Delicious Dorset cheeses for Christmas
- Credit: thebookandbucketcheesecompany.co.uk
Mark Hartstone’s cheeseboard at La Fosse in Cranborne is award-winning, so we asked him to suggest some local cheeses to put on your Christmas table or send in the post
Cheese in my book should play a star role at Christmas. Be it an extra course to make a meal feel decadent, a handy base to a buffet, a late-night snack, or an easy lunch when paired with your local baker’s bread (at La Fosse we use Orchard Bay Bakery's brilliant sourdough, they are based nearby at Holwell Farm).
Local to us in Cranborne is the multi-award-winning cheesemaker The Book and Bucket, headed up by Peter Morgan. Their Huxley (all the cheeses are named after authors) – a cows’ milk halloumi style cheese - seared on a griddle and served as a starter is sublime (there is also a Huxley Fire with Dorset Naga chilli for more heat!), their ewes' milk halloumi style cheese Burns (and Smokey Burns an oak smoked version) can also be cooked the same way.
Their latest creation Cranborne Blue – a rich and creamy blue cheese – not only features on our cheeseboard but as an ingredient lifts many a sauce to celestial heights. In my youth cheesemakers tended to make just one or two cheeses, now the likes of Peter Morgan make over 20 cheeses, so ordering cheese selection direct from the producer is an easy way of supporting your local artisan, and they also make great gifts. The Book and Bucket and James' Cheese offer cheese hampers and bundles.
Not sure what to choose? Cheesemongers such as Parlourmentary (in Southbourne and also online parlourmentary.com) are a splendid place to browse and sample a selection from around the county. Dorset and Hampshire farmers’ markets, as well as Dorset Food & Drink events (their Christmas Fair is at Athelhampton, December 4 & 5 - pre-book), are where you will often find the smaller artisan cheesemakers who may not have a presence anywhere else.
Keep an eye out for tasty collaborations too, Lyburn Farm, on the edge of the New Forest and affineur (someone who expertly ages/matures cheeses) James McCall of James’s Cheese based at Child Okeford in Dorset, collaborated to create Francis a pungent but delicious washed rind cheese. Another is Golding - a collaboration between Executive Chef, James Golding of Pig Hotels and The Book and Bucket Cheese Company. Golding is a pressed sheep’s milk ricotta, a cheese that James recalls from his childhood, they also do a truffled version.
If you’re watching your calories, there is even a Dorset cheese that ticks that box. Dorset Blue Vinny (made at Woodbridge Farm near Sturminster Newton), which won gold at the 2018 World Cheese Awards, is actually made of skimmed milk. So, you can feel virtuous when enjoying this locally made cheese, which was a favourite with Thomas Hardy.
Curating your local cheeseboard: When it comes to creating a balanced cheeseboard, select a cheese or two from the five following categories:
Soft, mould ripened: Shakespeare a ewes’ milk camembert by The Book & Bucket Cheese Company just won gold at the 2021 World Cheese Awards, so would be a great choice and a good talking point to have a world class Dorset cheese on your board. thebookandbucketcheesecompany.co.uk
Semi hard: Stoney Cross, from Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers, is a 2-star Great Taste Awards winner. Mould ripened, not dissimilar to a French Tomme De Savoie, it is creamy, buttery in texture with sweet flavours, and a distinctly earthy finish - a real crowd pleaser. lyburnfarm.co.uk
Hard: Keens is a family with five generations of cheesemaking pedigree. Since 1899 they have been making traditional cheddar, with raw unpasteurised milk from grass fed cows that graze on their farm on the Dorset/Somerset border. Choose from: Mature – sweet, strong and nutty or Extra Mature - tangy and rich. keenscheddar.co.uk
Wash rind: The aforementioned Francis made by James’ Cheese at Child Okeford is based on the identical recipe to Stoney Cross though matured differently. It is also suitable for vegetarians as it uses vegetarian rennet. jamesscheese.club
Blue: Two strong Dorset contenders for this - one ancient and one modern - Dorset Blue Vinny made using a 300-year-old traditional Dorset recipe, and Cranborne Blue created this year – why not opt for both! dorsetblue.com
Come and visit: If you want to take your taste buds on a tour of the multi-award-winning cheeseboard at my restaurant La Fosse, then book online at la-fosse.com, if travelling from further afield a stay with La Fosse at Cranborne B&B could be the ideal Christmas treat or give us a voucher. And if you’re coming this way, put an order into The Book & Bucket cheesemakers down the road!