Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Cheese School

It’s hard to be objective about events in which you’re involved but I thought our Christmas Cheese School was just lovely. About 20 of us sat round a long candlelit (and electric heater-lit, hence the red glow) table in the nave of St Thomas the Martyr a late 18th century church in the centre of Bristol. (I confess I didn’t know what this part of a church was called but found the answer within seconds when I Googled it. The wonder of WikiAnswers.)

We kicked off with a talk on winter cheese by cheesemaker Todd Trethowan who explained how his Gorwydd Caerphilly changes at this time of year (the cows feed on silage rather than fresh grass which results in a more intense flavour) why you sometimes can’t buy goats cheeses (if the cheesemaker lets the goats kid) and why Vacherin is now at its best (you only have to taste it to see for yourself). We also found it went wonderfully well with the mulled cider donated by local producer Orchard Pig.

Cheesemonger Alex Te-Strote valiantly talked about how to put together a Christmas cheeseboard through several layers of cold while Andrew Cooper of the Bristol Beer Factory persuasively argued the case for putting beer as well as wine on the table.

Then I took a different angle on matching cheese by pairing Joe Schneider's Stichelton (the amazing unpasteurised version of Stilton) with a Douro red, Monbazillac sweet wine, the Bristol Beer Factory’s Ultimate Stout, local producer Bramley and Gage’s Sloe Gin and Avery’s Bristol Cream sherry. (The most popular pairings seemed to be the Monbazillac and sherry though I was very taken with the stout)

The evening was punctuated with bursts of festive organ music played by one of the Trethowans Dairy cheesemongers Charlie Usher (below with mulled cider) who won the title of young composer of the year a couple of years ago. Talk about versatile . . .

The next all day Cheese School is on Sunday February 6th at Bordeaux Quay. If you're in a panic for a last minute Christmas present you can buy gift vouchers here!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Borough's night cheese market

After a bit of lull on the cheese front I’ve spent two consecutive nights at cheesy Christmas events. No, I don’t mean panto but Borough Market’s Evening of Cheese in London and our own Christmas Cheese School in Bristol about which I’ll report in a day or so.

I’d missed out on the Borough event last year so was determined to make it. Held in the Jubilee market it brings together all the cheese traders and shops in and around the market including Neal’s Yard (of course), French affineur Hervé Mons and a brilliant Swiss stand, Käseswiss which I’d been meaning to visit for a while. You could (and I did) buy mulled cider then wander around the stalls nibbling. There were so many great cheeses you don’t normally get the chance to taste of which the Bermondsey hard-pressed cheese (below) must be the most recherché.

Needless to say I spent far too much including a box of delicious but wildly expensive Elvas apricots I bought from a Portuguese stall together with a fabulous sheeps cheese called Casa d’Agua Levada, set with cardoons ...

... a good hunk of the most perfect Comté from the convincingly French-looking John of Hervé Mons (below) and L’Etivaz, a Swiss cheese made from summer milk.

There’s a full list of Borough Market’s cheese suppliers here

I was wondering, as I was nibbling, what is the best Christmas cheese. Stilton/Stichelton are obviously candidates. A good artisanal cheddar? An aged Comté? Vacherin Mont d’Or - although I associate that more with January? What’s your seasonal favourite?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Candlelit Christmas Cheese School

A quick plug for those of you who live in or can get to the West Country next week - we have our first Christmas Cheese School next Thursday (December 16th), a candlelit tasting at the wonderfully atmospheric St Thomas the Martyr church in Bristol.

This is a mini, seasonal version of our all-day cheese schools with three rather than the usual six elements:

* A talk about winter cheese by cheesemaker Todd Trethowan of Gorwydd Caerphilly - i.e. what sort of flavours you can expect from your favourite cheeses at this time of year

* A talk on how to put together the perfect Christmas cheeseboard by Ben Ticehurst, head cheesemonger of Trethowans Dairy

* and an exploration of different drink pairings with Stichelton and Stilton by me. Blues are one of the most interesting cheeses to match as they work just as well with fortified wines, spirits, beers and liqueurs as they do with still wines.

There are still a few tickets available (at £40 a head) but they're selling fast so get in quick! If you miss it we have another all day cheese event on February 6th for which you can buy gift vouchers on the Big Barn website (they also sell a number of the Trethowans' cheeses and their scrumptious new range of matching jellies)*. The last day for orders is December 18th.

* And no, just in case you were wondering, I'm not on commission!