Christmas cake with cheese? It could only be Yorkshire

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FROM coal carrying, to gooseberry shows, Yorkshire has more than its fair share of weird and wonderful traditions often lost on the rest of the world.

But there is one festive custom which is set to take dinner tables by storm, if local producers and culinary experts get their way.

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

For centuries Yorkshiremen and women have celebrated yuletide with a bite of Christmas cake and cheese - yet this surprisingly scrumptious combination has failed to catch on both north and south of the border.

Some of the region’s hopeful that increasing appetite for ‘fusion’ food, coupled with a more adventurous market, will help the dish become as synonymous with the festive season as turkey and trimmings.

Championing the crusade is North Yorkshire’s artisan cheesemaker Shepherds Purse.

“I am amazed it hasn’t really caught on elsewhere by now, but I think it could,” said director Caroline Bell.

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

“Cheese is something we always have at Christmas, we have fruit in cheese and fruity chutneys as an accompaniment, so eating it with Christmas cake is not that big a step.

“We have tried to promote it in the past, and even made a special Christmas cake with cheese in it.

“People are definitely more willing to try new things these days, we have been in business for 25 years and it’s something that in our experience has really taken off.

“Hopefully this adventurousness will encourage people to try different combinations and embrace Christmas cake with cheese.”

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Experts at Shepherds Purse recommend a strong blue cheese atop a slab of moist, rich cake laden with dried fruit and mixed peel. Though there are quirkier combinations for the more fearless foodies.

“We have Katy’s White Lavender, which is flavoured with lavender, it’s a more delicate flavour to blue but would bring a completely different dimension.”

In the past, Yorkshire’s famous baker Betty’s has served up a slice of Wensleydale with Christmas cake in its cafes.

A spokeswoman said: “It’s something of a long tradition and not thought of as unusual at all in the county.”

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Caroline Bell with the cheese and cake combination. Pictures by Simon Hulme

Leeds’ Peter Brears, one of Britain’s leading food historians, has traced it back to Victorian England, when Christmas cake first began being served up during festivities.

He said: “It is definitely a Yorkshire thing which goes back at least until the 19th century, and I know that because my grandparents were born in the 1890s and it was very much part of their Christmas celebrations. People here recognised that when you have something which is rich and sweet it’s good to have something savoury with it.

The tradition is thought to have originated with Wensleydale, not in the mild, creamy way most know it today, but a stronger-tasting one not unlike the blue recommended by Shepherds Purse, or the Blue Wensleydale produced in the Yorkshire creamery.

“When Wensleydale came in is was completely different, it was essentially a blue cheese like Stilton but it was expensive to produce,” said Mr Brears.

“These days everyone has their own preferences.

“It’s one of those things which is perfectly normal in Yorkshire, yet when you go anywhere else you get a horrified look and I think it would be good to spread its appeal.

“Like we say here, Christmas cake without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.”