With the celebration of British Cheese Week over the past seven days, we thought it was high time for a debate on our favourite fromages, from creamy Bries to tasty and oh-so satisfying Cheddars. Drum roll please, as we welcome you to the Cheese World Cup (or more accurately, the Cheese European Cup) - a selection of delicious cheeses from across Europe, as chosen by a panel of leading cheese experts.
Take at look at our qualifying "sets" from round one of the cup and vote for your favourite from each group by leaving a comment titled "vote" and the name of the cheese you support in the comments section, below. The five leading cheeses will go to through to the semi-finals of our Cheese World Cup next week, with an ultimate cheese winner to be crowned after the knockout stages in two weeks' time.
So what are you waiting for? Take a look at arguments for various different cheeses, below, and have your vuvuzela at the ready as you cheer on your all-time favourite...
Group A: France Vs Scotland
Chris Dawson, resident cheese expert for Waitrose, explains his love affair with French Vacherin
"Vacherin is France's best kept cheese secret. Versatile, soft and creamy, it's perfect for dinner party cheeseboards or a romantic meal for two. Made in the Savoie region of France, bordering on Switzerland, Vacherin has been made for over 200 years. Using the rich milk from mountain Montbeliard cows, it's considered a powerful weapon in France's cheese artillery. It's only available seasonally, which is why so many cheese connoisseurs wait patiently for the autumn/winter Vacherin season each year. Sold at Waitrose in a wooden spruce box, the cheese has a gloriously aromatic pine aroma, with a slightly pink edible rind. Served simply at room temperature or warmed through in the oven, the pale creamy centre is as gooey as a fondue, and is ideal partner for crusty bread or crisp crudites."
"Scotland’s Seriously Strong Cheddar is produced in a creamery in Stranraer. It’s one of the biggest producers of Cheddar in Scotland and has a very good reputation. Its taste bridges the gap between tangy Cheddar and meaty, savoury Cheddar – my personal favourites. It’s made from local milk in Stranraer and is just a good all-rounder type of Cheddar that can be used for any purpose."
Group B: England Vs Switzerland
Kerry Newton, dairy technologist at M&S, fights the corner for Cornish Cruncher Cheddar
"This award-winning two-year-old mature cheddar is a best-seller for M&S due to its beautiful combination of savoury and sweet flavours. The crunch part comes from calcium lactate crystals, a natural result of the maturation process – we were one of the first major retailers to develop this. The make-up of cheddar is affected by lots of different factors, from how finely you cut the curd to the type of milk you use and the culture. We work with one dairy in Cornwall and have perfected a particular recipe to ensure outstanding quality. The depth and complexity of Cornish Cruncher Cheddar and the way it contrasts creaminess with acidity and the body of the cheese makes for a delicious taste that makes people go ‘wow’ and want another bite – it’s very moreish."
Patricia Michelson, who runs the La Fromagerie shops, argues the case for a nice slice of Swiss Challerhocker
"The small dairy of Walter Rass just north-east of Zurich is where this cheese is made. The milk is heated to a degree that is higher than for unpasteurised milk, but even so the textures and flavours of the cheese are still very reflective of the Appenzell style with its sweet hazelnut aroma and chewy texture, although this cheese has a fully more robust taste. This is a real crowd-pleaser cheese which consistently gets the thumbs up by customers and is perfect as a snack with crusty bread or as part of a more formal cheeseboard with a sharp fruity wine or beer."
Group C: Northern Ireland Vs Netherlands
Nigel White, of the British Cheese Board, is the cheerleader for Northern Ireland's Boilíe cheese
"Boilíe Irish Cheese Pearls from Fivemiletown Creamery in County Tyrone is a soft goat’s cheese formed into balls and stored in jars of oil dressing. They’re nicely packaged and tasty with a rounded, fresh flavour. I like the hand-crafted element and attention to detail that comes from the relatively small-scale producers. They’re also very convenient; you can just pour them over a salad as a delicious addition to any meal."
Patrick McGuigan, food journalist and cheese blogger at cheesechap.com, believes Gouda from the Netherlands is the ultimate cheese
"The country that invented total football also produces the complete cheese. A proper farmhouse Gouda, made with unpasteurised milk, has it all. When it's young, it's creamy and nutty, but as the cheese matures it develops a crystallised texture and intense tropical fruit and butterscotch flavours with hints of spice and chocolate. It can hold its own on a cheeseboard, but also makes a mean sandwich and is amazing melted with pasta. There's a lot of bland, mass-produced Gouda out there, but the raw milk version is the real deal. The future's orange!"
Group D: Ireland Vs Spain
"One of my favourite cheeses we stock at Fortnum’s is a fantastic Irish cheese called Cashel Blue. This rather special cheese is from County Tipperary. The cheese is voluptuously creamy, but being blue-veined it’s also got a real kick! One of the wonderful things about this cheese is that it is still made by one family on one farm near Cashel in County Tipperary. We recommend eating at room temperature to enjoy the soft texture and mature flavour at its best. It’s one of the cheeses that Marco, our in store cheese specialist will offer customers to try a small piece on the counter, and customers invariably buy a piece to take home."
Rhuaridh Buchanan, manager and affineur at cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield, can't get enough of Spain's Manchego Semi Curado cheese
"Manchego Semi Curado is a truly artisan Manchego with limited production . It's a younger, fresher and moister flavour than the Manchego Curado. Manchego was produced and consumed a number of centuries BC. Although it is not known how the cheese was made by the ancient ancestors, it can be said that the taste was probably very similar to the cheese eaten today, and that the methods of production were, without a doubt, similar to those used now. The cheese is named after the breed of sheep whose milk is used in the production of the cheese, who are in turn named after the area from which they originate. La Mancha was named by the Arabs as ‘Al Mansha,’ which meant ‘land without water,’ a name which perfectly described the harshness of the climate. The history of Manchego can not be told without mentioning the famous work Don Quixote by the writer Miguel Cervantes. This book is, without a doubt, one of the reasons that Manchego cheese is so gastronomically important, and popular. Our Manchego is from Cuenca. The dairy is a family business and the unpasteurised milk is collected from the dairy's own herds and local farms.''
Group E: Wales Vs Italy
Nigel White, Secretary of the British Cheese Board, is a fan of Wales' Pont Gâr cheese
"Pont Gâr means bridge of love – they’re soft white Brie-like cheeses made by the Carmarthenshire Cheese Company. They come in four different flavours to suit all tastes: blue cheese, white cheese, white with garlic and herb and smoked white cheese. They’re creamy and ripe, but unlike many French Bries, they’re gentle and not too over-powering in taste, which suits the British palette. As with all Bries, the flavours become more complex as you eat them and you can keep going back for more. They’re good with grapes and crackers or in a toasted Brie and bacon sandwich, but for me the perfect way of eating Pont Gâr is on crusty white bread."
Kerry Newton, dairy technologist at M&S, is an ardent supporter of Italy's Mozzarella di Buffola
"We source our award-winning buffalo Mozzarella from a site near Naples. It’s very difficult to make Mozzarella to a consistent standard so we use a specific recipe and dedicated, experienced suppliers to ensure top quality cheese. The resulting Mozzarella is light in texture with a sweet, creamy flavour. It’s very delicate and when you cut into it, the milk just oozes out. Many producers use citric acid to make Mozzarella but this often results in it being too dense and rubbery in texture. We require starter culture to make the curd, which is then stretched to form into balls – a traditional method that makes a lovely light Mozzarella that’s beautiful with good quality tomatoes and olive oils in a salad."
Vote for your favourite cheese from each group by leaving a message titled "vote" and the name of the cheese in the comments section below