Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Cheese School

It’s hard to be objective about events in which you’re involved but I thought our Christmas Cheese School was just lovely. About 20 of us sat round a long candlelit (and electric heater-lit, hence the red glow) table in the nave of St Thomas the Martyr a late 18th century church in the centre of Bristol. (I confess I didn’t know what this part of a church was called but found the answer within seconds when I Googled it. The wonder of WikiAnswers.)

We kicked off with a talk on winter cheese by cheesemaker Todd Trethowan who explained how his Gorwydd Caerphilly changes at this time of year (the cows feed on silage rather than fresh grass which results in a more intense flavour) why you sometimes can’t buy goats cheeses (if the cheesemaker lets the goats kid) and why Vacherin is now at its best (you only have to taste it to see for yourself). We also found it went wonderfully well with the mulled cider donated by local producer Orchard Pig.

Cheesemonger Alex Te-Strote valiantly talked about how to put together a Christmas cheeseboard through several layers of cold while Andrew Cooper of the Bristol Beer Factory persuasively argued the case for putting beer as well as wine on the table.

Then I took a different angle on matching cheese by pairing Joe Schneider's Stichelton (the amazing unpasteurised version of Stilton) with a Douro red, Monbazillac sweet wine, the Bristol Beer Factory’s Ultimate Stout, local producer Bramley and Gage’s Sloe Gin and Avery’s Bristol Cream sherry. (The most popular pairings seemed to be the Monbazillac and sherry though I was very taken with the stout)

The evening was punctuated with bursts of festive organ music played by one of the Trethowans Dairy cheesemongers Charlie Usher (below with mulled cider) who won the title of young composer of the year a couple of years ago. Talk about versatile . . .

The next all day Cheese School is on Sunday February 6th at Bordeaux Quay. If you're in a panic for a last minute Christmas present you can buy gift vouchers here!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Borough's night cheese market

After a bit of lull on the cheese front I’ve spent two consecutive nights at cheesy Christmas events. No, I don’t mean panto but Borough Market’s Evening of Cheese in London and our own Christmas Cheese School in Bristol about which I’ll report in a day or so.

I’d missed out on the Borough event last year so was determined to make it. Held in the Jubilee market it brings together all the cheese traders and shops in and around the market including Neal’s Yard (of course), French affineur Hervé Mons and a brilliant Swiss stand, Käseswiss which I’d been meaning to visit for a while. You could (and I did) buy mulled cider then wander around the stalls nibbling. There were so many great cheeses you don’t normally get the chance to taste of which the Bermondsey hard-pressed cheese (below) must be the most recherché.

Needless to say I spent far too much including a box of delicious but wildly expensive Elvas apricots I bought from a Portuguese stall together with a fabulous sheeps cheese called Casa d’Agua Levada, set with cardoons ...

... a good hunk of the most perfect Comté from the convincingly French-looking John of Hervé Mons (below) and L’Etivaz, a Swiss cheese made from summer milk.

There’s a full list of Borough Market’s cheese suppliers here

I was wondering, as I was nibbling, what is the best Christmas cheese. Stilton/Stichelton are obviously candidates. A good artisanal cheddar? An aged Comté? Vacherin Mont d’Or - although I associate that more with January? What’s your seasonal favourite?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Candlelit Christmas Cheese School

A quick plug for those of you who live in or can get to the West Country next week - we have our first Christmas Cheese School next Thursday (December 16th), a candlelit tasting at the wonderfully atmospheric St Thomas the Martyr church in Bristol.

This is a mini, seasonal version of our all-day cheese schools with three rather than the usual six elements:

* A talk about winter cheese by cheesemaker Todd Trethowan of Gorwydd Caerphilly - i.e. what sort of flavours you can expect from your favourite cheeses at this time of year

* A talk on how to put together the perfect Christmas cheeseboard by Ben Ticehurst, head cheesemonger of Trethowans Dairy

* and an exploration of different drink pairings with Stichelton and Stilton by me. Blues are one of the most interesting cheeses to match as they work just as well with fortified wines, spirits, beers and liqueurs as they do with still wines.

