Food & Drink

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

SticheltonDrink with:

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Appleby’s CheshireDrink with:

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Colston Bassett StiltonDrink with:

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Montgomery’s CheddarDrink with:

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Innes LogDrink with:

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Kirkham’s LancashireDrink with:

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St JamesDrink with:

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TunworthDrink with:

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HafodDrink with:

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StawleyDrink with:

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10 best imports

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

Saint-NectaireDrink with:

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ManchegoDrink with:

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Vacherin Mont-D’OrDrink with:

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ValenCayDrink with:

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Brie de MeauxDrink with:

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St Felicien Cremier CeramicDrink with:

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BanonDrink with:

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RoquefortDrink with:

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Crottin de ChavignolDrink with:

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TaleggioDrink with:

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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-handledfinecheese.co.uk

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Traditional Stilton Scoopthecheeseworks.co.uk

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English pickled shallotsfinecheese.co.uk

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Vivian’s Honeymelburyandappleton.co.uk

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Adamson’s Pittenweem Oatcakesmahonscheese.co.uk

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Camembert Design Cheese Platter and Knifethecheeseworks.co.uk

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Poacher’s Pickle Chutney mahonscheese.co.uk

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Slate Cheeseboardthecheeseworks.co.uk

(Main image: Getty)