18 December 2013

How To Create The Perfect Christmas Cheese Board

HAVING WORKED with artisan cheeses for nearly a year now, I'm really looking forward to making the cheese board for the family this Christmas.

When it comes to choosing cheese for several people (ten in my case), you need to consider other peoples' tastes.  Some like blue cheese, some don't; some like goat's cheese, some don't.  

Then there are cheeses like Brie, cheddar and Stilton - cheeses no Christmas cheese plate are complete without.

Here are my tips for your Christmas cheeses selection:

A recent trip to the I.J Mellis Cheesemonger's warehouse.
  • You're looking for around 50g per cheese per person. This gives everyone a decent taste of everything.
  • Think about styles and textures: hard, soft, semi-soft; cows (milk), goats, ewes; smoked and non-smoked and blue. You want variety.
  • Stilton is at its best this time of year and Christmas sees amazing cheeses like Vacherin Mont D'or come into season.  So consider that for something traditional and special.
  • Pick the right accompaniments.  I firmly recommend Scottish oatcakes like Adamsons of Pittenween or Arran Minis.  Honey and apples are a very classic partners for cheese, while quince jelly is perfect because it works so well with most cheeses.
  • Store your cheeses properly.  Most cheeses (ask your cheesemonger for advice) will easily keep for 10 days if you store them properly. Cheese likes humidity, so keep them in the fridge in a cardboard box or in the veg drawer.
  • Leave the cheeses out for around 45 minutes before eating - this will ensure flavour is maximised. 

My cheese board started with Colston Bassett Stilton.  This is regarded as the finest of Stiltons and, as I mentioned before, is best around this time of year.

There are a few non-blue eaters in my house, so I resisted adding some amazing Scottish blues like Lanark Blue or Dunsyre Blue.

For my goat offering, I chose Ragstone.  It's made by Neil's Yard and I love the soft texture and notes of honey and citrus.

Cheddar has always been one of my most loved cheeses.  I opted for Keen's cheddar as I like the full flavoured, earthiness of it.

Prima Donna is a favourite with staff in the shop and there's no way i could leave it out.  It's always the one i use when people are looking for a special cheese. It's a Parmesan/Gouda hybrid from The Netherlands and it's toffee notes and crystalline texture make this an outstanding eat.

Golden Crosses maturing.
I couldn't resist three-time 'Best Cheese In The World' winner Ossau Iraty.  The milk quality really shines through on this wonderful cheese from the Basque Pyrenees.

Brie De Meaux needs no introduction and is a must for any cheese board, any time of the year.

Smoked Lancashire should prove a popular choice and will give my board a smokey dimension to it.  

Last but not least, I went for something local in the form of Anster.  My dad proposed to my mum in Anstruther, where this cheese is made, so I thought it would be nice to showcase one of Scotland's truly great cheeses at Christmas. 

It's similiar to Wensleydale in texure, but far superior in taste.  It's creamy, slightly sour notes make it one you can really be proud of when we have tourists asking about Scottish cheese.

5 December 2013

Stornoway black pudding, seared scallop with caramelised apple, apple + onion velouté and Parma ham crisp.

Scallops and Stornoway black pudding are just two examples of the fabulous produce we have in Scotland. Not only do they taste great, they also require very little cooking time -  ideal for coming home on those cold winter nights.  Please make sure you buy hand-dived and not dredged scallops. Visit a reputable fish monger (I use Something Fishy on Broughton St.)  and avoid supermarket fish counters where possible.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1/4 Charles MacLeod Stornoway black pudding (or 300g equivalent) 
2x  Scallops
3x  Apples (Granny Smith's are my usual choice)
1 Large onion, finely diced
Caster sugar
Chicken stock
White pepper
Bunch of chives, finely chopped
75ml Double cream
2 Slices Parma ham
Rapeseed oil
20g Butter


1) Turn grill onto high heat. Sweat the onions for the velouté in a medium-hot pan for 8-10 mins until soft, do not allow to colour.
2) Add the apples and gently cook until they start to break down, season, add the chicken stock to cover and cook until apples are soft enough to cut through.
3) While the velouté cooks, place a non-stick frying pan on a high heat.  Place a piece of greaseproof paper on top of the slices of Parma ham, lightly oil the pan and press the Parma ham down flat for 1-2 mins.  Flip over for another minute, ensuring Parma ham is pressed down flat. Set aside on kitchen roll.
4) Blitz the velouté and check seasoning. Set aside in a pan to reheat later.
5) Place the sugar in a dry pan and allow to melt to make caramel.  When sugar turns brown, add a splash of water to stop cooking, then add apple segments. Cook for 2 mins on each side, then set aside.
6) Slice the black pudding to give a flat base and then slice diagonally to create two equal portions (see pic). Place under the grill for around 3 mins, turning after two minutes.
7) Place a non-stick frying pan on a high heat.  Oil the scallops and place in pan for 1 minute.
8) As the scallops cook, remove the black pudding and place in middle of the bowl.  Ladle the velouté into bowl.
9) Turn scallop, add butter and baste.  Remove and place next to black pudding. Place Parma ham crisp in between the two, place apple segments around plate and sprinkle around the chopped chives.

Season and serve. 

Please source your fish and shellfish ethically and responsibly.