As the seasons change, so do the culinary comforts we crave. Pints of lager in pub gardens and fish and chips by the sea start to feel like distant memories of a long-forgotten era, and we’re left to root around for something to fill that void.
As the winter months encroach upon us, there’s still plenty to look forward to. For me, I think of big, flaky pies baking away in the oven, ready to serve with a bowl of buttery mash. I think of rich, viscous stews, so hot that the first bite burns the roof of your mouth clean off but so delicious that you don’t care. I think of boxing day sandwiches, loaded with leftovers that somehow taste infinitely better just for being stuck between two slices of bread.
But more than anything, I think of a cheeseboard. Cheese is perhaps the ultimate food to hunker down with as the temperatures slowly fall. It’s calm, comforting, and versatile enough to placate even the most fussy of palates. Someone who claims not to like cheese is, in my opinion, someone not to be trusted.
The cheeseboard is of course ubiquitous with Christmas and post-pub lunch desserts, but it’s also the ideal stay-at-home ceremony; a fitting way to say farewell to summer and usher in the autumn. This is exactly what we chose to do a few weeks back, with four great hunks of cheese hastily plonked onto a board with some crackers, toasted bread and a handful of grapes from the back of the fridge. After all, cheeseboard presentation is ultimately worthless when the contents of said board will soon be hacked to within an inch of its life and hastily shoved into various gobs.
The whole experience was, as ever, a delicious dairy-fuelled delight, but there were two cheeses in particular that stood out – Dorstone and Stichelton.
The Ryan Gosling of the dairy kingdom. The cheese she told you not to worry about.
Dorstone is a gnarly wonder. Turret-shaped with a wrinkled, mould-encrusted rind, it looks more like something you might find stuck in the guttering of an abandoned house than an award-winning goat’s cheese. But cutting into it reveals the most glistening white flesh – soft, inviting and ever so slightly crumbly. The contrast between interior and exterior is striking. This is a cheese of light and dark, old and new, life and death.
The taste confounds expectations even further. While the look of this cheese suggests an intense funkiness, taking a bite of Dorstone reveals itself to be incredibly fresh and zesty, with a subtle tanginess that lasts long after you’ve eaten the last of it. Lemon cheesecake instantly springs to mind.
The tastes are perfectly complementary, the chemistry undeniable...
And then there’s Stichelton. The Ryan Gosling of the dairy kingdom. The cheese she told you not to worry about. Every blue cheese out there wants to be Stichelton, but they’ll never be Stichelton. They just don’t have the charisma or the bravado. Only Stichelton can be Stichelton.
As you may guess from the name, this is a cheese with very close relations to the better-known Stilton, the only difference being that Stichelton is made with raw milk instead of pasteurised milk (any cheese called Stilton is legally required to be made with pasteurised milk, hence the slight difference in name here).
While this might seem like a minor gripe on the face of it, the raw milk changes the flavour profile drastically. Stichelton is mellower, sweeter and simply more downright delicious compared to its inferior cousin – there are notes of fruit, biscuits and even a bubblegum sweetness which, without being obscured by the often-overwhelming tang of Stilton, make the most of the opportunity to dance around the palate unrestrained.
These cheeses are uniquely enjoyable on their own, but when paired together I truly believe they might be the most perfect combination in the history of the cheeseboard. While the Stichelton takes the starring role, offering everything you might want in a cheese – creaminess, acidity, a satisfying amount of funk – the Dorstone shines as supporting actor. The zippy freshness proves to be the ideal palate cleanser, resetting the taste buds and getting you ready to dive in again.
The tastes are perfectly complementary, the chemistry undeniable, and before you know it you’re left staring at an empty board, save for a few crumbs and a handful of grapes, wondering where everything went.