Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Welsh rabbit leeks

A recipe from my book An Appetite for Ale - an adaptation of a great idea from cookery writer and top London chef Mark Hix: pouring a Welsh rarebit over cooked leeks. (Pic by Vanessa Courtier)

Serves 2-3
6 even-sized leeks - about 500g in total
5 tbsp full-bodied English ale, such as Ridley’s Old Bob
150g strong cheddar cheese, grated
1 level tbsp plain flour sifted with 1/2 level tsp powdered English mustard
1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg yolk
3 tbsp double cream
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the leeks removing any damaged outer leaves. Cut vertically half way down each leek, fan out the leaves and rinse under cold running water to remove any grit. Cut the leeks across in half and arrange in the basket of a steamer. Steam for about 4-5 minutes until just cooked. Pour the ale into a saucepan, add the cheese, sprinkle over the sifted flour and mustard and stir. Heat over a low heat until the cheese has melted and formed a smooth sauce. Take off the heat and beat in the egg yolk then add the Worcestershire sauce and cream. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper (you shouldn’t need salt). Heat the grill. Arrange the leeks in a baking dish and pour over the rarebit. Place the dish under the grill for about 2-3 minutes until brown and bubbling. Serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is this the most expensive cheese in Britain?

Having half an hour to kill and being in Borough market, I made my way to one of my favourite cheese shops, Neal's Yard. It had the usual array of tempting offerings, some familiar, some new but my eye was caught not so much by a cheese as a price - the £55.60 per kilo they were charging for Rogue River Blue.

There are extenuating circumstances. The cheese is not British, but American: one of the few unpasteurised cheeses being produced in the States by the Rogue River Creamery in Oregon. Is there any justification for importing it when we have so many great blues of our own? Well, yes, it's unique, being wrapped in vine leaves soaked in pear brandy a flavour that really permeates the cheese and gives it the faint flavour of a pear eau de vie. It's only made in limited quantities (there's a waiting list for it in the States), it won an award for the World's Best Blue in 2003 and Neal's Yard is actually charging no more for it than the famous New York cheese shop Artisanal.

You also don't need to buy much of it. As I suggested the other day you can easily just buy a fine slice of a more expensive cheese - 100g would cost you £5.56 - the same price as an inexpensive starter or a couple of ready meals. And I know which I'd rather have.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

2 Gloucesters, 1 single, 1 double

I thought this week that it might be interesting to compare two cheeses with very similar names - a Single and Double Gloucester which I found at my local Bristol deli, Chandos. They both come from Jonathan Crump of Arlingham who trades as Wick Court Cheese and is one of the only producers to make his cheese from traditional Gloucester cattle.

Double Gloucester (right) is the more common and in this case at least, quite like a Cheshire with a pale orange colour (it is dyed with annato), a dryish, crumbly texture and delicate flavour.

Single Gloucester (left) is much rarer and, having tasted it, I can understand why. It’s very ‘cow-ey’ if you know what I mean: not farmyardy but quite ‘animal’ and much fatter in texture than the Double Gloucester which is odd as it’s made from a mixture of skimmed and whole milk* whereas double Gloucester is made entirely from whole milk. It reminded me of a French Cantal - not one of my favourite cheeses.

Both, interestingly went well with a white burgundy we were drinking (a Saint-Veran) though neither is powerful enough to cause serious problems for a red. To be honest I wasn’t blown away by either, though this may be due as much to the producer as the type of cheese. Other producers to look out for are Smart’s which is stocked by Neal’s Yard and Charles Martell.

* skimmed milk from the evening milking and whole milk from the morning milking

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The French influence on British cheese

If you've had the vague feeling that British cheeses are improving - up to the standard of top French artisanal cheeses - it's no coincidence. As a very interesting article in the FT this weekend points out, more and more soft cheeses are being made to French recipes and in some instances, such as the Irish St Tola organic goats' cheese (above), by a French cheesemaker.

Is this a good thing? I'm in two minds. I tried St Tola last summer and it was one of the best goats' cheeses I've ever tasted. On the other hand I do worry that the trend may diminish the distinctive character of our cheeses and runs the risk of losing the unique sense of place or 'terroir' that each cheese should have.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

O, voluptuous Vacherin

This is possibly my favourite cheese in the whole world and if you haven't tried it you must.

It's called Vacherin Mont d'Or and it comes from either France or Switzerland on either side of the Alps. There are apparently heated arguments about which country actually invented it, a battle both protagonists claim to have won.

It comes packed in a wooden box, encircled with a sprig of spruce which is held to add its flavour to the cheese but to be honest it's so stinky once matured that the flavour is hard to detect. (It's an unpasteurised, washed-rind, cows' milk cheese)

The best way to eat it - and this is how a friend and I had it at a disgraceful pig-out at a London wine bar called Terroirs - is to bake the box whole in the oven and serve it with new potatoes, sprinkled with sea salt. You simply dunk the potatoes in the molten, velvety cheese, which tastes like the best fondue you could possibly imagine. I suggest you serve a green salad on the side.

It's only made between October and March so you have a couple more months to enjoy it. Possibly, if you have a cheese-loving partner, as the ultimate Valentine's feast.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Yarg: an odd name for a nice cheese

Yesterday I bought a wedge of Yarg. That doesn't sound great does it? Doesn't quite have the ring of "I bought a Camembert" or "a wedge of Stilton". But bear with me, those of you who haven't tried it, because it's a nice cheese.

The name apparently is an reversal of the letters of the surname of the people who invented it who were called Allan and Jenny Gray. It's a cows' milk cheese from Cornwall but its USP is that it's wrapped in nettles (frozen when in season, I discover from the site, to enable them to make it year round.)

It's hard to tell without having tasted the cheese without them how much they influence the flavour. It's certainly not nettley (nor does it sting you) and I don't get the mushroom flavour detected by some people who have tasted it but there's a slight herbiness about it which is very pleasant. I find the nearest comparison a Gorwydd Caerphilly - it's a delicate, slightly crumbly cheese which needs to be served at room temperature for its full flavour to emerge and which is kind to wine. It paired well with a minor Bordeaux I was drinking last night but I thought it would have been even better with cider or apple juice.

So there you have it. Yarg. An unforgettable name.