Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why plastic doesn't do cheese any favours

One of the things that most saddens me about cheese shops is seeing a counter full of cheese wrapped in cling-film. It may be wonderfully hygienic but it does nothing for the texture and consistency of the cheese. You can see soft cheeses like Brie bulging out of their packaging, struggling to breathe, emerging sweaty and oily - how did such a practice become standard?

I don't think vac-packing cheese does them much good either. I recently received a selection from the Northumberland producer Doddington (above, for which many thanks) which didn't taste a fraction as good as the version I tried in Neal's Yard* (below). A real shame as it's a lovely, lovely cheese with a rich deep taste and a crumbly, almost Parmesan-like texture.

In the new Hawksmoor at Home cookery book with which I've been involved they add it to mashed swede which is totally delicious.

Doddington also makes a range of other cheeses including one washed with Newcastle Brown. I suspect your best best would be to buy them somewhere local to the dairy.

* where, incidentally you'll see they don't totally cover the cheese just the paste (interior) which allows the cheese to breathe.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The perfect Brie de Meaux

Brie has become so devalued as a cheese you forget what it's like when it's perfectly matured. Too often it's too cold and slightly chalky in the centre or allowed to age to the point where it's oozing over the cheeseboard and the rind has acquired a bitter, slightly ammoniac smell.

But this is how it should be, as served at a Parisian bistro called Le Baratin I've just reviewed on my natural wine blog. Beautifully rich and buttery with a delicate mushroom flavour, evenly matured right the way through, it was just a joy to eat and shows the benefit - as if it needed pointing out - of buying cheese from a supplier or shop where they know how to treat it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So what on earth is the House of Castello?

I had a flurry of emails on Friday offering me all manner of goodies from the House of Castello® (note the trademark) "an adventurous world of extraordinary cheeses". Not only would they send me some cheeses to try, including, presumably, their "rich and feisty Creamy Blue"and "fiery and experimental Black Pepper Halo" but a hamper, a bottle of wine, a cheese slate and a set of cheese knives*.

There's obviously some serious money behind the brand which has an expensively-made ad screening at prime viewing time during Downton Abbey tonight involving a bunch of rather louche aristos "celebrating the decadence of Castello®". According to the industry website the campaign is directed by Jonas Akerland who makes videos for Lady Gaga, apparently the inspiration behind the campaign.

So who on earth are House of Castello of whom, I confess, I'd never heard? Turns out it's Castello, the fourth largest speciality cheese brand in the UK which is owned by a large Scandinavian company called Arla, according to this report in The Grocer. Arla also owns Lurpak and apparently aims to do for cheese what the New World has done for wine.

I haven't tried the cheeses, admittedly, and they may for all I know be insanely delicious as well wildly decadent but since one of them is Danish Blue I somehow doubt it.

I'm also not sure how they can claim, as they do on their website, that there actually was a cheesemaker called the Marquis de Castello who was "renowned not only for his amazing cheeses, but also for his outrageous and indulgent parties". All a bit of fun, I guess they'd say.

But following on from the Alex James Asda range I commented on recently it certainly indicates that there's some serious money to be made in cheese - and indeed in dairy as Yeo Valley's rather more stylish new YouTube video shows. I suspect we'll be seeing more of the same.

How do you react to this kind of campaign? Would it be likely to make you try a new cheese?

* and just in case you were wondering, I decided to resist the gifts but will try the cheese when I get the opportunity ;-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

More on macaroni cheese

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will remember the Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge a couple of years ago which was won by Helen Graves of Food Stories.

Now the Guardian's excellent Felicity Cloake has turned her forensic eye on the subject in her 'Perfect' series exploring what indeed it is that makes the perfect macaroni cheese. You'll need to read the piece for the full lowdown and recipe but a couple of useful tips which is rinsing the pasta in cold water once you've cooked it and using a fair amount of sauce, a conclusion I've come to myself after trying a Simon Hopkinson recipe for baked pappardelle with pancetta and porcini the other day. I thought there must be a mistake it contained so little pasta but he was - of course - right.

She's on more controversial ground with her breadcrumbs and tomato topping which Guardian readers, a vocal lot, weren't all sure they approved of. Which is one of the joys of a recipe like this: people defend their corner so fiercely.

Anyway, you can find Felicity's recipe here (scroll down to the bottom of the article).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St James washed rind sheeps' cheese

I passed Neal's Yard Dairy in Borough Market last week which has found a fiendish new way to lure you into the shop (not that I need a great deal of encouragement): a table outside with cheeses to try.

The one that appealed to me most was St James, an unpasteurised, brine-washed sheeps' cheese that's made by Holker Farm Dairy in Cumbria. It's not new - it won the James Aldridge Award for 'Best Unpasteurised Cheese of the Year' back in 2005 but it hadn't entered my radar.

I'm not even sure I've had a washed rind sheeps' cheese before but like most sheeps cheeses it wasn't quite as rich as cows' cheeses - a benefit when you have the unctuous texture of a washed rind cheese to contend with. As you can see it was in perfect condition - wonderfully rich and savoury, but not over the top flavour-wise. So not particularly 'stinky'.

Further proof, if proof were needed, that British cheeses are up there with the best in the world. You can read more about it here.