A staple of every Brie-tish Christmas is, undoubtedly, the cheese board. However you choose to spend your holidays, nothing could be feta at warding off the winter bleus than treating yourself to some cheese by the fire. But with so many types to choose from, what could be gouda enough to be yours on the big day? We spoke to Webb Freckingham, one of the owners of The Cheese Shop on Flying Horse Walk, to cheddar light on the grate-st cheese this festive cheese-on…
How long have you guys been open now?
We've been open for twenty years - we're going into our twentieth year in December. Frightening, really! It never seemed like it was going to be like that, but we must be doing something right because people kept coming back…
Which cheeses would you recommend this Christmas?
A hot cheese at Christmas is always Stilton. Everybody loves Stilton at Christmas! We're lucky because we've got Colston Bassett and Cropwell Bishop - two local dairies producing great products on our doorstep. Most people want cheddar on their cheese board, such as Montgomery's cheddar, but you could also have Keynes from Somerset. Or we've got Isle of Mull, which is sharp and acidic, always a winner at Christmas. If you’re after goat’s cheese, we’d recommend a little goat cheese called Tor, which is ash-ripened. Beautiful, it’s a little bit citrusy, a little bit chalky.
Then some Rutland Red is great, for a bit of colour. It’s a Red Leicester style cheese. Then, of course, you want something soft like Baron Bigod, which is a brie from East Suffolk, in a little village called Bungie. But you could have Tunworth or Waterloo, which is made with Guernsey cows milk which is rich and buttery, or Stinking Bishop - it's washed, pungent and smelly. At Christmas time, cheese is always popular. It's down to the individual but they'll be some of the most popular we sell.
For those who may not be too fond of Stilton but still want to try something local, do you have anything else from these parts?
We've also got a Lincolnshire Poacher from Lincolnshire, Cote Hill blue from Lincolnshire, Market Rasen… We've got Sparkenhoe Red Leicester from just over the border in Leicestershire, and Sage Derby, which is now being made back in Derbyshire, so that's going to be made by Hartington Creamery - that's quite exciting. And it's a traditional one, it's got no colouring and no flavourings, it's just flavoured with sage.
How would you recommend people have their cheese at Christmas?
It's down to personal preference. Some people like it with bread, some people like it with crackers, some people like flavoured crackers. Some people like chutneys, pickled onions… the list is endless. Honey drizzled over blue cheese is to die for, because it just gives you that little bit of sweetness and you've got the salty blue - absolutely perfect. Or warm mince pies in the oven - carefully take the lid off, put a little bit of stilton on the top of the mince pie, put the lid back on and let it melt a little bit. Oh, it’s absolutely stunning!
Everybody loves Stilton at Christmas! We're lucky because we've got Colston Bassett and Cropwell Bishop
Have you got a personal favourite at the moment?
Too many, that's the problem! I do like Rollright, which is a little spruce branded cheese, and I must say I'm always partial to a blue, whether it's Stilton, Lanark, Cotehill, or Beauvale, which is local to us from Cropwell. Stunning cheeses! And at this time of year, what could be nicer than sitting in front of the fire with a nice glass of red wine and a selection of cheese?
What are the weirdest cheeses that can be found in the shop?
We’ve got one that's washed from Scotland and it's called Minger. It’s a weird name, but it's very popular - it's like an English style. Then we've got a Cheese Maker’s Special, from Alsop and Walker, and that is to die for - it’s aged for at least ten months but it's more like fourteen. It's sweet, but it's got crystals in the cheese, so it just gives you that little burst of flavour and texture.
Do you have any vegan cheeses in the shop, for those with a plant-based diet?
No, we don't touch vegan cheese because we are strictly dairy! So, it would be difficult to avoid cross contamination, and realistically it's just not worth that hassle. The pre-packed vegan stuff is the same stuff that you can get in the supermarkets, so it's not really our scene. So, if you can't do it well, I always think, don't do it at all.
Thanks for the chat! Before we go, have you got anything else that you want to add or shout out?
It will be busy - we're always busy at Christmas. Please be patient if you're in the queue - we're working long hours and long days and some days it can be a little bit tough but everybody will get served and we'll do what we can. And at the end of the day, enjoy it! But remember The Cheese Shop isn't just open for Christmas. So we're here all the rest of the year as well.
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