Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why can't we have cheese bars in Britain?

It was, of course, inevitable that New Yorkers would do it first but I have to say I'm insane with envy about Murray's new Cheese Bar. Even after reading this review in Serious Eats which picks a few holes in the experience

I've been banging on for ever about how great a cheese bar - or, better still, a cheese café - would be eliciting pitying looks from my family and friends. Who would go to a place where you could only eat cheese, they ask? (Plenty of people, I argue.) Cheese is expensive, there's not enough profit in it. (Then serve high-margin drinks . . .)

I knew it would work having been to Artisanal and Casellula in New York a couple of years ago and now Tia Keenan who devised the pairings at Casellula has been poached by Murray's.

In this age of single food restaurants - burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken - surely we can have one devoted to cheese? Won't some cheeseloving enterpreneur open one?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A perfect cheese trolley

Cheese trolleys, as I've discovered from previous exchanges, divide cheese lovers. There are those who think no restaurant worth its salt offers anything less than 30 cheeses and others of us (betraying my own preferences) that reckon there's no way most restaurants can keep even 20 in good condition.

But Le Pot d'Etain in L'Isle sur Serein can, it seems. Its cheese trolley - or rather tray - unfortunately snapped in the gloom of a low-lit dining room this week, was simply superb. It included the best Epoisses I've ever eaten (matured by Fromagerie Berthaut), full-flavoured but not overpowering and just ripe enough but not so runny as to form a pool of molten cheese on the plate, a perfect Soumaintrain and another Burgundian cheese whose name I didn't catch, washed in Chablis. Even better the cheese course didn't attract a supplement as it does almost everywhere else. It was tempting to dive in for more but I was already full of snails and rabbit.

I guess the locals love their cheese so there's no problem with sad cheeses left lingering and unloved on the trolley but I'm sure it's more that the proprietor has a long-standing relationship with his supplier, gets his cheeses delivered at exactly the right moment and - crucially - knows how to keep them that way.

Le Pot d'Etain also has a stupendous winelist with the best collection of Chablis I've ever seen. Oddly the bottle we were drinking - a 2007 La Forest Premier Cru from Vincent Dauvissat - wasn't as good as I'd expected with the cheese. I usually find white wines better than red with washed rind cheeses but these very ripe cheeses possibly needed a sweet wine or a marc de Bourgogne.

Oh, and they also serve the most gigantic gougères, pictured alongside some mini cheese and ham 'cakes' (what the French call the quichey sort of savoury loaf they serve with an aperitif). Cheese heaven.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A memory of Daphne Zepos

I was shocked and saddened to read today of the untimely death of Daphne Zepos, founder of the Essex Street Cheese Company and a leading light in the US cheese community.

I spent a brilliant day with her in New York a couple of years ago when she showed me round New York's best cheese shops including the Bedford Cheese Shop, Stinky Bklyn and Saxelby's Cheese and generously shared her knowledge of the American artisanal cheese scene.

This is a picture with Tia Keenan of Murray's Cheese, then the fromager at Caselulla cheese and wine café, which perfectly captures the spirit of the day.

There's an excellent tribute to her on the Culture cheese magazine site from Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pomi-fritti fromage Corse

Apologies, first of all for the unannounced absence from the blog. I've been devoting my energies to the relaunch of my website Matching Food & Wine and to tell the truth haven't come across much in the way of cheese to report on lately. But this is the mother of all melted cheese experiences!

It was in the unlikely venue of a Corsican wine bar and restaurant in Bordeaux called A Cantina which, as you'd expect, had great artisanal charcuterie and cheese (Corsica being noted for both). And a CHIP MENU! Including a dish, pomi-fritti fromage Corse, with chips and melted cheese.

It was at the end of a long day and the bar was packed so I failed to get round to asking which cheese they had used (lax but we were knackered) but it had a tangy edge that suggests to me it was a sheeps' cheese and a wondrously molten consistency that indicated it was quite young. You'll have to play around with different cheeses.

The potatoes they used, by the way, still had their skins on and were hand-cut and there were a few little slivers of fried ham dotted about just to add to the calorie overload. I like the three forks impaled in the potatoes which encourages you not to eat them all on your own ...

The restaurant also offered a delicious warm crumble of goats' cheese and pistachio we had to try and which I might try to recreate. Again, young goats cheese, I suspect, layered with sliced tomato (I'd be inclined to skin it first) and topped with finely chopped pistachios, possibly blitzed with a bit of flour. Served with toasted baguette. It's very rich - you need to slather it on something.

I'm going to have to get experimenting.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Another clever cheese plate

A couple of nights ago I was at a dinner to celebrate 36 years of one of Bristol's best local restaurants Bell's Diner. The current chef Chris Wicks has only been at the stoves there for 12 years or so but put his personal spin on some of his predecessor's creations including - believe it or not - Tartex paté en croute. (Tartex was a 1970s paté substitute for veggies of which there have always been plenty in Bristol.)

But is was the cheese course I wanted to write about here: two goats' cheeses - Tymsboro and Sleightlett - from Chris's favourite cheesemaker, Mary Holbrook (below), about whom I've already written on this blog.

The cheeses were served on slates with a shard of lightly spiced flatbread and - the crowning touch - a small glass of goats' milk as if to pay tribute to the quality of the raw material. (It was also served with a glass of 2010 Domaine Tellier Menetou Salon which was the perfect match. From another long-term supplier Yapp Brothers.

Mary and her cheesemaker were there to talk about the cheeses, a really nice way of paying tribute to someone who'd been associated with the restaurant for many years.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Capra Nouveau

I've got a bit behindhand with my cheese posts - this was one I tasted about a month ago at my local deli, Chandos.

It's a washed rind goats cheese from a Shropshire producer called Brock Hall Farm. The surface looks almost as if it has been knitted and the interior is seductively yielding - a bit like a Vacherin.

It's quite assertive and fruity in flavour, but not strong and not at all 'goaty'. If I hadn't been told I'd have said it was a cows' cheese.

It's also very moreish. I bought a relatively small amount as I like to buy my cheese little and often and we wolfed our way through it in no time.

You can find other stockists on the Brock Hall Farm website.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How far should you let a Brie go?

Here is a picture of a practically perfect Brie. IMHO although some people might argue it had been allowed to mature too far.

It was served as part of a food and wine tasting I conducted at the cookery school Leiths the other day.

True, it made it trickier to find a wine match. The Chilean pinot noir I'd picked to go with it seemed a bit lightweight, it was so decadently creamy. On the other hand it hadn't got that sort of ammoniac character that Brie can acquire as it ages which can give it an unpleasantly bitter edge.

All you need is a hunk of crisp, freshly baked baguette to slather it on. And maybe a few grapes. The perfect lunch . . .

Beats the sort of underripe Bries you find on the supermarket chill counter hands down. You should never serve Brie straight from the fridge either.

But should you let it go this far if you value the wine you're drinking with it? What do you reckon?