade drama to making a snack. £55; finecheese.co.uk

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Traditional Stilton Scoop: As anyone who has ever eviscerated a crumbly blue cheese will tell you, it’s not easy to slice. But this nifty scoop makes light work of it. £12.95; thecheeseworks.co.uk

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English pickled shallots: Complete the bar-room holy trinity with this jar of red wine vinegar-soaked nibbles to a pint of light ale and a crumbly chunk of Cheshire. £2.95; finecheese.co.uk

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Vivian’s Honey: It’s not just about the pickles and chutneys when it comes to eating cheese. This thick-set honey made in Devon and Cornwall tastes great when slathered on blue cheeses or fresh goat’s cheeses. £3.75; melburyandappleton.co.uk

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Adamson’s Pittenweem Oatcakes: The cheese connoisseur’s chosen foundation — toasty, sail-shaped oatcakes. £1.70; mahonscheese.co.uk

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Camembert Design Cheese Platter and Knife: A stylishly Gallic oversized cheese plate with a solid, wood-handled knife. £29.95; thecheeseworks.co.uk

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Poacher’s Pickle Chutney: With chunks of tomatoes, peppers and onions, this chutney goes with most cheeses — our experts recommend it with baked camembert. £2.85 mahonscheese.co.uk

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Slate Cheeseboard: Hand-cut Scottish slate that provides a dinner-party alternative to serving your expensive cheeses on the first chilli-stained chopping board you can find. £18.95 thecheeseworks.co.uk

(Main image: Getty)

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