Scotland’s finest: the best cheeses for Burns Night

Desert island cheeses: our chefs’ must-have varieties

by Great British Chefs 29 April 2016

We all love a good cheeseboard, but which cheeses do the UK's Michelin-starred chefs have to sneak a bite of after service? From Montgomery's cheddar to Strathdon Blue, we asked ten of the best to pick their favourites.

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With over 750 varieties to choose from, chefs have never had it better when it comes to creating a cheeseboard. Instead of the sorry selection of yesteryear which didn’t go further than blocks of industrially produced cheddar, red Leicester, Stilton and perhaps something studded with cranberries, we now have access to artisan ewe’s milk, bloomy wheels, waxed truckles and deep-veined blues. There are so many, in fact, that restaurants are often able to source their entire cheese selection from within their own county.

But if forced to choose, which varieties would Britain’s Michelin-starred chefs pick? Does cheddar reign supreme, or are the newer, modern cheeses being devoured behind closed kitchen doors? Hear what ten dairy-obsessed Great British Chefs had to say on the matter, and plan your next cheeseboard accordingly.

The chefs

Shaun Hill, The Walnut Tree Inn, Abergavenny

‘There is no doubt that cheddar is, or at least can be, one of the world's finest cheeses, and at its best it is the best. Don't be fooled by the mediocre offerings purporting to be the real thing; a mature cheddar from Barbers, Montgomery’s, Keen’s or Quickes is the best cheese you can hope for.

‘I like it because of its depth of flavour, texture and fruity farmyard smell, like a great Burgundy. It's a cheese that has been traduced by the greedy and unscrupulous but can still, amazingly, tower above the rest.’

Russell Brown, former head chef of Sienna

‘My favourite British cheese is Beenleigh Blue, a ewe’s milk variety made by Ticklemore cheese in Devon. This was often on my cheeseboard and was also used for the cheese course on the tasting menu.

‘Beenleigh has a lovely crumbly texture and is quite light when young, becoming richer and creamier as it matures. It is the perfect British alternative to Roquefort. It works well with sweet accompaniments such as ripe pears, sweet onion marmalades or compressed dried fruitcakes. I often used it for a savoury cheesecake.’

Frances Atkins, The Yorke Arms, Harrogate

We serve loads of Wensleydale at the Yorke Arms because it is so good and, of course, local! It is our favourite cheese because it has the correct amount of moisture, a good balance of flavour and great texture. It also goes brilliantly with savoury and sweet dishes. As is tradition in the north of England, we serve it with our house fruitcake for guests in the afternoon.’

Steven Smith, The Freemasons at Wiswell, Lancashire

I’m a big fan of Tunworth cheese, although it would be remiss of me not to say Lancashire too! In my opinion, Tunworth is giving French cheese a run for its money – it’s very similar to a soft brie and is extremely popular with my customers at The Freemasons.’

Marcello Tully, Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye

‘My favourite British cheese is undoubtedly Strathdon Blue from Blairliath Farm in Tain, Ross-shire. It’s a lovely rich mellow blue with mouth-tingling sharpness – it’s so versatile and robust, whether eaten on its own or incorporated as a component in a dish. I use it in my celery and Strathdon soup, a celeriac and Strathdon panna cotta with roast chorizo, sultanas and sesame seeds and a blue cheese mousse with our superb fillet of beef with brandy sauce.’

Adam Byatt, Trinity, London

‘One of my favourite hard English cheeses is Montgomery’s, an incredible example of traditional, handmade, unpasteurised cheddar. There is now also a Montgomery made with Jersey milk, which is just delicious. Montgomery’s is a family-run business based in Somerset that has been making cheese for generations, and they really are masters of their craft. It has an incredibly deep, nutty flavour, and is extremely versatile in its use. But it’s such a well-rounded product that a simple garnish and a knife is really all that’s needed!

While our cheese course at Trinity is ever-evolving, I have always believed that the sharp notes of a great cheddar can really punctuate a cheeseboard and elevate it to a whole new level.’

Paul Ainsworth, Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, Cornwall

‘I love Barkham Blue from Two Hoots Farm on the Hampshire/Berkshire border. I just love how creamy and salty it is with some beautiful acidity from the veining. It’s so moreish that you can’t stop eating it.

‘We give our guests a cheese menu which explains why we love it and the amazing work of the producers. From the first day I opened the doors of the restaurant I’ve never served any cheese that isn’t British. We have world-class cheese in this country and we need to sing about it.’

James Mackenzie, The Pipe and Glass Inn, Beverley

‘Tunworth is one of my favourites. We serve it on our cheeseboard and as a whole baked cheese, studded with rosemary and garlic served with walnut toast and onion chutney. I like the creamy texture and earthy flavour, and have to admit I enjoy it at the end of a busy late night service with a nice glass of wine.’

Steve Doherty, First Floor Café, Cumbria

‘Isle of Mull Cheddar is absolutely stunning with beer, a nice red wine, bread and a little bit of good local chutney and apple. We use British cheese as much as possible. Even Le Gavroche has a mixed cheeseboard these days – the only time we had British cheese on when I was there was at Christmas when we had Stilton, scooped out the old fashioned way.’

Mark Jordan, Ocean at The Atlantic, Jersey

‘My favourite cheese is actually made locally on the island by Classic Herd, an independent Jersey dairy farm run by Darren and Julia Quénault. They produce award-winning varieties, from Camembert and Brie through to a Nouveau and Golden Blue. I’m thrilled to see fantastic ingredients such as our famed Jersey milk being used to create these delicious cheeses. Knowing both Darren and Julia and being able to chart the creation of each cheese is a rewarding experience. It tastes incredible as well.’