A slice of good advice to make the most of your Christmas cheese board
With more than 750 varieties of cheese made across the UK – almost 50 per cent more than France – why stick with your usual choices to add finishing flourishes to this year’s festive feasts?
That's the message from successful entrepreneur Edward Hancock, who won funding for his online cheese box company cheesegeek.com from Dragons’ Den Steven Bartlett earlier this year.
The 39 year-old is now determined to make cheese fun as well as delicious, writes Ruth Brindle.
Edward said: “How often do we end up just plumping for Stilton in a pot, some Brie and a punchy mature cheddar that your dad and grandad love but makes your face sting?
"Not only that but we also unimaginatively plop the cheese on a wooden board from the 1970s, complemented with grapes and some chutney granny made years ago that you feel compelled to eat as she watches on like a hawk.
Edward explained: “Here are the basics. “Number one, we want the cheese to taste amazing, of course!
"Secondly, we want the cheese to look amazing as well, so to achieve this we need a good variety and balance of colours, shapes, textures and flavours.
“I always try to encourage customers to go for less varieties of cheese and larger pieces.”
Edward continued: "I would say five is the absolute max which allows for a balanced variety.
"Any more than that and the cheese will lose its presence on the board, plus the pieces will be too small to go around!
“Seasonality is also a huge consideration. People tend to be really aware of seasonal fruit and vegetables, but not so aware of how seasonal cheese is.
"This explains why I don't eat goat's milk cheese at Christmas. Spring is the best time,” added Edward.
Having met Edward at a private tasting event, I can vouch for the fact he genuinely loves cheese, his enthusiasm for his subject having helped drive the business.
The former fund manager founded the company in 2017 from his mum’s utility room.
Edward jokes that her whole house “smelled of cheese” but says she was happy to put up with that and work for free to help his new venture.
He spotted a gap in the £3.2 billion British cheese market for a company that harnesses the power of digital technology to connect artisan cheesemakers directly with consumers.
Nearly all products sold by cheesegeek are produced by small family-run producers using milk from grass-fed animals in average herds of around 100.
One aim of the venture is to work with producers to create unique cheeses solely for cheesegeek.
Pairing with ideal wines will also feature more heavily in the future.
From taking three or four orders a week, the company has now dispatched over 50,000 orders, growing to a staff of 16 in its south west London base.
Much of this growth was thanks to the pandemic, which saw sales explode ten-fold overnight.
Last year sales were £1.5 million – from £280,000 in 2020 – and the company is now able to send out up to 5,000 orders in a single day.
Now a big cheese in his chosen world, Edward is on Which? panel of fromage tasters. Your taste buds will thank him for his tips this Christmas.
Create your own cheese board
A portion of 60-80g per person is ideal, considering how much food we usually eat
Pair stilton with Red Onion and Port Marmalade
That is Christmas on a plate
Keep your cheese whole or in big pieces as long as possible
The smaller you cut it, the faster it will deteriorate or dry out
If you’re confused about choosing a wine to go with cheese, pick Chardonnay
Keep cheese in the salad drawer for the best temperature
Keep blue cheese separate from the rest, keeping all wrapped in wax paper
Christmas cheese board choices
Serves eight to 12 people
200g Sparkenhoe Red Leicester
200g Westcombe Cheddar
200g Comte (summer 2017 or 2018 milk)
250g Baron Bigod mini
200g Cropwell Bishop Organic Stilton
120g Red Onion & Port Marmalade
120g Wild Cloudberry Jam
Peter's Yard Original Sourdough Crispbreads
Thinly sliced apples and pears
2-3 halved/quartered Figs
Handfuls of walnuts and cornichons
What's on offer
cheesegeek.com offers a wide selection of festive cheese boxes, including advent calendars.
The Ultimate (£100) is a pairing of eight cheeses and fine wines.
Festive parties are catered for with The Myrrh-ie (£40), The Frankie (£50) and The Goldie (£70).
There’s also a cheese "bauble" The Lancashire Bomb (£15) you can have personalised as a gift.
If you like a bit of music while you munch, you can scan QR codes on offerings such as The Lionel, The Elton, The Jimi and The Freddie to get playlists.
cheesegeek’s top five
1 Rollright from Gloucestershire
2 Baron Bigod from Suffolk
3 Cenarth Brie from Carmarthenshire
4 Truffle Bomb from Lancashire
5 Sparkenhoe Red Leicester from Leicestershire
To create or order your perfect cheese board visit www.cheesegeek.com website.
Another way to get your cheese fix is to visit one of the artisan makers producing high quality offerings.
One popular destination is Sparkenhoe Farm, just 17 miles west of Leicester.
Owners David and Jo Clarke benefit from the experience of their families, who have been farming in the area for generations.
Their Red Leicester cheese is still made to the original recipe from centuries ago.
Visit the Cheese Shop and Tea Room in an old brick and tile Wagon Hovel at the farm.
Mole End Cottage is just five mins away from King Stone Dairy in Chedworth, Gloucestershire where Rollright cheese is made.
It sleeps four from £562 for a short break of three nights. Visit www.cotswoldshideaways.co.uk website.