First mince pie done, now for the cheese board

First mince pie of the year. Warm, crumbly with a splodge of clotted cream………..mmmm lovely! In a couple of weeks time, the words, “would you like a mince pie with that?” will no doubt take on a daunting one-more-mint overtone and induce an inward groan, but the very first one of the year still retains the  promise of a magical Christmas.

This first mince pie came courtesy of another of those festive traditions – a hamper full of goodies. There’s something special about getting a hamper through the post, opening it to see what’s packaged within so I’d like to say a big thank you to the people at Interflora for sending this Christmas Festivities Hamper

Well what is inside?

At first view this looks like a parcel for the sweet-toothed. Alongside The Old Chapel mince pies there’s a whole host of sweetie goodies (see the full list below) but digging a little deeper and there’s also some savoury treats – Duchy rosemary and thyme cheddar cheese nibbles and Bromley’s sticky onion chutney.

As most of my expected Christmas lunch guests are big cheese fans, I’m still making up my mind on what cheeses to offer.

While everyone expects the usual Stilton, brie and cheddar, North Yorkshire is blessed with plenty of fantastic regional cheeses and I’d like to introduce them to guests coming from across the UK, so in the name of research, today I re-visited a couple of old favourite’s which will most certainly make it onto the final cheeseboard.

The fresh, flavour of semi-hard, unpasteurised  Cotherstone which hails from a small dairy in the nearby Teesdale village of the same name is quite a complex cheese. It’s not of the strong or stinky variety, instead it has a lightness which is almost the essence of the grasslands.

The other (in the green rind) is the well-known Wensleydale from the Hawes dairy. This was the mature version – dense, deeply flavoursome and crumbly – a complete contrast to its northern cousin.

The acidity and sharpness of the sticky onion chutney made a perfect companion for the Wensley although was perhaps a little too strong for the delicate Cotherstone which is better with no relish.

A plate heaped up with the Duchy nibbles (which are just that – little bite sized nibbles which are too cheesy to be topped with cheese) provides a fragrant rosemary kick which can liven up the cheese board.

It’s these little extras which I think make receiving a hamper a pleasure, there’s quite a few things in there which I wouldn’t have thought to have put on the shopping list, but thinking up different ways to incorporate them is part of the festive excitement.

Plus I’m a bit of a sucker for wicker baskets – and now I’ll have something left over which can hold its own on picnics next year.

* The other items in the Interflora Christmas Festivities Hamper (£70) were; Twinning tea selection, two bottles of wine (a white Macebo 2008 and red Tempranillo 2006), clotted cream fudge, clotted cream biscuits, fruit cake topped with sugar crystals (Maxwell and franks), choc chunk shortbread, Foxhill strawberry jam and cranberry sauce, milk and dark selection of chocolates from Beech’s and of course – Christmas pudding (Maxwells & Franks).

(Note: The cheese, salad and Devon clotted cream pictured are my own additions. The hamper was supplied free-of-charge for review purposes).