Many diners at the Kitchin are surprised to hear that much of the produce on our cheese trolley is, in fact, sourced in Scotland. While it is undisputed that the French make an incredible range of cheeses, the varieties we produce here can often be underrated and we forget that our country has a long tradition of making cheese.
We are lucky enough to have access to a group of home-grown artisan cheesemakers, and many Scottish cheeses are still produced at small family-run creameries using traditional techniques. Cheddar remains the most popular variety made here, but you will find such a wide range of cheese – including cheddars from Mull and Orkney, deliciously creamy Highland crowdie, blue cheeses such as Dunsyre and Lanark, and cheeses like Ailsa Craig and Biggar Blue, which are made from goat’s milk. If you’re not sure what to try, the best thing to do is visit your local cheesemonger or farmers’ market, where an expert will be able to offer advice on how and where a cheese is made, as well as its taste and texture and what it is best enjoyed with.
For me, there’s no better time to indulge in some local cheese than as we approach Christmas – the season of entertaining guests, and the time of year when you always need something easy and accessible on hand to feed them with.
At the restaurant, our approach to sourcing the very best local, seasonal produce applies just as much to the cheeses we serve as to all of our other ingredients. We love being able to offer our diners something different – to let them discover cheeses from many different regions. I also like to do the same for any guests we have at our home over the festive period.
We serve cheeses to our guests at the restaurant on a trolley, which makes the whole thing much more of an experience and adds to the excitement. You can do the same at home when you’re entertaining guests. You don’t actually need a trolley, but a large wooden board is a great way to present your selection. It makes eating all the more sociable and enjoyable too – everyone can gather round, help themselves and chat about their favourites.
Not only is cheese a wonderful ingredient to be enjoyed simply, it’s so much fun creating your own cheeseboard and matching the cheeses with a range of wonderful bread, fruit, chutney, jelly and jam. Chutney is great when it is homemade, as you can choose a recipe to suit your own taste. It is also a great way to use up leftover fruit. If you make a big batch, you can buy some small kilner jars, wrap them in festive ribbon and give them as Christmas gifts. My wife Michaela is wonderful at making the food gifts we create look fun and festive, decorating them with ribbon and stickers. Our sons, Kasper and Axel, are also at the age when they want to join in and help, so this is the time of year when I’ll usually find decorations and ribbons dotted all around the house.
There are so many wonderful fruits that make perfect chutneys at this time of year, and I love trying new combinations. My current favourites include apple, grape and pear chutney or rosehip and crab apple jelly – both wonderfully festive and beautifully colourful when presented in glass jars as gifts or in small dishes on a wooden cheeseboard. Nothing looks more appetising than a thick slice of bread layered with fresh, creamy cheese and topped with a colourful dollop of your favourite chutney. Delicious.
If you really want to make a truly homemade cheeseboard, you can make your own bread or biscuits for guests to enjoy. I love serving a rich dried fruit and walnut bread with a cheeseboard at home, and it’s a bread that has featured on the retaurant’s cheese trolley over the years. The beauty of this bread is that it also freezes well, so I try to make a big batch of loaves to freeze and enjoy another day or to bring to friends when we visit.
As thoughts turn to Christmas, it’s worth remembering that edible gifts can be some of the best and most appreciated too. Early November is the perfect time to get into the kitchen and prepare ahead with some Christmas presents to store away and keep before the festive rush begins. There are lots of easy yet impressive ideas you can try.
Making your own gifts is fun and can actually be quite therapeutic in comparison to trudging round busy shops. But if you really don’t have the time to make your own, you can still create some lovely hampers if you visit your local farmers’ markets ahead of Christmas. You can pick up some wonderful, locally sourced ingredients from, jams, jellies and biscuits to cheeses, patés and fruits. Cheese is not only perfect for serving to guests, you can package it up with some Christmas ribbon or paper to make a perfect gift to take round when you’re visiting friends – it also makes a nice change from chocolates or sweet treats.
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