Christmas is a time for celebrating, and enjoying food with friends and family remains one of the best ways to do so. As any turophile, or cheese lover, will attest, cheese is a good idea any time of year, but all good festive feasts call for a cheese board.
For many people, Christmas has long been the ultimate occasion for over-indulging. While too much of anything in excess is widely agreed to be bad for you, remember that cheese contains protein, calcium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus, making a little bit of what you fancy less guilt-inducing than you might realise.
Cheese fanciers maintain that diners should begin their cheese appreciation with a goats’ cheese, which refreshes the palate. As tempting as it might be to make a beeline for the Stilton, the quintessential Christmas cheese, experts recommend saving this until last, as its big mineral bite can overpower other flavours.
For those unconvinced that the fat of livestock is a delicacy, we’ve also included a selection of vegan cheese, for our plant-based readers. With the exception of the vegan selection, don’t forget to remove your cheese from the fridge an hour prior to eating; bringing a cheese to room temperature ensures optimum flavour.
The Courtyard Dairy Christmas Cheese Collection: £23.95 for 650g (small, 2-5 people) or £40.50 for 1.2kg (large, 5-10 people), The Courtyard Dairy
What’s included? St Andrew’s cheddar, Kirkham’s Lancashire, Tunworth camembert, Dorstone goats’ cheese, Stichelton and Membrillo quince paste.
This best of British selection got our taste buds working overtime with its exceptional selection of some truly delicious cheese. Cheeses arrived individually wrapped and with hand-written labels giving a charming homespun feel to affairs.
The Lancashire cheese was a delight – fluffy and incredibly creamy – while the Stichelton, an unpasteurised stilton, was creamy, soft and smooth. Heralded as a “Camembert good enough to make a Frenchman weep”, the Tunworth won the Supreme Champion Cheese at the 2013 British Cheese Awards. With its truffly flavour, it’s a worthy winner indeed.
The Dorstone claims to be one of the UK’s most outstanding goats’ milk cheeses and its citrusy taste and mousse-like texture made it an instant hit with our reviewers. A tangy St Andrew’s cheddar and some Membrillo quince paste conclude this perfect cheese board.
Sainsbury’s Cheese Selection, Taste the Difference: £8 for 580g, Sainsbury’s
What’s included? Barber’s Cruncher Cheddar, Shropshire Red, blue stilton, French brie and French goats’ cheese.
A very close contender for the IndyBest Buy, this board offers some mouth-watering cheese at an excellent price. Kicking off with a moreish Barber’s Cruncher – a sweet, mature cheddar containing tiny crystals that form naturally in the cheese during the ageing process, which give it a delicate crunchy texture – we followed with a fresh and creamy goats’ cheese.
The Shropshire Red has an impressive depth of flavour, while the blue stilton was robust and delicious. A French brie completed this selection, which proved to be a real crowd-pleaser. Each individual cheese is wrapped in cellophane and while it’s not much to look at, it exceeded all expectations.
Paxton and Whitfield Seasonal Collection: £65 for 2kg, Paxton and Whitfield
What’s included? Stilton, Montgomery cheddar, Mont d’or, Cerney pyramid and Brie de meaux.
While this selection may be more expensive than other cheese boards featured, it’s important to acknowledge the sheer enormity of the cheeses on offer – there’ll be no squabbling over servings with a selection this size.
The Seasonal Collection comprises an award-winning deep and earthy Montgomery cheddar, a herby, silky brie and a punchy stilton, bold and rich, while the Cerney pyramid – a fresh goats’ cheese, rolled in sea salt and ash – cleanses the palate and cuts through the richness of the accompanying cheese.
Finally, the Mont d’or, with its truffly, unctuous taste: truly a cheese designed to separate the veteran cheese enthusiasts from the novices. Arriving lovingly wrapped in greaseproof paper, these five monumental wedges are perfect for special occasions and sophisticated palates.
Fortnum & Mason Classic British Cheese Box: £40 for 780g, Fortnum & Mason
What’s included? Tunworth camembert, Colston Bassett stilton, Isle of Mull cheddar and Dorstone goats’ cheese.
This classic collection does not disappoint with its selection of four festive faves. While the usual Christmas contenders are all present and correct, the board as a whole offers many complex and interesting flavours. The cheddar is barnyardy, the goats’ cheese creamy and the camembert ripe and buttery.
Upon tasting the stilton, one of our reviewers remarked dreamily that it “takes me back to Somerset” – high praise indeed.
Waitrose The Perfect Cheese board: £6 for 490g, Waitrose
What’s included? Taw Valley mature cheddar, Long Clawson stilton, Belton Farm red leicester, French brie and Yorkshire wensleydale with cranberry.
As the most economical selection in our round up, this small, but perfectly formed board consists of five classic cheeses and is ideal for smaller gatherings or hungry mouths – our tester devoured most of the creamy red leicester alone.
The Yorkshire wensleydale with cranberries is the perfect choice for Christmas, while the cheddar lends itself to chutney, so make sure you stock up in advance. While brie is often criticised for being too bland, our testers were pleased to find this particular cut creamy and flavourful.
Asda Extra Special Cheese Selection: £8 for 590g, Asda
What’s included? Brie de Pays, blue stilton, mature cheddar, mature red leicester and vintage gouda.
This entry-level cheese board comes complete with faux-wood cheese flags labelled with the name of each cheese, perfect for identifying each block once the packaging has been removed. Our testers found the red leicester sweet and well rounded, the cheddar rich and smooth, and particularly enjoyed the vintage gouda, which was robust and nutty with soft caramel notes and a subtle crunch. While it won’t win any awards for radical flavours, this board is ideal for the cheese novice.
The Ultimate One – Kinda Co. Christmas Cheese board: £50 for 1.07kg, Kinda Co.
What’s included? Farmhouse cheddar, white cheddar and cranberry, blue block, chilli block, garlic and herb round, smoked paprika round, faux lox and dill creamy spread, nacho dip and spiced winter chutney.
Dairy-free cheese specialists, Kinda Co. have come up trumps with this comprehensive selection of vegan cheese, perfect for the plant-based feeders in your brood. Our vegan experts found the farmhouse cheddar smooth, spreadable and buttery, while the chilli block was smoky with a good kick. The blue block had an acidic tang, which recreated the sharp flavour of a traditional dairy stilton, and was soft and spreadable, but the real hit was the paprika round, which was beautifully smoky and tasted like chorizo.
Accompanying the cheeses were a jar of faux lox and dill creamy spread – a cross between smoked salmon and lemon sorbet – a nacho dip and spiced winter chutney. Vegan customers can also purchase this selection in “mini” and “middle” sizes.
The verdict: best Christmas cheese boards
For quality and taste, the Dairy Courtyard’s Christmas Cheese Collection comes top, closely followed by the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference cheese selection, which offers delicious products for an excellent price. A more adventurous selection can be found in the Paxton and Whitfield collection, which features complex cheeses for turophiles and novices alike.