Food & Drink The best supermarket cheese for Christmas, tried and tested

The best supermarket cheese for Christmas, tried and tested

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A traditional Christmas cheeseboard, in Britain at least, includes stilton, cheddar and a soft cheese. It’s a perfect formula, and can be supplemented by a goat’s cheese and something left-field, like a Morbier. But going down the well-trodden path is by no means the only option. Really, there are no rules.

“Rules give you structure if you’re not sure how to go about it,” says Emma Young, author of The Cheese Wheel.“But they can be quite restrictive. My board’s always heavily weighted in the styles I like, so I’ll have five bloomy rind cheeses, or three blues. I never have one of each style.”

Choose what you like, or what your guests like, then. Why not all goats’ cheeses? Or three different bries? If you don’t like blue, don’t serve blue. The main rule is to bring the cheese to room temperature, and get around 150g per person, per sitting.

As for where you source your wedges from, “the convenience of supermarkets is brilliant, and some do a really good job of supporting good cheese,” says cheese expert Sam Wilkin. While a mild block cheddar simply won’t cut it, most chains are packed with decent options.

Look out for cheeses with PDOs or AOPs (Protected Designation of Origin). This status means they are generally made to high standards, even on an industrial scale. Alpine styles such as gruyère and comté are “quite heavily protected, and they’ll be quite good across the board,” says Young.

Waitrose and M&S have impressive ranges, selling plenty of artisan British cheese, and good imported options. But Asda and Aldi are surprisingly impressive. Prices don’t always conform to stereotype, either. The middle-class stalwarts tend to be costlier, but Brie de Meaux at Waitrose is cheaper than at Sainsbury’s and a Westcombe farmhouse cheddar at M&S is cheaper than Asda’s Keen’s version, while Keen’s at Waitrose is far cheaper than Asda. Buying everything from one shop might be convenient, but taking time to visit a few can save you money.

Having said all this, if you can, buy one cheese from a specialist shop. Christmas can represent up to 40 per cent of their sales, so a standout number surrounded by the best supermarket options can work nicely for your budget and help support an independent business.

How to make the perfect supermarket cheeseboard

Most cheese experts encourage breaking the rules, but I’m still drawn to a traditional setup. So I set out to find the best blue, cheddar, goat’s, soft and miscellaneous foreign hard cheeses available. Flavoured cheeses, such as cranberry wensleydale, are hugely popular at Christmas, but I avoid them like the plague, adding flavour instead through accompaniments.

Speaking of which, go for whatever you like in that department – I like grapes, chutneys and cornichons. As for crackers, simple water biscuits and oatcakes work best, so as not to distract from the stars of the show.

Blue cheese

Christmas isn’t Christmas without stilton. The pungent blue is a world-beater, with its peppery blue veins. Thankfully, it isn’t that expensive, and most supermarkets have good options, often from star producers Cropwell Bishop and Colston Bassett. Long Clawson is pretty decent, too. Gorgonzola and roquefort are good alternatives, having “scaled to a point where they can factory-produce really good cheese,” says Wilkin.

Star buy: No1 Colston Bassett blue stilton

Waitrose, £4 for 200g

Creamy, tangy, with plenty of veins providing consistent blue, this buttery stilton is stellar. It’s meaty and brothy, with so much flavour. It’s one of the best stiltons around. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference blue stilton is a decent cheaper option.

Best budget option: Specially Selected Shropshire blue

Aldi, £2.69 for 200g

Shropshire blue is fairly similar to stilton – indeed is made by stilton producer Long Clawson – but its orange hue provides an alluring tonal difference. It’s not all show. This creamy, tangy, peppery blue is sweet and salty, a well-balanced cheese.

Best alternative option: No.1 Gorgonzola DOP piccante

Waitrose, £3.75 for 200g

I was disappointed by most supermarket gorgonzola, but this spicy number was fabulous. It’s sweet, salty and nutty, with a fudgy texture. Less potent than stilton, it’s a good entry-level blue.