There are still a few tickets available (at £40 a head) but they're selling fast so get in quick! If you miss it we have another all day cheese event on February 6th for which you can buy gift vouchers on the Big Barn website (they also sell a number of the Trethowans' cheeses and their scrumptious new range of matching jellies)*. The last day for orders is December 18th.

* And no, just in case you were wondering, I'm not on commission!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Knaafeh: a most unusual cheesecake

The other cheesy highlight of my trip to the Lebanon was a wickedly delicious dish called Knaafeh which is commonly served for breakfast. It’s a bit like a cheesecake based on a rubbed pastry called mafrookeh and topped with a stringy cheese which tastes like mozzarella.

It is generally served with a syrup made from orange flower water and sometimes in sesame bread which would obviously add a fair bit to the calorific overload.

The pictures are of one we tasted in Patisserie Douaihy in the Place Sassine, a really friendly pastry shop and café.

I was planning to try and make it when I got back but having studied this recipe from Anissa Helou, a food writer who leads trips to the Lebanon, I can see it’s not that straightforward - unless you can order the pastry from a Lebanese shop. I may just have to head back to Beirut . . .

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lebanese breakfast cheese

One of the many fascinating discoveries of my trip to the Lebanon last week was the Lebanese breakfasts which - surprisingly for an intensely sweet-toothed country - were mainly savoury and based around cheese. There was usually more than one kind - a salty, feta style one (Akkawi), halloum (like halloumi) and labneh which is not strictly cheese at all but strained yoghurt drizzled with olive oil.

They were served with fresh tomatoes, crunchy strips of cucumber, olives and various kinds of flatbread of which my favourite was mana’eesh or mankoushe, a pizza-style bread which is dusted with za’atar (a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds) At one winery, Heritage, they also served home-made jams - apricot and a gorgeous fig one flavoured with aniseed.

You can also buy mankoushe on the go when they will roll it up like a wrap. Incredibly cheap at about 90p. And totally delicious.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Real Cheese Toasties

When you suddenly realise it's 2pm and you haven't thought about lunch there's nothing that hits the spot quite so successfully as a cheese toastie. Particularly one made with proper bread and real artisanal cheese.

The trouble is that since tasting the legendary Trethowan's Dairy's toastie my home-made efforts seem to fall woefully short but yesterday's effort (seen above, half-munched, before I remembered to take a pic of it) wasn't bad.

I used the last of the Sparkenhoe red Leicester, a French Roscoff onion (there's posh!) and two thinly cut slices of sourdough bread, assembled the sandwich in a frying pan into which I'd poured some olive oil, flipped it over a couple of times then gave it 10 minutes in the AGA. (Absurd. The whole process took far too long but at least the onions were completely soft and mingled seductively with the cheese). It would have been a lot easier to have made it on my contact grill but the idea of hauling it out and cleaning it afterwards just for one sandwich seemed a real faff.

Sometimes I use a bit of butter in the pan which I think helps crisp and brown the crust and adds extra flavour.

What about you? What's your recipe for the perfect toastie? Should we have a cheese toastie comp do you think?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Making cheese with cardoons

One of the most fascinating things i discovered at last weekend’s Cheese Fair was what cardoons look like - or at least what they look like in the form in which cheesemakers get to handle them. They’re widely used in Spain and Portugal and Mary Holbrook, who I referred to in the last post, uses them to make Cardo and Tilleys, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog (though managed to misspell).

Cardoons are a thistle-like plant which grow up to about 7 foot high. The stamens are picked and dried - a bit like saffron stamens. "You want cardoon with as much purple in it as you can get" said Mary. It’s traditionally used to make sheeps’ cheeses but she uses it with goats milk when she has a plentiful supply in the summer and believes it gives her cheeses a special flavour and texture. “It’s the cardoons, not my cheesemaking which give character to the cheese” she said modestly.

