Food writer and self-confessed “curd-nerd”, Patrick McGuigan takes five of his favourite British cheeses and explains how and why they match with certain drinks and condiments, from Beauvale with Eccles cakes to baked Winslade and sake.
There will always be a place in the nation’s heart for cheddar, chutney and a pint, but the limits of what can be matched with cheese can be pushed much further. Honey, chocolate, vegetables or even a slice of cake can take a cheeseboard (or just a Monday lunch) to heady new heights. That’s especially true when you add a glass of something unusual, from sherry or gin to sake or even tea.
Cheese pairing boundaries are there to be broken, but ironically it’s worth following a few basic rules as you rip up the rulebook. The complex flavours of cheese can be grouped into families, such as fruity, floral, vegetal, mineral and savoury. Contrasting or complementing these with a particular flavour in an accompaniment is a good starting point.
The caramel notes of Gouda, for example, dovetail nicely with a honeyed Champagne, or match a nutty cheddar with a scattering of hazelnuts. Opposites also attract, which is why sweet wine is a classic foil for the saltiness of blue cheese while spicy mustards add a new dimension to sweet Manchegos.
The way acidity cuts through fat is another consideration. Zingy white wines pierce the richness of young creamy cheeses, while the sharp bite of an apple is the perfect partner for a rich Camembert. This final match also brings in the idea of texture; thin slices of raw fennel add crunch to fluffy goat’s cheeses or try a brittle shard of honeycomb with a squidgy blue.
A ploughman’s will never be the same again.
A hard sheep’s milk cheese from the West Midlands, Berkswell is sometimes described as Britain’s answer to Manchego, but actually has its own unique character. Sweet, nutty, salty and with an intriguing roasted lamb finish, it’s a versatile cheese for pairing.
Take a Spanish approach and match it with the acorn notes of Iberico ham and a glass of amontillado sherry, which is reminiscent of salted almonds. The nutty theme could be ramped up further with a handful of candied hazelnuts. For something completely different, try Berkswell with a well-steeped cup of green tea. The seaweed notes of the tea combine remarkably with the mellow cheese.
Alternative cheeses: Lord of the Hundreds, mature Manchego, Idiazabel
Made by Tunworth producer Hampshire Cheeses, Winslade is a soft, gooey cow’s milk cheese wrapped in a spruce band. Think Camembert crossed with Vacherin with a floral, resinous quality from the spruce and a funky flavour from the undulating rind.
Like its Continental cousins, Winslade is gorgeous baked until it becomes molten. Dunk crusty bread into the gooey cheese before dipping in a dukkah of almonds, hazelnuts, seeds and cranberries. The yeasty notes from the rind match nicely with Vin Jaune – a nutty oxidised wine made in France’s Jura mountains – while the cheese’s vegetal flavours also have an affinity with sake, particularly the starchy genshu variety.
Alternative cheeses: Vacherin, Camembert de Normandie, Tunworth
Made in Oxfordshire by up-and-coming cheesemaker David Jowett, Rollright has a peachy appearance from being washed in brine as it matures. The pungent rind is yeasty and savoury with interesting aromatic notes, which have a lot in common with the fermented flavours of a saison beer or the smokiness of a New World pinot noir.
The interior of the cheeses is rich and buttery, so it also benefits from the tart fragrant spice of a rhubarb and ginger compote. Alternatively, melt over boiled potatoes and lardons for a British take on tartiflette.
Alternative cheeses: Reblochon, Golden Cenarth, Gubbeen
This unpasteurised goat’s log from Sussex has a dense, creamy core and gooey layer beneath the rind. Hints of mushrooms and herbs are framed by a racy acidity.
A drizzle of truffle honey brings out its earthy depth of the bloomy rind and the cheese also has an affinity with the perfume of a sweet cherry compote. In the Loire valley, they drink pungent sauvignon blanc with these kinds of cheeses, but they also work surprisingly well with a fresh single malt whisky, such as Penderyn from Wales. The gentle creaminess of the cheese acts as a canvas for the whisky, emphasising the citrus and pear notes.
Alternative cheeses: Ragstone, Sainte Maure, Driftwood
Stilton producer Cropwell Bishop has branched out in an exciting new direction with Beauvale, which is inspired by creamy Continentals like Gorgonzola Dolce. It has a wonderful squidgy texture and sweet, spicy kick, which is a magnificent match for the concentrated fruitiness of an Eccles cake. Alternatively, smear on crusty bread with a splodge of fig jam.
The rich chocolate notes of porter fit seamlessly with the creamy cheese, while a tot of aromatic sloe gin is like adding plum syrup to ice cream.
Alternative cheeses: Gorgonzola, Cornish Blue, Barkham Blue