By Phoebe Ollerearnshaw
From platters of wild smoked salmon and rich cheese selections to boxes of indulgent truffles, it’s undeniable that Christmas revolves around food. Even the lead up to the big day involves preparation with extravagant meals to consider carefully. The mounting pressure of making this year’s feast even better than the last is something we have all experienced. There are various components that help to create the perfect festive feast—each element deserves time and attention.
Support local producers
Local producers rely on business during the festive season—and all year round, for that matter. By supporting them you will contribute to boosting your community’s economy. Another benefit of local producers is the certainty of where your food product has come from and how it has been cultivated.
Turkey plays a pivotal role on Christmas Day. Whilst providing delicious sustenance for the family, it also stands as the centrepiece of the feast. While supermarkets offer wide selections, they can be lacking in quality. Seek out an experienced butcher or farmer to guide you through the breed and size to suit your needs. Trying to source the best hot smoked salmon? A quality fishmonger should be able to tell you how and where their products have been caught.
Similarly, while store-bought cheeses are easy on the wallet, they are often mass-produced, under-matured or over-chilled. Consider visiting a specialist deli or cheesemonger; their expertise will aid your selection. The same can be said for fruits and vegetables: a stop at your local market supplier can be a huge advantage—it will allow you to draw upon their knowledge of proper storage practices and seasonality.
Spot the signs of quality
Whether you decide on turkey or another meat such as goose, lamb or gammon, you will get what you pay for in terms of quality. Naturally, pricier joints tend to be of a higher standard.
Fresh turkeys with a dry appearance are usually of a better quality than those with a wet sheen to their flesh. Read the label (or speak to the supplier directly) to check how the bird has been stored. A dry bird should be hung and dry-plucked to render the best-flavoured meat. Quality suppliers will usually provide the giblets along with the bird in a separate oven-safe bag. This can later be used for making stock and flavouring gravy.
In regards to cheese, aroma is very important. One steadfast tip for selecting cheese is to try before you buy—most reputable establishments should allow you to sample. Look out for a cheese that has a long length of flavour, one that lingers even after the initial bite. Higher quality cheeses tend to be more complex in their taste, hitting various zones of the palate. If possible, opt for a farm-produced cheese; they tend to include bold and standout flavours.
When selecting fruits and vegetables, go organic when possible. Organic produce is grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Fruits and vegetables should be bright in colour and firm to the touch. Look out for soft areas or blemishes on the skin. Any cuts or punctures in the rind of fruits can cause them to dry out quickly.
Go with the seasons
There are multiple reasons why eating seasonally is a smart choice. Seasonal food is usually more cost-effective than the exotic and imported variety. Britain’s best December fruits and vegetables include apple, artichoke, beetroot, celeriac, chestnut, clementine, cranberry, leek, parsnip, pear, pumpkin, red cabbage, swede and winter squash. Try to feature them in your Christmas Day meal.
The start of October marks the beginning of Vacherin season, which runs through until March. Vacherin is a seasonal wood-boxed cheese that is rich and soft in consistency. Its flavour is far more robust than Brie, with nutty undertones. Comté, Roquefort, Stilton and Cheddar are also delicious during this period.
A multitude of seafood is available over the Christmas months. The British Isles are blessed with stretches of coastline with plentiful freshwater species including salmon, mussels, oysters and clams—all of which are available. By December, game season will be in full swing with grouse, pheasant and partridge in plentiful supply. Try to incorporate these abundant food items into your meals—their seasonality means they’ll be at their very best.