Home-based for the duration, I have discovered woolly jumpers I thought I had thrown out years ago, and I am happily wearing them, in layers to keep out the cold.
And the prospect of spending the next few months that take us into winter and then springtime without the chance of a quick escape to the sunshine of South Africa is making me feel very dreary indeed.
But my usual search for sunshine does have its downside and that is that I rarely get to experience many of the cold winter foods and wines that make this season feel wholesome and enjoyable.
I have recently completed a tasting of cheese and port and was delighted at the depth of flavours that combine perfectly on the plate.
The tasting started out with a selection of cheeses from London-based Paxton & Whitfield, cheesemongers to the Queen, alongside a range of Fonseca ports.
That was delicious, but with opened bottles and a need to taste cheeses from closer to home, I expanded the tasting to include ports from other producers and a range of excellent cheeses from the Courtyard Dairy in Austwick, near Settle. This award-winning dairy is run by Andy and Kathy Swinscoe, who only last week were recognised by the Guild of Fine Food for their outstanding contribution to fine food. Another outstanding contribution made by the Courtyard Dairy is the fact that for every pound spent with them, 40 pence stays within 40 miles of the shop.
And you don’t have to drive out to Settle to buy your cheese. It does a fabulous mail-order service (www.thecourtyarddairy.co.uk) or you can buy its cheeses at various places around the county including Field & Fawcett in York, Porter Brook Deli in Sheffield and George & Joseph in Chapel Allerton.
So with cheeses and ports lined up, these made the best matches.
Fonseca Siroco, Dry White Port, DrinksWell, Ripon, £19.95: White port is unusual in that it is made only from white grapes such as Malvasia Fina and Arinto and fermented longer than red ports to give a drier taste. Delicious in summer when it can be served as a long drink, over ice, topped up with tonic and a sprig of mint, it can also be chilled and served as an aperitif.
This was paired with a ripe, aged Manchego cheese and the savoury notes in the cheese complemented the nuttiness of the dry white port.
It was also delightful alongside Cáis Na Tíre sheep’s milk cheese from a small farm in Tipperary, Ireland, with its nutty, toasty notes blending perfectly with the port.
Fonseca Premium Reserve Bin 27, Derventio Wines, Malton, £11.50: Bin 27 is a wood-aged premium ruby port, packed with robust cassis and plum flavours, with soft velvety tannins. It is the kind of port you need close at hand after a wintry walk with the dogs. I was surprised just how well it went with Golden Cross, a charcoal-coated creamy goat’s cheese from East Sussex where saltiness in the cheese was perfectly complemented by the port. I then matched it alongside a three-week old Hebden Goat, made from a flock of just 10 goats by Gillian Clough on her farm at Hebden Bridge. It was a good match but if you don’t like goat’s cheese, try it instead with Old Winchester, a cow’s milk cheese that has a sweet-tasting, tangy Gouda style.
Fonseca Late Bottle Vintage Port 2015, Roberts & Speight, Beverley, £14.99: This is an unfiltered port so it is more robust and powerful than many other LBV ports, but thankfully it doesn’t need decanting. It has a full flavour of black fruits and plums with notes of chocolate and rounded tannins.
This was an absolutely perfect match with Westcombe Cheddar, from Batcombe Vale in Somerset. The creamy complex flavour combined well with the port. I then matched it with Hafod Cheddar, made from the milk of Ayrshire cows on a windy farm overlooking the Irish sea in Wales. This is a buttery Cheddar, with a tangy finish and I loved it with the port.
Paxton’s 10 year-old Tawny Port, £24.50: This is made by Fonseca, so it has the same family-style, but with complexity from being aged in wood for 10 years. It has notes of Christmas cake, with dried fruit, and even a hint of liquorice. This was matched against an award-winning unpasteurised Gruyère Premier Cru cheese which I loved, with or without the port. The cheese itself has fruity notes, with hints of caramel and an almost crunchy texture. I also teamed it with Summer Field Alpine Cheese, made at Botton Creamery, near Whitby, which is produced only in the summer months when the cows are at pasture. Made to a Gruyère recipe, this has the right supple nuttiness with a slightly more crumbly texture than the Gruyère.
While this 10 year-old Tawny showed well, I have a definite preference for Noval 10 year-old which has a layer of nutty spice and elegance on the finish. Available from Waitrose and at Bon Coeur, priced at around £25.
Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2008, Latitude Wines, Leeds, £28.99: A gorgeous port, made from foot-trodden grapes, in granite lagars that are around the same size as a toddler’s swimming pool. Matured in bottle, this kind of port throws a sediment, but its concentration and complexity of flavour makes it well worth pulling the cork and decanting. This was matched up alongside a Shropshire Blue which was good, the savoury notes in the cheese combining well. I actually preferred it with the Gruyère, where the flavours harmonised perfectly. I also tried it with Sparkenhoe Blue made in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, from unpasteurised cow’s milk where its texture and mellow flavour combines well with the port.
Leeds Blue was also on the cheese board and this smooth, creamy sheep’s milk cheese was a good match with the Vintage Port, but it was an absolute corker poured alongside the Bishop of Norwich Late Bottled Vintage from South Africa. Sold under the Liberator label, this is available from Harrogate Wines & Roberts and Speight at around £22.
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