Welcome to a two-part blog post, linked (mildly) by the subject of cheese. (Yes, it’s a bit tenuous, but go with it).
In part two you will find me running up hills and down hills (and then back up hills again). But let’s start with something a little more sedentary: part one has us sitting down, considering the classic cheese board.
It seems that the cheese board does not have a fixed place in our mealtime scheduling. We have cheese at the end of the meal, the French position it before dessert and the Americans will start with cheese. But wherever it fits, the cheese board is not just about cheese. Accompaniments can be as simple as some grapes and wine, running through apples, celery, tomatoes and berries, to bespoke biscuits and fruit cheeses. And beer of course.
Hillside Speciality Foods make a range of products specifically designed to go with cheese: chutneys, biscuits and fruit cheeses. A fruit cheese is an old term for a fruit paste and the Hillside fruit pastes come in two styles. First, you can get a small tub of paste, somewhere between a very thick jam and a jelly. Or, you can buy it in a small bar, where it has a slightly harder consistency. We pushed the boat out and got both for a trip to the in-laws’ house.
For our cheese spectacular, we opted for some local cheeses (of course). Sharpham Vineyard make a range of wines and cheeses at their estate just outside of Totnes. We went for their brie and the Sharpham Rustic with chives, a semi hard, unpasteurised cheese with garlic and chives running through it. The third cheese was Ticklemore Devon Blue from a smaller cheese dairy, again in Totnes.
As well as the cheeses and the fruit pastes, we also took along two jars of chutney and a selection of biscuits. The pink peppercorn biscuits have a really peppery taste and this makes for a very nice biscuit; hard and crisp as well. We bought the quince paste in a bar, which meant that it was harder than the apple and cider or plum and port fruit pastes. It went well with the Devon Blue cheese as it is quite sweet and was tempered by the flavour of the blue cheese. Also, it is worth noting that the colour on the quince paste is amazing.
The pear, apple and herb chutney worked well with the brie. It was a really good combination of flavours. The plum and port paste was very tasty; quite rich and strong but not as sweet as the quince.
Of course, it’s important not to confuse the cheese board with the Cheese Board. They might get a bit sniffy if you try and smother them in chutney.
The final accompaniment had to be some beer. Which type of beer should you match with cheese? In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a good barley wine (you also won’t go very far afterwards either, they tend to be pretty strong). The now-defunct O’Hanlons Brewery has been replaced by the new Hanlons Brewery and they are producing some really good beer (I enjoyed their Stormstay a few months ago). Sadly, though, they are no longer brewing the O’Hanlons Special Reserve so there is a dwindling supply in circulation. We had a couple of bottles of the 2010 beer: rich and smooth and a good match for the cheese, with its aroma of brown sugar.
It turns out that we didn’t buy enough cheese and we ended up with far more accompaniment than things for them to accompany. Luckily, they have a multitude of uses and we made good use of the plum and port paste as a glaze for some chicken. This works very well, if I do say so myself.
And those chicken thighs bring to a close part one. Part two of this cheesy adventure takes in one of the iconic names in cheese history: Cheddar.