“We have to grind the stamens to break them then add warm water and infuse them for 20 minutes then filter it and stir it into the milk. You have to do this extremely thoroughly otherwise you can get parts of the milk coagulating and others staying liquid. The process is quite quick - it takes about the same time as making normal soft or hard cheese.”

Despite the trickiness of the process and the difficulty of getting hold of the stamens Mary thinks there’s no substitute for the raw ingredient. “I’m not looking forward to the day when they have liquid cardoon rennet” she said firmly.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meeting some of Britain's best cheesemakers

Yesterday I went to Bath to check out the Fine Cheese Co’s Cheese Festival in Milsom Place, an opportunity to meet and buy cheeses from 14 of the best artisanal cheesemakers in the country. The Fine Cheese Co, which is run by Anne-Marie Dyas, is always a step ahead of the game: it was one of the first to sell cheese online, and to come up with matching biscuits and condiments for cheese which are still hard to beat for quality.

There were quite a few cheesemakers whose cheeses I was already familiar with such as Keen’s Cheddar, Bath Soft Cheese, White Lake, Sharpham, Ticklemore and Charlie Westhead of Neal’s Yard Creamery (above) but it was good to meet one of my heroes, Mary Holbrook of Sleight Farm, in person (top of the page) and taste right through her range.

I also got to meet Suzanne Stirke of Fortmayne Dairy in North Yorkshire (above) who makes Richard III, a fine traditional style of Wensleydale (and hope I've managed to persuade her to go on Twitter!).

And I discovered a lovely unpasteurised Red Leicester from David and Jo Clarke of the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Co. The cheese hasn’t been made in the county for 20 years and not on a farm in the county for over half a century.

The event really underlined what magnificent cheeses we have in this country. I hope it's something the Fine Cheese Co. will sponsor every year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Six Devon cheeses

I did a couple of cheese and wine matching classes at the Dartmouth Food Festival this weekend with local winemerchant Liam Steevenson of Red & White in Kingsbridge.

Fittingly we used six Devon cheeses. Two were familiar to me - Quicke's Traditional Mature Cheddar which we paired with Chateau Lezongars Premières Côtes de Bordeaux and Beenleigh Blue, a Roquefort-like ewes' cheese from Ticklemore Cheese in Totnes which we matched with a sweet Bordeaux, Domaine de Noble Loupiac. (I'm not sure about the vintages which weren't on the tasting sheet - sorry!)

There were two from Sharpham Dairy, also in Totnes - a very attractive creamy Brie which paired beautifully with a fresh-tasting Beaujolais: Fleurie 'La Madone', La Reine de L'Arenite and a new cheese called Sharpham Savour, a tangy mixture of cows' and goats' milk that was apparently created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Devon being designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. We matched that with an Urbino Rioja Crianza - the most successful of the reds for me.

The other two cheeses were Norsworthy, a hard goats' cheese which we partnered with a Domaine Jean-Claude Chatelain Sancerre and Curworthy, a mellow Cheddarish cheese which was paired with La Secreto Carmenère, a lush fruity red from Chile that I thought slightly overwhelmed it.

Although the people who came clearly felt most comfortable about red wine with cheese most were converted by the the goats cheese and Sauvignon Blanc and sweet wine and blue combinations. And I must say I was impressed by the cheeses. A tasting based on six from one county isn't bad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How runny do you like your cheese?

I've been spending the past couple of weeks in France (hence the absence of posts), the last few days in Burgundy where smelly cheese reigns supreme.

This is the Epoisses they serve at a restaurant called Ma Cuisine in Beaune which, as you can see, is so ripe it forms liquid pools on the plate.

For me this is too ripe. I find cheese acquires a bitter note if it's allowed to mature this long which overwhelms its natural flavour. It also tends to knock the stuffing out of any accompanying wine - especially reds. (You can find the alternative pairings I suggest here.)

I also think it looks unappealing - like three large buttery cowpats. I prefer my cheese to retain its original shape.

