The crackers of the festive cheese board

Peter Beech, Jennifer Beech, Philip Talbot and Ian Withall 
enjoy a drop of ale          Picture by Malcolm Wells (171013-5428)

From light ales to stout, there was something for everyone at Portsea Island Beer Festival

Like an eccentric dinner party guest, cheese has a special place in our hearts.

Despite reeking of the countryside, leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth and inducing the odd nightmare, it's always welcome at the table, especially when you're popping grapes, crunching crackers or tackling Dad's bottle of whisky on Christmas Day.

The British have even begun a revolt against the French domination of the cheese market and this year Philip Stansfield's Cornish Blue was the winner at the World Cheese Awards – the first time in a decade we've pipped our continental neighbours to the post.

So this year, why not make sure your cheeseboard is made up of a delicious variety of local cheeses? There are over 700 to choose from, according to the British Cheese Board (britishcheese.com).

The board's secretary Nigel White suggests the ultimate Christmas cheeseboard should contain between three and five cheeses of different types and textures, including hard (West Country Farmhouse Cheddar or Wensleydale), soft (Somerset Brie or Cornish Camembert) and blue (Stilton, Blue Lancashire, Shropshire Blue or Blue Wensleydale).

Then serve them with natural ingredients: 'These traditionally include grapes, apples, tomatoes, parsley, celery or pickles, but don't be afraid to unleash your imagination,' says White.

'If you're serving Wensleydale or Cheshire on your cheeseboard, why not offer some Christmas cake for a wonderfully festive combination?'

Cracking, Gromit! We can even freeze the leftovers

Cheese fans Wallace and Gromit, with help from experts at the British Cheese Board, offer their top tips

Cheese is best enjoyed fresh, although it can be stored in a cool environment for anything from a couple of days to several months, depending on the type.

Buy softer cheeses such as Brie and Camembert in advance, so they have a chance to ripen.

When storing cheese, either wrap it tightly in foil or cling film, or keep in an airtight container in the bottom part of the fridge.

To bring out its full flavour, cheese should always be served at room temperature. Therefore, to get the most out of your cheese this Christmas, remember to take it out of the fridge up to two hours before serving.

Avoid using the same knife to cut different cheeses, as this can lead to the flavours contaminating one another.

If you've bought more cheese than you can eat this Christmas, it is possible to freeze certain open textured cheeses, such as Stilton, very effectively, as the texture allows the ice crystals to form in the tiny gaps.

Once defrosted in the fridge overnight, the texture and flavour is not affected.

With hard cheese like Cheddar, its dense nature means the ice crystals force the cheese apart, so when it defrosts it becomes crumbly. You can solve this problem to a large extent by grating hard cheeses prior to freezing.