Operations Support Manager Jon Harding is usually out and about across the South East supporting our chefs and operations team, but outside of work his passion is altogether more cheesy. Below, Jon writes about his cheese board obsession. Bored of cheese boards? Never!
For as far back as I can remember, Christmas meant cheese. I remember my mum and dad bringing home a full stilton every year, scooping it out then pouring this mystery red liquid into it (it was port) and leaving it on top of a very high Welsh dresser, so the dogs couldn’t steal it. This was always the centre piece of many different smelly cheeses all over Christmas.
In the summer, my mum and dad, both school teachers at the time, would pack us up in our VW van and we would head to France, where we would spend hours exploring markets full of cheese. There were of course vineyard trips too, but I was still on non-alcoholic grape juice at that time…
As I grew up, mum and dad bought a pub, so our trips to France stopped, but still, every Christmas out came the most amazing cheeseboard always with new, different cheeses on it and ohh the smell!
Later came my own family and with it a very understanding wife, who luckily for me likes cheese (it couldn’t have worked otherwise) and a circle of friends that at the time had no children. It was always easier back then to say ‘come to ours for dinner’, and of course at the end of dinner there was always a cheeseboard.
At one such dinner party where a wedding invite was given to us (and some cheese and port had been consumed) I was asked if I could make their wedding cake, one to remember for the rest of their wedded life. I of course said yes, and my first ‘cake of cheese’ wedding cake was born.
Back to Christmas, and we continued to have a cheese board on the table — especially Boxing Day — of normally around 10-15 cheeses, but more recently it’s got quite a bit bigger!
A few years ago, myself and Hayley (my wife) were sat planning for Boxing Day. With twenty people visiting us, we wondered what we could do to make it different. The answer was obvious — the ultimate cheese board! It would need to please all tastes; the brave, the sensible and (like me) the foolish. So, we started building it. We bought blackboards to number the cheeses, made numbered flags and organized them into soft, blue, goats and hard. To make sure we knew what we were on about, we had to taste them all — the hardest job of all. That year, our first ultimate cheese board included 32 cheeses. All different.
This went on for a couple of years with many different cheeses on Boxing Day, until 2017 when Hayley suggested we had a quiet one for a change. We set up for a quiet Boxing Day, buying a little cheese here, a little cheese there, a little trip to France, ‘oh I like the look of that’. Before we knew it, our little cheeseboard had grown and it was now sat at 49 different cheeses, with not one duplicated. The table was now full…so much for a quiet one!
People often ask me if I’m mad when they hear about my Christmas cheeseboard, but when I show them the pictures, it’s normally “wow, so what’s your favourite cheese?” To which I can’t say I do have a favourite, there are too many to choose from, but I do have favourite cheese moments; seeing mum and dad at Christmas scooping the stilton out, visiting the French cheese markets, seeing my daughter enjoy cheeseboards as she has grown up, my friends asking me to make their wedding cake for their special day, celebrating the birth of a friend’s son with cheese and port in our local pub and the random Saturday afternoon stops at Waitrose, with my wife, for a cheeky Saturday night cheese fix.