But I'm aware I may be in a minority. Many cheeselovers, I know, adore their cheese to get as runny as this. What about you? And what do you drink with it once it's this far gone?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Five different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in five different textures

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Parma was a visit to Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana in Modena, a restaurant which was recently voted sixth best in the world.

The dish I was most intrigued to taste was one called Five different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in five different textures. It consisted of a soufflé of 24 month old parmesan, a crisp galette (40 months), an 'air' made, I discovered from his recipe from the crusts of 40 month old Parmigiano Reggiano and grated 50 month old, a foam made from 30 month old parmesan and a rich creamy sauce made with a 36 month old cheese.

Intriguingly it came about a third of the way through the meal rather than at the end like a cheese course. (I'm not sure I wouldn't have preferred it later on.)

It was brilliantly clever, beautiful and absolutely delicious but do you know what? I'm not sure I don't prefer my parmigiano served simply as they do here (at La Greppia in Parma).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Golden Cenarth: Britain's best organic cheese

One of the best food events of the year is the Organic Food Festival in my home town of Bristol which this year is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

It's always interesting to see which products win the dairy section. For quite a few years now it seems to have been a dairy product like a yoghurt or a crème fraîche but this year it's a cheese, Caws Cenarth's Golden Cenarth.

It's a washed rind cheese with a gorgeous undulating orangey rind that looks quite like a Vacherin Mont d'Or. The taste is comparatively mild though - it's washed with cider and the sample I tried had obviously not been allowed to get over-pongy. In fact the one I bought and opened just now could have done with keeping another 10 days or so. But you could see that it has the potential to be spectacularly good.

Caws Cenarth who are based in West Wales not far from Swansea also make a salty blue, Perl Las and a smoked Caerphilly or Caerffili, one of the few smoked cheeses I've tasted that I've actually enjoyed. The cheesemaker is Carwyn Adams (below), grandson of the original farmers and cheesemakers Lizzie Wyn and Leisa Jones, although he started his career as an engineer.

Do you agree with the judges decision or have you tasted a better organic cheese?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Southbank Cheese and Wine Festival

I can't believe there's a cheese and wine festival in London next month and that I'm going to manage to miss it. And by just a matter of hours! I'll be in France, which is of course, a good place to be from a cheese point of view but not back till late on October 17th, the last day of the festival. (It starts on Friday 15th).

Anyway for those lucky bods among you who can make it, the theme this year is 'Produce of the World' which means there will be cheeses to taste and buy from France and Corsica, Holland, Italy, Sardinia and Sicily, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Austria and of course the UK and Ireland.

Highlights include demonstration of how to make cheese in 40 minutes from Leagram Dairy's Bob Kitching, a demo from BBC Masterchef winner Steven Wallis, who will be making a salad of Tallegio with pickled pumpkin, figs, hazelnuts, autumn leaves and truffled sourdough croutons (I'd go for that alone), a demo and book signing with Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie and a . . er . . . gift wrapping demonstration with 'international gift wrapping expert' Arona Khan of whom I must confess I hadn't heard, not moving in international gift wrapping circles. I also like the sound of a 'mobile deli dedicated to Sicilian cheeses and wine'.

There's a lot more info on the website The festival takes place at the Southbank Centre Square off Belvedere road behind the Festival Hall.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I know Sacanova sounds like a Russian tennis player but it's not, it's a cheese. An aged Mahon to be precise. It comes from the island of Menorca with which I feel a particular affinity as my daughter-in-law comes from there. And I've eaten Mahon cheese before.

I didn't expect to find it in Waitrose and to be honest I wonder how much demand there is for it. It's nice enough but doesn't blow you away as much as you'd expect from an unpasteurised cheese, let alone one that's rubbed in olive oil and paprika. It's not particularly punchy or spicy - more like a semi-soft Scandinavian cheese with slightly more ooomph. The sort you'd have for breakfast or nibble with some Spanish ham.

The label describes it as having "a fudgy finish" which doesn't help much. It's certainly not like any fudge I've tasted. And I'm surprised they grade it as 6 in strength.

