13 Norfolk cheeses to try this Christmas
PUBLISHED: 12:30 14 December 2019 | UPDATED: 21:56 14 December 2019
Cheese expert Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli in Hunstanton shares his top picks from the county for your cheeseboard this year.
As far as we're concerned there's no such thing as a bad time to eat cheese, but as the nights get longer and colder, the temptation to wander downstairs into the deli and select a few of our cheeses grows, especially if there's a few nice crackers combined with a local chutney (or two) alongside a glass of wine or a bottle of craft ale. Even though for many it's a must-have product on the Christmas food list, how many go beyond the selection on offer at many of the high street supermarkets? What's the benefit of shopping for cheese in a specialist shop?
Visiting a cheese specialist is like an adventure into a wondrous world of human ingenuity. A place where, following a series of processes, a single ingredient is transformed into a plethora of hard, soft, firm, smelly cheeses each with their own taste and character. It's a place where you find cheese enthusiasts who'll be only too happy for you to taste before you buy. It's a place where you'll find hand-made mature cheeses and where even something as routine as a Cheddar becomes something magical when you realise it's possible to create an entire cheeseboard where each cheese has different textures and flavours and each and every one of them is a Cheddar.
Of course, the ideal time to visit a cheese specialist is just around the corner and it's also the time to spoil yourself. Do you really look at the pre-packaged Christmas cheese selections and think yum? A classic cheeseboard is all about balance, which is why many of the pre-packaged examples consist of hard, blue and soft cheeses. A cheeseboard needs to look attractive and strangely enough they always look best when there's an odd number of cheeses on the board. A combination of hard, soft, blue as well as some cheeses with different types of milk for example cow, sheep and goat should ensure there's something for everyone.
Norfolk White Lady, a ewes' milk cheese from Willow Farm in Deopham is the ideal alternative for anybody who is allergic to cows' milk. This is a mild and creamy cheese with a rich, tangy flavour. Alternatively, why not try Wensum White made by Fielding Cottage, which is a creamy Brie-style goats' milk cheese? For traditionalists there's Copys Cloud made by Mrs Temples. With a fluffy white rind it has the appearance of a Brie but with a buttery, melting centre milder than a traditional Brie de Meaux. If you're looking for a Brie-style cheese with real taste you can't improve on Baron Bigod from Fen Farm. Officially from Suffolk, but with a farm located in Bungay, both counties like to make a claim to this cheese. As my wife would say "it all depends on which end of the field the cows are in". This must be one of our favourite cheeses, made with raw unpasteurised milk from Montbeliarde cows which they brought from France. It's not too surprising that they have won so many awards and that their cheese is also sold at several cheese shops in Paris! More recently Fen Farm introduced a Truffle Baron which will add a real taste of luxury to your cheeseboard this year.
Norfolk Dapple, made by Ferndale Farm, is an unpasteurised cows' milk cheese which has enough similarities to Cheddar in flavour to be treated as a good alternative. We also like Wells Alpine from Mrs Temples. Inspired by a cycling holiday in Europe this is matured for six to nine months and has a sweet, nutty flavour. Some would say it's a good alternative to Gruyere although not quite as good a melter. Alternatively, you why not try Walsingham which is also made by Catherine Temple? A firm creamy cows' milk cheese, full of flavour it's been described by some as a cross between a Wensleydale and Cheddar, but we feel it's much creamier and not as chalky. If you'd prefer something not made of cows' milk then look at Norfolk Charm which in texture and taste is probably somewhere between a Cheshire and a Wensleydale and made from ewes' milk or try Wissington which is a hard ewes' milk cheese and which can be viewed a little like a Pecorino fresco.
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Rind Washed Cheeses
Some cheeses are washed in cider, wine, beers during the maturing process. In Norfolk we have Gurney Gold, another cheese from Mr Temples. Made using cows' milk this make a great melting cheese. Other rind washed cheeses you could choose would be St Cera, made by Julie Cheyney at White Wood Dairy at Fen Farm in Bungay. It has a very distinctive taste and alongside St Jude was a winner at this year's World Cheese Awards. An increasingly popular cheese is Tawny made by Ferndale farm - washed using Stoatwobbler ale from Beeston Brewery. Some would say the end result is a little like a Taleggio, but it's larger, firmer and retains a saltier flavour. The ale adds enough hoppy flavour to the cheese to make it a favourite with many of our customers.
Mrs Temples Binham Blue is without a doubt a firm customer favourite and one of those cheeses customers come in and ask for. It's more like a Gorgonzola than a Stilton but with a creamy texture and luscious sweet tangy flavour. Alternatively try a Deopham Blewe, another cheese from Jane Murray at Willow Farm, made with ewes' milk. It's milder, less salty and has a more pronounced ewes' milk flavour. And why not try Skegness Blue? The rich and buttery texture has the saltiness and blue flavours of a Stilton whilst the texture is not dissimilar to a good Dolcelatte.
The key to enjoying cheese is to lose your inhibitions and to try something different. Not everything will be to your liking, but in amongst the cheeses you won't buy again will be several you'll buy again and again. There are of course many local cheeses we haven't mentioned such as Ruby Dapple, Smoked Dapple, Ellingham, Wighton to name a few. We're open all the way through to Christmas but please remember that these are small batch handmade cheeses. Ordering early is advisable. All that's left for us to say is enjoy your cheese and a very Happy Christmas.