Cheesemas is Coming
THIS piece has been written by a lovely member of our team – Emma. ‘Crafty’ Emma- as she is known (to distinguish her from another Emma here) – is multi talented! She not only supervises our shop here in Cheddar but also looks after the designs of our displays, our shop window and helps us with new range ideas. Emma hand-made our unique cow print staff face coverings when COVID hit, produced bunting and hand makes our shop decorations! She is also our expert GUIDE and will be greeting you when our new VIP tours start in 2022. Yet another string to her bow includes writing – see below – this piece which gives us an insight to eating cheese at Christmas includes a recipe, again designed by her!
CHRISTMAS is upon us yet again and what a whirlwind of a year we’ve had too.
Food always seems to hit the pinnacle of deliciousness around Christmas. More thought goes into food now than at any other time of the year, from preparing vast spreads of food for friends and family, down to the little treats we allow ourselves. An integral part of any Christmas lunch or Boxing Day buffet, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a good spread of cheeses!
Cheese can also make the perfect Christmas Gift, whether you have a cheese enthusiast in your life or that oh so difficult to buy for relative or just simply want to treat yourself, we have a great selection to hand, both online and in our shop and we’re always happy to provide advice and guidance on choosing the ideal gift. We have the same philosophy when sending cheese out via our website online shop, as we do when preparing it directly for our shop customers. We’re not mere internet traders; all our Cheddar and accompaniments are carefully packaged by our team here at CGCC HQ in Cheddar Gorge to ensure that it reaches its destination in the same condition that it left us, so you can rest assured of excellent quality artisan Cheddar Cheese this Christmas!
Where did the tradition of eating cheese at Christmas come from?
Over the decades, cheese has been become synonymous with Christmas; But why? Well, the answer lies with the origins of cheese-making. Exactly when or how the first cheese came about no one can really be sure, but what we do know, is that the production of cheese is an excellent way of preserving milk. Our ancestors learnt to transform milk into cheese ensuring a long-lasting food source to see them through the leaner months of the year. Traditionally in times gone by, most of our favourite cheeses were actually seasonal; the seasonality of milk quality and quantity dictated which cheeses were available at different times of the year. Cheddar was made from surplus milk in the spring and summer, thus reaching full maturity in the autumn at the end of the season and the best Stilton is made using milk from late September pastures reaching its prime at 12 weeks old which coincides with the Christmas season, which is why Cheddar and Stilton even now, are the top two cheeses of choice on our Christmas tables.
The association of eating cheese specifically at Christmas came later and can be traced back to the Victorian era. It’s during this time period that many of the traditions that we associate with our modern day Christmas came about. Victorian Christmas contained all the elements of a traditional Christmas such as Santa Clause, Christmas trees, crackers, cards, Christmas cake, pudding and of course cheese:
“The ceremony of ‘Cutting the Christmas Cheese’, to be served with cake or biscuits to the assembled company, marking the start of the Christmas Celebrations”
is widely recorded from the mid-18th Century into the early 20th.
“The cutting of the Christmas cheese is done by the master of the house on Christmas Eve and is a ceremony not to be lightly omitted. All comers to the house are invited to partake of the pepper cake and cheese.
It was also often given to carol singers:
“A little bit of pepper-cake, a little bit of cheese, a little drink of water, and a penny, if you please.”
“On Christmas Eve one Yule cake is given to each member of the family, along with a piece of Christmas cheese. As a rule, part of it is left for Christmas morning, and eaten at the breakfast.”
Now, the thought of eating cheese with Christmas cake might seem like an odd medley (particularly if you live down south) but it does actually make sense when you consider how wonderfully fruits compliment cheese. It appears that the tradition of eating fruitcake and cheese started in Yorkshire before later spreading throughout the other counties. It’s an age-old tradition that has survived through to the 21st century in the north of England, but seems much less common in other parts of the UK.
Nowadays we have the luxury of being able to enjoy cheese all year round, but when faced with the pressures of Christmas shopping, we’re often tempted to succumb to the pre-packed supermarket selection boxes. But buying decent cheese needn’t be a hassle. We’re very fortunate to live in a country that produces some of the world’s best cheeses. Check out ‘THE GLOBAL CHEESE AWARDS’ for a comprehensive list of world class British cheese makers.
