Monday, June 29, 2009

Cheesy biscuits, biscuits for cheese

Hot on the heels of the Vache qui Rit incident I've rediscovered another old retro favourite, Roka Cheese Crispies which I can remember my parents serving with drinks when I was a kid. Frankly it would be hard to make a better cheese biscuit - they're incredibly light and crispy (as the name aptly suggests) with a real hit of what tastes like Cheddar but is actually Gouda cheese (the biscuits are Dutch). They're very good with a glass of medium dry amontillado which is how my parents served them but I've been enjoying them with red and sparkling wine. And the packaging, which looks as if it hasn't been changed since the company was founded in 1949, is simply great.

The other discovery is some charmingly rustic-looking Swedish crispbread from a company called Peter's Yard. I have to admit I'm not a big crispbread fan but these taste of wholemeal bread rather than cardboard - very plain, crisp and delicious. Because they're not overly salty or coated with seeds you can equally well eat them with sweet spreads like honey as savoury ones but they're obviously a great companion for cheese.

Not every cheese, I should say. I tried them with a strong cheddar that overwhelmed their subtle flavour but spreadable young goats' and sheeps' cheeses, mild Scandinavian slicing cheeses, hard sheeps' cheese and creamier blues would all work well. And cream cheese mixed with a little sour cream, chopped onion and dill topped with a few curls of smoked salmon would be fabulous.

Again the presentation - they come in a very cool tin - is great. A good present to take to a dinner party.

What are your favourite biscuits for cheese?

Monday, June 22, 2009

La Vache qui Rit - the next big thing?

I was really amused to find a triangle of the French processed cheese La Vache qui Rit on the cheeseboard of Eastside Inn, the very posh restaurant in London I went to the other day. Apparently it was the chef Bjorn van der Horst's favourite childhood cheese.

Fortunately the other cheeses were rather more substantial otherwise one would be more than a bit miffed at having to pay £15 for the experience (the cost of a cheese plate and a glass of wine). The others on that occasion were St Tola (a very good Irish goats cheese), Roquefort and what I thought sounded like L'Etivet, a strongly flavoured semi-hard cows' cheese from Switzerland which I hadn't come across before. (I've since been informed by the very helpful Food and Wine Diarist that it's L'Etivaz, so that's that mystery solved.)

Actually I have to admit that the Vache qui Rit - which of course means The Laughing Cow and which has rather a jolly website here - fitted in rather well, adding a mild creamy counterpoint to the cheeseboard.

Sets a precedent though: are we now going to find a bottle of Heinz salad cream served with our side-salad or a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate or a few Smarties tucked by our dessert if the chef has a fondness for them? Watch this space . . .

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A good wine and cheese matching session

I went down to the launch of the Bristol Wine and Food Fair this week - literally, as it was held at the bottom of Park Street in the cellars of long-established wine merchant Avery's. (Great place - can't believe I've not got round to going there in my two years in the city)

Instead of just giving everyone a drink they'd set up some tables where you could taste different wines and cheeses together, the latter supplied by Trethowan's Dairy which makes the admirable Gorwydd Caerphily and also sells other cheeses (and great toasties!) from its shop in St Nick's market and various market stalls.

The pairings had been put together by Matt Eggens of Avery's who actually achieved a very high strike rate though, as always with these exercises, some came off better than others on the night. Here are my notes on the combinations:

Berkswell with Avery's NV Champagne
A hit. Champagne is surprisingly good with cheese and this was a rich style (apparently made in imitation of Bollinger!) Berkswell is a tangy, hard sheeps cheese which worked with it in the same way as a Parmesan or Pecorino would have done. I also liked it with the Gorwydd Caerphilly below ****

Gorwydd Caerphilly and Avery's Fine White Burgundy
The best match of the six. The smooth creamy burgundy was perfect with the delicate lactic cheese. A gorgeous combination that shows white wine is often better than red with cheese *****

Keen's Cheddar and Valtorto 2006
I liked both elements of this pairing. Keen's is one of the great cheddars and the Valtorto was a very attractive ripe, almost porty Douro red but not quite big enough to take on the cheese. A vintage port or an amontillado sherry would probably have worked better - or a less strong cheddar with the wine ***

Dorstone and Avery's Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
A lovely light elegant goats' cheese from Charlie Westhead of Neal's Yard Creamery, very slightly overwhelmed by an incredibly lush Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Again a slightly lighter Pinot might have worked better.***

Stichelton and Maury 1928
An interesting variation on the Stilton and Port combo. Stichelton is an unpasteurised cows cheese made in the Stilton style by Joe Schneider at Collingthwaite Farm (all Stilton is pasteurised these days) and in my view one of the great British cheeses. I thought the Maury, a vin doux naturel from the south of France, didn't quite stand up to it as well as a port would have done (it was only 17%ABV compared to 20%) but it was a lovely wine. ****

Tunworth and Les Hautes Vallées Grenache Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 2006
The only pairing that didn't work for me. Tunworth is a rich Camembert-style cheese and this one had been well-matured which made it a tough customer for the accompanying robust southern French red (a blend of old vine Grenache and Syrah). It was better with oatcakes but I still prefer cider or a strong apple aperitif like Kingston Black with this type of cheese. *

I'll be running 3 cheese and wine masterclasses at the Bristol Wine and Food Fair which takes place from July 10th-12th. For more information about cheese and wine matching visit my website

Sunday, June 7, 2009

If it's Provence, it must be goats' cheese!

I've just come back from a trip to Provence and was surprised to find that almost all the local cheeses on offer were goats' cheese. Down the other end of the South of France round the Pyrenees it's sheeps' cheese that rules.

I didn't have time to ask the reason for this and haven't been able to find it on the web but it's true they go exceptionally well with the region's light, summery cuisine and their delicate wines, the vast majority of which are rosé.

The best-known Provencal cheese is Banon which is wrapped in vine-leaves but most of the cheeses we sampled (see above, served with honey) were unknown to me. They also serve similar cheeses at breakfast time (below) which work really well with local fruits such as apricots, peaches and figs - in a similar way to a fromage frais. A nice idea for summer eating.