Cheddar cheese

There’s nothing wrong with block cheddar – I always have some in my fridge – but at Christmas trade up for something a little more special. Most supermarkets stock a couple of artisan producers, which tend to be good, while anything clothbound is usually decent. I’m not a fan of wax-coated cheddars, finding them pappy, and wax often smears onto the cheese.

Star buy: M&S Cornish Cruncher vintage cheddar

£5.50 for 250g, Ocado

Dry, strong, with the crystalised texture of proper mature cheddar, this is a real hit. It’s salty, but the salt isn’t overpowering. It’s well balanced with an almost wensleydale crumbliness.

Best budget option: Specially Selected 24 Months matured West Country Vintage Cheddar

Aldi, £2.99 for 300g

A very decent block. Creamy and salty; mature cheddar fans will love this rich, meaty cheese. For that price, you can’t go wrong.

Best alternative option: M&S Collection Wookey Hole cave aged cheddar

Ocado, £11 for 600g

A little pricier (although not by kilo), this wheel would make a great centrepiece. It’s mild but has a nice artisanal mustiness, and would be great with chutney or quince paste. The added bonus of (probably) guaranteed leftovers.


Soft cheese

Bries or camemberts are crucial components, and it’s worth shopping around, as there’s a huge difference in quality, style and maturation. Some I tried were flavourless. British versions such as Baron Bigod are excellent, available at posher supermarkets, but expensive. Cheaper copies were less rich and indulgent than their French counterparts.

Star buy: The Best French camembert de caractère

Morrisons, £3.19 for 250g

Wow. I was blown away by this cheese. As soon as I bit into it, I knew it had to be on my cheeseboard. It’s creamy and buttery, with a very light brassica smell. It’s salty, a tad bitter, a little lemony, but sweet, too. It’s excellent and ticks my best-for-budget box, too.

Best alternative option: No1 Rouzaire Brie de Meaux

Waitrose, £4 for 200g

If you’re more brie than camembert, this is for you. It’s buttery and creamy, slightly cruciferous. Not quite as potent as some, beginners will find it approachable. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference brie de meaux wasn’t far behind, though slightly pricier per kilo.


Goat (and sheep) cheese

Goat and sheep’s cheeses aren’t for everybody, and if you don’t like that capric tang, skip this section. I love it, and my cheeseboard always has one.

Star buy: No.1 Goat’s milk gouda

Waitrose,£4.60 for 200g

A beautiful cheese, a recognisable flavour to any gouda fan. It has that caramel sweetness, with crystallisation, plenty of salt, and a fudgy texture. There are hints of hazelnut and sugar.

Best budget option: Extra Special Ossau-Iraty

Asda, £3.50 for 180g

I like manchego but have it almost year round, so this lesser-known Basque cheese is a great alternative. It’s creamy, sweet and fresh, with a pungent rind reminiscent of good artisan cheese. It’s mild enough to not scare off the kids.

Best alternative: Rosary Goats cheese ash

Asda, £3.50 for 100g

There’s an appealing appearance to this ash-coated log that’ll get people talking. The cheese is very lemony and fresh, with a soft, moussy texture, light as a cloud. A good zingy counterpoint if your board is full of powerful cheeses.


Miscellaneous hard cheeses

I like to finish my board with another hard cheese, a curveball like Lancashire or a crowd-pleaser such as gruyère. European hard cow’s cheeses like comté and gruyère often provide the best value and quality at supermarkets.

Standout option: Extra Special Swiss Le Gruyere

Asda, £3.80 for 170g

It smells nutty and tastes demerara-sugar sweet, with the grassy notes of a good alpine cheese. The dry rind combines nicely with the softer centre to provide a wonderfully balanced cheese.

Best budget option: Specially Selected Comté

Aldi, £2.99 for 180g

Sweet, grassy, mellow, this is a decent comté. It’s on the mild side, so won’t be the most potent cheese on your board, but for that price it’s a brilliant option.

Best alternative: No.1 Beemster Dutch gouda

Waitrose, £3.45 for 150g

An almost red leicester colour that would provide a welcome contrast to a predominantly white and yellow board. It’s very salty – which will divide opinion – but there’s a smokiness and sweetness too that makes it intriguing.

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