British cheese-making is a thriving industry that exports around the world. It’s something we should all be proud of, so let’s celebrate British cheeses at their best by enjoying them with a glass of something delicious.
Many traditional British dairies have closed, meaning we have temporarily lost champion cheeses like Buxton Blue, but it’s the exception, not the rule. With increased interest in old recipes and artisan methods, independent producers are bringing all kinds of cheeses back to life. But they need your support, which is why I want to draw your attention to some iconic protected varieties, to celebrate the diversity of this British success story.
Look out for the twin marques of the EU scheme to preserve the heritage, character and reputation of precious artisan foods like British cheeses. Products with an affiliation to a geographical area, which are made, prepared or processed there, are given either Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status or the more stringent Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
Choosing wines for cheese
Cheese and wine can be fickle partners, but get it right and you can accentuate all kinds of characteristics in both. Here are the findings of my most recent (highly enjoyable) evening of experimentation and discovery, plus some alternatives you may wish to try for yourself.
The wine: Viognier Réserve Spéciale 2010, Gérard Bertrand, PGI Pays d’Oc, France
£7.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Bonchester (PDO)
Notes: Milk from Jersey cows living within 90km of Peel Fell in the Cheviots must be used in this soft Camembert-style cheese. The Viognier’s stone fruit freshness cuts through its chalky sweet cream, with the soft herbaceous minerality to complement the delicate white crust. (Also try Chatel, Tunworth or Isle of Wight soft cheese).
The wine: Château Aigues Vives Cuvée d’Exception 2007, Corbières, France
£9.99 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Single Gloucester (PDO)
Notes: This un-pasteurised, semi-hard cheese with a natural rind is only made with milk from Gloucestershire breed cows. Its light, crumbly texture and low fat content make it unsuitable for cheese rolling – a task reserved for the Double. Try it with this stunning Corbières, whose spicy bramble fruit matches the cheese like good chutney. (Also try Hereford Hop, Mrs Kirkhams Lancashire, Spenwood or even simple cheese on toast).
The wine: Joffré Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina
£8.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Exmoor Blue (PGI)
Notes: A full-fat, blue-veined soft cheese with a buttery texture, made using un-pasteurised milk from Jersey cows grazing on Exmoor. It’s a rich, unctuous delicacy that teases out the cinnamon, clove and vanilla spices of this dark, brooding, versatile Malbec. Heavenly on a baked potato. (Also try Harbourne Blue, Barkham Blue or Oxford Blue).
The wine: Valençay ‘Le Clos du Château’ 2009/10, Claude Lafond, France
£8.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Cornish Yarg
Notes: This semi-hard cheese, made from the milk of Friesian cows and wrapped in an edible rind of nettle leaves, isn’t protected like the others. But it’s still a great cheese, varying in texture from soft and creamy at the rind to Caerphilly-like crumbliness in the middle. The Valencay’s rich, crisp characters lift the herbaceous outer layer through to the clean inner core. (Also try Caerphilly, Cheshire or Caws Cenarth).
The wine: Waiki Barrel Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2009/10, Maipo Valley, Chile
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: West Country Farmhouse Cheddar (PDO)
Notes: Firm in texture yet mellow in character, this is a rich, flavourful, melt-in-the-mouth cheddar. And here’s a big brute of a wine to go with it. Don’t be intimidated by the tannin and leather spice – it all melts into a fabulous sweet and salty tang, accentuating the wine’s blackcurrant and delicate herbaceous characters. (Also try Lincolnshire Poacher, Cairnsmore, Dunlop or Double Gloucester).
The wine: Rioja Blanco 2010, Muga, Spain
£10.99 or £8.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Swaledale Ewes’ Cheese (PDO)
Notes: A mild, smooth cheese from the Yorkshire Dales with a slight salty tang and a soft, open texture that’s a perfect match for Muga Blanco’s rich, deep fruit. Best with Yorkshire tapas – olives, fresh anchovies and patatas bravas complete the set! (Also try Wigmore,
Flower Marie, Crockhamdale or Wensleydale).
The wine: Morellino di Scansano 2010, Poggioargentiera, Italy
£11.99 or £8.99 when you buy 2 bottles
The cheese: Dorset Blue Vinny (PGI)
Notes: Made near Sturminster Newton from skimmed cows’ milk, this low-fat crumbly blue cheese is historically a by-product of the butter market. Its strong characters and sweet, peppery flavours are spot on with the Morellino’s dry, structured tannins. (Also try Blue Wensleydale, or Lanark Blue).
The wine: Clos L’Abeilley 2009, Sauternes, France, Half bottle
The cheese: Blue Stilton (PDO)
Notes: Bizarrely, cheese produced in the eponymous Cambridgeshire village cannot legally be called Stilton. That honour goes to cheeses made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire, using pasteurised local milk and ripened for roughly nine to twelve weeks. I can think of no better match than this Sauternes, with rich, wildflower, honeyed sweetness balancing the robust, spicy, salty cheese. The finest way to end a meal? I think so. (Also try Stichelton, Shropshire Blue, or Perl Las).