That said it's not expensive at £16.87 a kilo and it's mellowness would certainly make it an accommodating partner for red wine - I suggest an aged Spanish red like a Rioja reserva.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Home made halloumi

Not a recipe, I'm afraid just a revelation. Which is how much better homemade halloumi tastes than the mass-produced shop-bought version. As you'd expect.

I came across it in one of our most inventive local restaurants Flinty Red where the chef Matthew Williamson had decided to make his own, grill it and serve it with roasted tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil (apologies for the blurry iPhone shot). It was absolutely delicious.

Needless to say there are loads of recipes on the net if you Google 'How to make halloumi' but I liked the look of this version from blogger Alessandra Zecchini which uses smaller quantities than most and includes step-by-step photographs of what the cheese should look like at each stage (though not all the recipes suggest brining it as this one does). Anyway it really doesn't look difficult.

Have any of you made halloumi and would like to comment?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beecher's Handmade Cheese, Seattle

Back at the beginning of my US trip which already seems like several months ago we spent a day in Seattle and, as you do, nosed around the Pike Place market. I can't say I liked it much - it's become too much of a tourist attraction rather than a place to buy great food but it does have a very clever cheese shop called Beecher's which has its own dairy thus underlining the company's boast that they sell 'handmade' cheese.

Their signature cheese Flagship is nothing to write home about to be honest. The standard version is like a rather dull medium-matured block cheddar but the way it's sold is nothing short of brilliant. The dairy runs down one side behind large plate glass windows (above) so you can see everything that's going on. (The cheese is sold from the other side and there's takeaway in the front including what they immodestly describe on the website as 'The World's Best Mac'n'Cheese'. You can even buy it frozen by overnight delivery if you live in the States.)

What I did like were the 'cheese curds', tubs of fresh cheese curds you can nibble as a snack - apparently known as 'squeaky cheese'. They suggest you can toss them with greens, combine them with pasta or use them as a pizza topping (some were flavoured with herbs and garlic and chipotle peppers). I also - unusually for me - liked their flavoured cheese which is called Marco Polo and contains peppercorns but found their 'Blank Slate' dessert cheese which is blended with honey a tad too sweet (I imagine I'd be in a minority there).

Also good were the packs of 'cheese papers' so that you can wrap your cheese back home like they do in the shop, books and other cheese paraphernalia. And their website's full of useful information about cheese styles, storing and serving cheese and what wine to pair with it.

They're apparently going to open a shop in New York next year. I'd love to see something similar in the UK.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More on the Oregon cheese scene

The main - and pretty well only - frustration about my recent trip to Oregon was not managing to get down to the Rogue Creamery, which makes one of America's best blue cheeses. (Though I did at least manage to taste some)

However I came across some other great cheeses including this beautiful looking ash coated goats' cheese called Sunset Bay from Rivers Edge. As you can see it has a line of smoked pimenton through the middle which didn't greatly affect the taste but made it look very exotic. And it had a wonderfully silky texture.

It was served rather beautifully by John D'Anna of Cristom winery on a marble slab with two other local cheeses: Adelle (bottom left) a rich bloomy rinded cow and sheeps' cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy and Boerenkaas, a hard Dutch-style cheese from the Willamette Valley Dairy (top left). The fourth cheese - improbably - was English Yarg.

I was also gutted to be missing what looks like the ultimate cheese dinner - a collaboration between Quady North, the Oregon winery Anne Amie, Rogue and Tim Keller of the Carriage House at the Nunan Estate in Jacksonville. Here's the menu (just to make you equally green . . .):

Vella Asiago "Taffy"
Chamomile Pollen - Grapes - Raw Almonds & Black Pepper
Quady Winery Palomino Fino

Rogue Creamery Lavender Cheddar Cherry Apple Pizzetta
2009 Anne Amie Pinot Gris

Rogue Creamery Touvelle Cheese & Mushroom "Omelet" with Pommes Frits
2009 Annie Amie Riesling

