Cath Nicholson of Wells Stores advises on the perfect Christmas cheeseboard

It was not long after I moved to the area in 1998, that in my quest for interesting independent places to buy great ingredients, I discovered Wells Stores.

The shop moved to Peach Croft Farm after a stint in Stert Street in Abingdon but it is a business with a long history.

Many people in the area remember the monocled Major Patrick Rance who took over the village shop in Streatley in the 1950’s and presided over an eccentric cheese emporium that is the stuff of legends – an absolute enthusiast, he is credited with saving the UK cheese industry from poor imports and helping to prevent the demise of the artisan cheese industry.

Little did I know that nearly 20 years on from my first encounter with the shop that I would become the owner of this little gem of a business.

I took over in April 2016 and decided that the first step was to develop the café offering

Extending the café meant making the kitchen smaller but with a good deal of experience cooking in professional kitchens, I knew that we could use the space more efficiently. It also meant that we gained access to the garden which is brilliant in the summer as we now have tables outside.

After a few weeks of hard work, the café was transformed and with the addition of some original modern paintings, generously painted for me by a talented friend we now have a lovely bright comfortable space.

The café is going really well now but the absolute jewel in the crown is still without doubt the cheese counter.

I had 20 years in the food industry before taking over the business, so I had a basic understanding of cheese.

But with at least 40 British cheeses on the counter at any one time as well as a small offering of well know European cheeses such as Comte, Gruyere and Roquefort, it has been a steep learning curve.

The joy of artisan cheese is that it comes mostly from small producers with single herds that supply the milk. Provenance and quality are key to these small agricultural businesses which represent the best of British.

There is so much to learn about this fascinating foodstuff. It varies from season to season. Cheese making is part art and part science and I love being able to share my newfound knowledge and finds with my customers.

At this time of year, people often ask me what to buy to serve during the festive season. A good starting point for a cheese board is to have a great hard cheese such as a cheddar (we stock over 5 at any one time), a blue (for example Perl Las from Carmarthenshire), a soft cheese (such as Waterloo, a locally made “Brie” style cheese) and one other – an interesting goat or ewes milk cheese (the lovely local Sinodun Hill for example). You can’t go wrong with a lovely piece of Stilton (we only sell Stilton from Colston Bassett) but just remember it’s essential to serve it at room temperature.