The winter feast has a long history in many cultures; a time to break from the darkness and cold and the lean times, to celebrate life and plenty almost in spite of the darkness. Central to this feast has always been the preserved foods stored from the summer and autumn, kept from rotting and decay through salting, drying, smoking and pickling. One of the most ancient and most successful ways of preserving the goodness of plentiful times is cheese. A wonderful and almost magical process that turns rich nutritious fresh liquid milk from lush summer pastures into a firm food that keeps its nutritional value and can be aged and matured for months and even years. Not only of such practical use; we have developed ways to make countless delicious varieties of this miracle food. And so cheese is central to the winter feast; in Ireland we forgot for many generations but it has returned as part of a new Christmas tradition. Maybe twenty years ago only a ‘posh’ house would have some Stilton and maybe vintage Cheddar with Port after dinner on Christmas day but now so many households have their favourite cheeses and very often their favourite Irish cheeses.
Every year I gather my favourite cheeses on the way out the door of the shop on Christmas Eve; looking forward to enjoying them after dinner the next day, I think only once did I manage to actually eat them at the Christmas dinner table, who has space after several delicious courses to start on a plate of cheese. Mostly they get brought out on Stephens’s day while watching a movie; and I have to say I love my Stephens day cheese feast!