First Course
Cypress Grove Purple Haze Chevre - Plain Curl of Chevre with Flower
2007 Anne Amie Prisme

Shaved Pholia Farm Hillis Peak & Duck Carpaccio - Pearl Onion - White Bean -Truffle Oil
2007 Anne Amie Pinot Noir

Second Course
Rogue Creamery Chocolate Stout - Mocha Poached Salmon with Grilled Corn & Cheese Risotto Cake
2007 Quady North 4-2 A Syrah

Grains of Paradise Crusted Lamb & Rogue Creamery Raw Milk Sharp Cheddar Tartlet
2006 Quady North Flagship Syrah

Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold Stuffed Filet Mignon with Smoked Blueberries - Allspice Foam
2008 Quady North Cabernet Franc

Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue Lemon Meringue Tart (Sounds totally wild! I can't imagine what this would taste like)
2009 Anne Amie Muller Thurgau

Rogue Creamery Oregonzola Plum Sponge Cake - Orange, Vanilla & Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds
2007 Quady Winery Elysium

It apparently takes place on August 19th.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A great way to make a cheese salad

I've been in the Pacific NW (aka Oregon and Washington State) for the past 10 days, hence the absence of posts but I've come across a lot of good cheese dishes. Not least this salad at a restaurant called Farm to Fork in Dundee.

What's clever about it is that it's basically a reconstructed round lettuce - or butter lettuce as they call them over there - picked apart, washed and put back into a lettuce shape. There were also fine shavings of red onion, roasted pumpkin seeds, a light buttermilk and blue cheese dressing and - best of all - a snowfall of blue cheese flakes, apparently from a piece of cheese that can been frozen and grated on a Microplane. It looked and tasted great.

I came across a similar one at a really good bistro called Le Pigeon in Portland. Not sure who's copying who.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tilly: a rare British goats' cheese

The great thing about genuinely artisanal cheese - like 'natural' wine - is that it's finite. It may be a small experimental batch or only made at a particular time of year. When it's gone it's gone. So it was good to try this rare cheese from Mary Holbrook at the Bristol Food & Wine Fair from my friends at Trethowan's Dairy.

It's called Tilly after a field on her Somerset Farm and is an unwashed version of the unpasteurised goats cheese Cardo I was raving about last summer which is set using an extract of cardoon thistle rather than rennet.

I can't say I like it quite as much. Cardo has a particularly sumptuous silky texture but it's a delicious cheese by any standard - delicate yet intensely flavoured and not obviously 'goaty' at all.

Jess of Trethowan's Dairy says they simply can't get enough of it. "When we have a big do we have to save up our quota".

So we nibbled it extra slowly (with some dry Montlouis) and look forward - hopefully - to tasting it again next year.

On Sunday I'm off to Washington State and Oregon for 10 days so am hoping for a taste of the famous Rogue River Blue! It might be a couple of weeks till the next post though . . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gnocchi alla Romana

Despite the fact that I've been taught a couple of times how to make gnocchi I've never managed to master it - or at least not to achieve the featherlight consistency that makes it such a delicious thing to eat.

However when I was casting around for recipes for students recently I remembered this easy-to-make Roman version which is really surprisingly delicious. The thing to remember is to get the gnocchi mixture completely cold before you start trying to stamp it out.

And yes, for those of you might feel inclined to remind me, following my blogpost the other day, that it contains both eggs and cheese, I accept that it does. But the crucial thing is that it doesn't taste like it ;-).

Serves 4-6

600ml whole milk (i.e. not semi-skimmed)
150g fine semolina (spotted in Waitrose the other day. Also in Italian delis and some Asian shops)
2 medium eggs or 2 large egg yolks
75g parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
A good slice of butter
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and shake over the semolina gradually, stirring vigorously as you so so. Replace the pan over the heat and stir until the semolina is thick enough to stand a spoon in. Cool for a few minutes then beat in the eggs and three quarters of the cheese. Spread the semolina into a rectangle about 1 cm deep over a wetted baking sheet and leave to get completely cold and firm .(A couple of hours at least. I didn't leave it quite long enough so it was still slightly soft when I started to cut it up.)

Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Thickly butter a baking dish. Stamp out circles from the semolina with a scone cutter or the rim of a wine glass and arrange them overlapping in the dish, tucking the offcuts underneath and down the sides. (Or simply cut it into squares and arrange them in the dish).

Melt the butter and pour over the gnocchi then sprinkle generously with the remaining parmesan. Bake the gnocchi for about 20-25 minutes until the top is nicely browned. Serve with a simple tomato sauce and/or a salad.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Real Danish Blue

Having spent 3 days in Copenhagen this week I've got a totally different perspective on Danish cheese, which is sadly represented in this country by industrialised Danish Blue and Samsoe. I'll be writing more about their fabulous soft cheeses which are often smoked or blended with herbs but it was good to come across a real organic Danish Blue at a small organic cheese shop off the Kultorvet called Osten ved Kultorvet which is run by a guy called Mikael Hendrikson aka 'Mikael the Cheese' (below).

It was called CumuluBlu and was much less harsh and fresher in flavour than the Danish Blues we get here, more like a creamy, slightly less salty Roquefort

There's another good cheese shop called Ostehjørnet at 56 Kongensgade with a beautifully displayed selection of international cheeses where we tried an award-winning semi-hard Gouda-style cheese called VesterHavsost from the Thise Dairy in Jutland.

We don't get this level of Scandinavian cheeses in England, unfortunately but if you're going to Copenhagen seek them out.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Do eggs go with cheese?

When you're working on a recipe book - as I am at the moment - you have to think not only 'would I actually make this' but 'would the people who are (hopefully) going to buy it?' And it's a tricky one when it comes to eggs and cheese.

Of course you couldn't make a cheese soufflé without both but even then not everyone likes the idea of hot cheesy foam, my husband included. And I don't really like cheese omelettes that much, still less that classic retro dish of eggs mornay - eggs in a cheese sauce (although a bit of spinach helps)

It does of course depend on the cheese. Parmesan is pretty good with eggs - much better than Cheddar which tends to separate and go fatty when inserted in an omelette (I shudder even to think about it). It also helps to have another ingredient in the dish like onions, potatoes or courgettes as in a frittata though even then I'm not that keen.

Or wasn't until I came across a near perfect cheesy egg dish the other night at a restaurant called Riverstation in Bristol: a cauliflower and smoked mozzarella frittata, about as unlikely a combination as you could imagine and which I had to order out of sheer curiosity. It was really delicious - though admittedly it doesn't look much from the rather blurry image above.

Smoking mozarella not only gives it a more interesting flavour but a firmer texture which really worked well in the frittata alongside the lightly cooked cauliflower. The accompanying roast cherry tomatoes which had been drizzled with balsamic vinegar provided an interesting sweet-sour contrast as did some bitter rocket leaves.

I checked out the recently published Flavour Thesaurus, my current bedtime reading, to see what author Niki Segnit had to say about eggs and cheese and she didn't even mention them as a combination which suggests its not just me who feels this way. What about you? Do you use the two together and if so how?

PS Writing this I realise I'm perfectly OK with quiche. Must be the pastry - and the cream!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Caciocavallo: an Italian cheese discovery

One of the unexpected bonuses of attending the chefs' conference Identita earlier this week was the artisanal food stalls which had some really great cheeses and salumi.

There was some pretty impressive aged Grana Padano, the less feted cousin of Parmigiano Reggiano (aka Parmesan) but the one that really stood out for me was this gourd-shaped Caciocavallo from Puglia (I think) though I've discovered from Juliet Harbutt's World Cheese Book, which I'll be reviewing shortly, that this type of pasta filata (stretched curd) cheese is made all over southern Italy. Some like Caciocavallo Silano have their own PDO - actually that may be the only one - and like other cheeses there are younger and older versions.

This was 24 months old and wonderfully rich, nutty and crumbly, the sort of cheese you could nibble at the end of a meal with a good red wine.

