Sunday, November 30, 2008

When cheeses are in season

Not everyone realises just how seasonal cheese is. There are obvious examples such as goats' cheeses which are at their best in the spring and Vacherin Mont D'or which is only available from October to March (so perfect right now) but there are many other cheeses which I guess most of us have no idea about when they're at their peak.

I've just come across a really useful chart on a website called elegusto, an on-line retailer of wine and cheese. Whether it's currently trading or not, I'm not sure. Some of the recent updates seem to have been made in 2007 but this information is certainly most useful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to make Labneh

Last night I tried out Bristol's newest restaurant Lido* and kicked off with a 'small plate' of labneh, an addictive soft yoghurt cheese topped (in this case but not invariably) with anchovies and sprinkled with chillies, onion seeds and fresh coriander.

It's also ridiculously easy to make at home. All you need is a large square of muslin (which you can buy from department stores like John Lewis), two large 450g-500g pots of unsweetened full fat plain yoghurt and a scant teaspoon of fine sea salt. Line a bowl with the muslin, mix the salt into the yoghurt then tip the yoghurt into the bowl. Pull the edges of the muslin square together and tie to form a bundle and hang over the sink or a larger bowl for about 12-16 hours. If using straightaway tip the cheese into a serving dish, make a shallow dip in the centre, drizzle round some olive oil. and scatter with chopped herbs or other flavourings as above. Or refrigerate in a covered bowl or box until ready to use.

(*you can find a full review on my website

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The River Cafe's Cheese Room

Are cheese rooms the new must-have restaurant accessory?

You'd think perhaps not in these hard times but if the iconic River Café installs one you can be pretty sure that others will follow. I was hoping to check it out last week but didn't manage to fit it in with moving house (hence the lapse in posts on the blog) but there was a glowing article about it in yesterday's Telegraph

I was interested to see from their menu that one of the cheeses they stock currently is Castelmagno, an ancient semi-hard cows' milk cheese that's made next to a chapel of the same name up the mountains above the Piedmontese city of Cuneo. As you can see from the picture below, taken when I visited this time last year, it can have extensive blue veining but it varies from cheese to cheese.

Other London restaurants with cheese rooms include the Star & Garter in Lower Richmond Road, Vivat Bacchus in Farringdon and, of course, La Fromagerie if you count cheese shops with a café. But we have yet to have a full-blown cheese-centred restaurant of the quality of Artisanal in New York. With a lower average spend in restaurants maybe it will be the upcoming trend.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Goats' cheese and beet salad

Not a great deal of time for cheese exploring this week - we've just moved house, which is the usual nightmare. Packing cases everywhere!

Anyway I thought I'd post a picture of a simple salad I enjoyed in my favourite local restaurant Culinaria last week. Mixed leaves, cooked beets and goats' cheese, dressed with a light shallot dressing and scattered with parsley. Simple, pretty, healthy, tasty - what's not to like?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rabbit or rarebit?

A debate periodically breaks out in the cookery columns of the press about whether the celebrated dish welsh rarebit should be spelt rabbit or rarebit. Majority opinion suggests the origin was rabbit, the explanation being that the Welsh, who were poor, couldn't afford the real thing and that rarebit evolved to avoid what might be deemed a national insult! When I was growing up we always called it rarebit so I tend to stick to that though you will see it spelt the other way on the menus of many modern British restaurants.

Be that as it may, a rarebit/rabbit was what I made with some of the cheap Montgomery cheddar I told you I'd picked up and very good it was too - a definite step up from cheese on toast. For one person you need 75g of strong cheddar, just under 3 tbsp good strong ale, 1 1/2 tsp plain flour, 1/4 tsp English mustard or mustard powder, a medium egg yolk and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. And a large slice (or two smaller ones) of sourdough or wholemeal bread

Pre-heat the grill and toast the bread then pour the ale into a pan, add the cheese and mustard, sprinkle over the flour, stir and place over a low heat until the cheese has melted. Take the pan off the heat, add the egg yolk and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and a grind or two of black pepper. Line the grill pan with foil, place the toast on top, pour over the melted cheese and flash under the grill until brown and bubbling. Comfort food at its best!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another discovery and a bargain

While I was in Paxton & Whitfield checking out Blue Monday I discovered another fascinating cheese I'd never heard of before called Terschelling Schapenkaas. It's an organic, Gouda-style sheeps' milk cheese from the island of Terschelling in the far north of Holland.

Despite being only four months old it has a beautifully smooth texture and full nutty, tangy flavour - much mellower than many sheeps' cheeses. I discovered it was imported by a company called Boerenkaas which is run by a guy called Chris Macfarlane who used to work for Neal's Yard. You can also buy it direct from their stall in Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays, for £28 a kilo which isn't cheap but well worth it in my opinion. (Apparently you only get 2 litres of milk a day out of these sheep!)

The bargain was a great hunk of Montgomery's cheddar P & W was selling off as cooking cheese from a truckle that had gone slightly over and started to blue but which still had a fantastic flavour. That was just £2.79 for 455g! I can see that there will be a weekend of toasted cheese coming up . . .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A square blue. Now why did no-one think of that before?

News this week that the enterprising Evenlode Partnership has come up with a square blue cheese called Blue Monday, such a perfectly simple idea that you wonder why no-one thought of it before.

The brains behind the innovation are former Blur guitarist-turned farmer and food writer Alex James and Juliet Harbutt, organiser of the British Cheese Awards, an unlikely but smart-thinking pair who have already attracted a great deal of attention for their first efforts Little Wallop and Fairleigh Wallop.

The cheese is produced for them in Scotland by Ruaraidh Stone of the Highland Fine Cheese Co, producer of Highland Blue and Strathdon Blue and is made from cows' milk with vegetarian rennet. I gather it's milder than most blues with an extra-creamy texture but hope to taste it for myself later this week.

You should be able to find it in branches of Paxton & Whitfield from next week - and other specialist cheese shops before too long

Three days later . . .
Well I did manage to get to taste Blue Monday and very delicious it is too with an exceptionally creamy consistency and plenty of 'blue' character without any attendant bitterness. When I tasted it with wine back at home it even managed to survive a glass of red wine (a Marcillac) though it was better with sweet sherry (Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847) Rhuaridh Buchanan, Paxton & Whitfield's buyer and affineur told me that they'd served it with dry Australian riesling at the launch which had worked surprisingly well. The cheeses were bigger than I imagined though