The British cheese-making scene is as vibrant and exciting as it has ever been and good quality, authentic artisan cheeses are more widely available than ever before. If you don’t have a cheese-monger in your local high-street then fear not – the majority of your favourite artisan cheeses are available to purchase from the comfort of your own home online. In short, there really is no excuse for serving bland supermarket selections to your dinner guests this festive season!
Serving your cheese at its best
It is true, as with any spectacle, that a lot of work takes place behind the scenes to prepare our Cheddar for its moment of glory. Producing cheese is both a science and an art. Cheese can be quite the diva; temperature, air flow and humidity have to be just to each cheese’s liking, and that’s before you consider the daily cleaning, brushing and turning regime. Special attention is taken to select the cheese at just the right time of maturity to be cut by hand and carefully packaged for sale. Just as much care and attention should be taken in how we serve and eat our cheese as it takes to make it, so here we have our Staff Top Tips for serving our award-winning cheddar:
- Don’t serve cheese straight from the fridge; To enjoy cheese at its best you should always serve it at room temperature. Take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it – keep it covered with a slightly damp tea towel.
- It might be tempting to display whole wedges of cheese on your board but try not to put out more then you need to keep your cheese at its best. A good rule of thumb is to allow approx. 50g per person if serving at the end of the meal or up to around 100g per person if the cheeseboard is to be the main meal
- Don’t return unwrapped or partially exposed cheese to the fridge; Keep the rest of your cheese wrapped in greaseproof paper or foil or good quality film in the fridge, preferably within a Tupperware box or in the salad drawer of your fridge. If your fridge is full don’t despair! Any cool place such as a shed, garage or car boot will do. (Protect from possible furry friends!). Our cheddar is a hard cheese so less temperature sensitive than many soft cheeses.
In terms of accompaniments, cheese is pretty versatile. Thick slices of crusty bread, crisp crackers or salty oat biscuits. Equally, the same chutneys that go well with the festive ham and cold turkey on boxing day will also pair well with cheese as well as a variety of fruit, nuts and meats such as salami and prosciutto.
Christmas Cheese Leftover Recipe
As the Christmas festivities draws to an end, New Year is just around the corner, and as we all know, New Year Parties are nothing without the staple cheese board in the centre of the buffet table! Now, we may well be giving ourselves a well earned break over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but don’t worry – we’ll be up and running again in time for you to place your orders so you can enjoy the New Years celebrations with your favourite tipple accompanied by a selection of your choice Cheddars. But once all the celebrations are over and we set our good intentions for the year ahead, it’s time to dig out any uneaten cheese you may have hidden away at the back of your fridge. It may look a little sad, dried up and at the end of its life, but have faith – we can put all this cheese to good use and don’t leave the rind behind! You can read more about Cheddar Rind and ways to use it in our previous blog: The Humble Cheese Rind.
There’s a huge resource online for some delicious cheese leftover ideas or try out our Cheddar Cider Bake recipe below.
Here in the West Country Cheese & Cider are a staple part of the festivities (or any time of the year for that matter) so this fondue-inspired recipe is a great combination of the two. This recipe is intended to be a little thicker consistency than fondue, but you can always thin the mixture by adding more liquid if you prefer.
- 350ml Cider of your choice
- 180ml Chicken stock
- 450g Cheddar Cheese
- 2 tbls Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cloves of Garlic finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Corn Flour
- Pinch of Salt and Cayenne Pepper
- Heat the Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a pan over a medium heat before adding the cider and chicken stock and allow to simmer for approx. 5 minutes
- Whilst your cider mixture is simmering, grate your Cheddar into a bowl before mixing in with the corn flour
- Sprinkle the cheese into the warm cider broth a spoonful at a time continuously stirring the mixture
- Once all the cheese is added continue stirring until the cheese is fully melted and smooth
- Add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper before transferring to a dish and place in the oven for 15 – 20 mins or until golden
- Serve hot straight from the oven. I personally like to eat mine with chunks of sourdough or toast but you could serve whatever ‘dippers’ you fancy!