The Grana Padano crew were also showing off different aged cheeses with accompanying wines, a session I unfortunately missed. They paired the 12 month old with a 2007 Valpolicella Ripasso, the 18 month old with a 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva and a Salice Salentino Riserva and the 27 month with a 2005 Amarone, which I can imagine would have worked well. (This type of hard, grainy cheese is one of the few that reliably goes with red wine, particularly aged Italian reds)

BTW if you're interested in Caciocavallo there's a very interesting article on how it differs from Provolone on here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tymsboro: a love affair re-kindled

What I love about artisan cheese is that it always tastes different. Sometimes so different that you feel as if you're tasting it for the first time again.

So it was yesterday with Tymsboro', an ash-coated unpasteurised goats' cheese I've been buying on and off over the years. It's made by Mary Holbrook of Sleight's Farm in Somerset and is a modern British classic

I hovered over it as it looked more mature than usual and my husband doesn't like very strong 'goaty' cheeses. But it was absolutely spectacular - with a fresh citrussy tang, yet palate-caressingly creamy in texture. I can't remember ever tasting a better one.

I bought it from the Trethowan's Dairy shop in St Nicholas Market in Bristol where the cheese is always in tip-top condition because they don't ever carry too many and pick it up themselves direct from the farm*.

At £7.50 it's not cheap but a whole one will easily serve four and you don't need to serve any others. And that's not a lot to pay for perfection.

* I would say nice things about Trethowan's Dairy because they're my partners in Cheese School but on the other hand I wouldn't have gone into partnership with them if they weren't so great!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Asparagus, Brie and Parma Ham rolls

Another riff on asparagus and cheese which really do go very well together. I came across the idea in the London restaurant Polpo where they were serving it with Taleggio. That I think would be the ideal cheese but as I was making a cut price version I used Brie. Perfect for a nibble with drinks.

Makes 12 - enough for 4-6 depending on what else you’re eating

A bunch of asparagus
A small (135g) pack of good quality Brie or - better still -Taleggio
85g pack of parma ham

Take each of the asparagus spears and break off the stalk about two thirds of the way down from the tip. Put them in a frying pan with a little water. Bring to the boil and cook for about 3-4 minutes until just tender. Drain and set aside. Cut the Brie into long slices, remove the rind and cut into small strips. Carefully remove each slice of parma ham and tear or cut it lengthwise down the centre. Take each spear, add one of the pieces of cheese then wrap one of the strips of ham round them. Season with a little freshly ground black pepper. You could also serve this as a starter drizzled with a little olive oil

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cor blimey!! The UK's hottest cheese!!!

I have to admit that it was in a spirit of deep cynicism that I said I would try Mexicana Extreme which is billed as the UK's hottest cheese. For a start I loathe most flavoured cheeses and could see little point in a cheese so hot you couldn't taste it. However for a go-anywhere-try-anything kind of a gal it had to be done.

The cheese is being marketed by Ilchester in Somerset and, believe it or not, is a cheddar, laced with peppers, chilli seasoning and assorted spices. It is, as billed, quite ridiculously - almost vindalooishly - hot, obviously designed to appeal to people who like hot sauces with 'death' 'killer' or 'pain' on the label. And why shouldn't they have a cheese that appeals to them if someone is prepared to make it? Fair point, gov, but all I can say it's not cheese as you or I know it.

It's slightly milder sibling, Mexicana, isn't bad though if you're into Tex Mex - which in my weaker moments I am. I wouldn't nibble it for fun but I made quite a tasty quesadilla with it and some shredded spring onions and can see it being a flavourful if somewhat gungey topping for nachos, burgers or even a baked potato.

If nothing will persuade you not to try it you can apparently buy the Mexicana Extra Hot from at Asda (in a 185g wedge) and shortly from the deli counter at Sainsbury's and Morrisons where it will sell for £10 a kilo.

So am I being fair or a food snob about Mexicana Extreme. What's your view of flavoured cheeses?