Five of the best cheeses
(Filed: 10/12/2005)

Paul Lay has a host of alternatives to stinking bishop, star of "that film"

There was a time when a chunk of Stilton, a slice of Brie and a plate of stale crackers was thought sufficient "afters" for the surprisingly large number of people who prefer not to follow the turkey with Christmas pudding. Not any more. Today's cheese-lover is spoilt for choice, with specialist suppliers offering an eye-popping array of the ancient, the modern, the rare and the traditional by mail order.

Strong contender: Ardrahan is a pungent alternative to Stinking Bishop

The one problem this year will be getting hold of Charles Martell's cult West Country cheese, Stinking Bishop. Its prominence in the latest Wallace and Gromit movie - or "that film", as cheesemakers call it - has left him struggling to cope with demand. But here are five very available, very different and very fine fromages, all of which will be in tip-top condition come Christmas Day.

The cheeses are available via the websites for home delivery, but do get orders in quickly if you wish to guarantee arrival by Christmas.

For the fashionable
Vacherin Mont d'Or

A seasonal French staple, beloved of Gordon Ramsay, and now established as the cheese of choice for the chattering classes, Vacherin is a nutty, smelly, unctuous delight from the Franche-Comté. The specialist cheesemonger La Fromagerie washes the top crust in Arbois wine to further develop the flavour. The shop's baby boxes of Vacherin make a delightful Christmas present.

For the pudding lover
Kirkham's Lancashire Graham

Kirkham's buttery, mellow and herbaceous Lancashire is a treat in its own right, but it also makes a surprisingly good combination with Christmas pudding. As it warms against the grain of a raisin-rich pud, it turns into a soft, silky "custard", giving off a lovely, warming smell.

For the trencherman

For an equally pungent, slightly stronger alternative to Stinking Bishop, try Ardrahan, another washed-rind cheese, this time from County Cork. It's rich with the flavour of farmyard straw and just a hint of bacon. A substantial, meaty cheese. £9.95 for a third of a cheese (about 500g), from Teddington Cheese

For the connoisseur
Gorwydd Caerphilly

"The staff's favourite cheese," according to Chris George, the man in charge of tastings at Neal's Yard Dairy, this is a million miles away from the dry, flaky commercial fodder that bears the same name. Though technically a hard cheese, the rind ripens into the cheese to create a delicious, cream frame around the crumbly, minerally interior. Great with oatmeal biscuits.

For the adventurous
Robiola Bosina

Delicate, savoury, even a little sour, this rare mixture of ewe's and cow's milk from Piedmont is one of Europe's oldest styles, praised by Pliny. Its complex, lingering aftertaste and chewy texture should satisfy even the most sophisticated palate.


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