Monday, July 25, 2011

How I learned to love brown cheese

It's been a standing joke for a while between me and my friend Norwegian-born author and blogger Signe Johansen of Scandilicious that I Don't Do Brown Cheese. She has constantly maintained it's delicious while I - on the strength of tasting it some 25 years ago - felt equally strongly that it was an abomination. Or I did until last Thursday when I finally got round to tasting the real thing - Ekte Geitost.

It comes in a drum and you slice off slices with a Scandi-style cheese slicer - either to top crispbread or to melt into a sauce as she did with the meatball gravy she served at her pop-up supper.

It taste not like soap, as I remembered, but more like salted caramel or the Mexican goats milk caramel, cajeta. In other words, delicious though I'm not sure I would go as far as to top it with lingonberry jam as Sig does, a peanut butter and jelly-ish combo that obviously appeals more to Norwegians than it does to me. There's a heart-tugging advertisement for it here on YouTube which somehow seems especially poignant after the tragic loss of all those young lives over the weekend.

Anyway I take back all the sneery things I've said about it over the years. To dismiss it out of hand is like saying that cheddar is rubbish on the basis of tasting Kraft cheese slices. Sure it's not hugely cheesy but then nor is mascarpone or even some of those triple cream cheeses. It's different. And it's good.

I'm going to buy some next time I'm in London (they sell it at the Scandinavian Kitchen in Great Titchfield Street) and experiment with it, starting with brown cheese and bacon baked potatoes which I reckon would be terrific made with sweet potatoes. You heard it here first . . .

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Berkswell, tomato and bobby bean salad

Here's a great idea for a salad I came across the other day at a Restaurants in Residence event in Docklands which was hosted by the supper club Shacklewell Nights.

It was put together by Jonathan Woolway, who's a sous-chef at St John and bore its trademark stamp of simply cooked seasonal ingredients.

This how he prepared it. (I've left it as he wrote it as I think it reads admirably well.)

Large vine tomatoes halved and roasted long & slow (with xtra virgin, s&p, bay, thyme) till they start to yield on the sides.
Bobby beans are blanched and then refreshed to maintain bite and colour.
Pea shoots
Olive oil croutons
Sherry vinaigrette (1 part sherry vinegar, 3 parts olive oil)
Grated Berkswell [sheeps' cheese] tossed through the salad and shaved Berkswell on the top.

I had a go at it last night sans pea shoots which I couldn't find locally and it worked almost as well but would suggest a couple of tips:

* Make the croutons out of a light bread like ciabatta so they go crunchy without getting hard

* I don't think you need sherry vinegar necessarily. A good red wine vinegar would do, possibly with a few extra drops of balsamic.

* the Berkswell I used didn't quite add the piquancy I was looking for and tasted in the original. If you can't find a really nutty one, try an aged pecorino or even parmesan.

But a great salad - fresh and seasonal. Just lovely at this time of year.

You can see my write-up of the other dishes and wine pairings on my website

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Serra da Estrela - Portugal's Mont d'Or

I've been in Portugal for the last few days finding out about cork and spending a day in the Vinho Verde region. I remember from my last visit a few years ago that there are some amazing Portuguese cheeses but this time found only one - Serra da Estrela, which is named after the highest mountain range in Portugal.

It's a totally delicious semi-soft sheeps' cheese that's served with the top cut open so you can dunk your bread or toast in its gooey interior. The milk comes from Bordeleira sheep which feed on wild mountain plants and herbs. It's coagulated with cardoons rather than animal rennet which makes for the silky flowing texture - not unlike a Vacherin Mont d'Or.

It's actually quite mild and buttery so you could drink it with a mature red - which is what the Portuguese themselves would do but we enjoyed it with a 2007 Alvarinho from Quintas de Melga├žo.

Do try it if you get the chance.