Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stuck for a present? Give cheese!

I received a great present this week from an old friend I’d had to dinner recently - a box of cheeses from her local cheese shop in Louth. Obviously it was tailormade for a cheese addict like me but it made me think what a great way it was to give a taste of your local region to any foodie friend.

Lincolnshire is not particularly noted for its cheese - apart from the cheddar-like Lincolnshire Poacher but there was also a Lincolnshire Red (made to a similar recipe to a Red Leicester), a Brie-style blue and mild yellow-waxed cheese from Cote Hill, a plum loaf and a very good jar of apple and onion-based. Lincolnshire chutney. I particularly liked these accompaniments - a chance to taste cheese in a different way. They both went particularly well with the 19 month old Poacher.

Most cheese shops do something similar - sometimes with booze. Paxton & Whitfield for example does a ‘Cider and Blue’ box with Caradon Blue and ‘Ernie & Gertie’s’ cider, the aptly namd Pong does an ‘Ultimate Pong Box’ of its smelliest cheeses while the Fine Cheese Co in Bath does an elegant Spring/Flower Show Box among other topical boxes.

And if you’re just looking for a small gift to take to someone who’s invited you for a meal I love the nutty, crumbly Maris Otter malted barley biscuits (above) I was sent recently by The Little Rose Bakery which won a gold medal in last year’s great taste awards.

So how much of a cheeselover are you? Would you rather have cheese - or something to go with it - than a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine when someone comes to dinner?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sarsden sheeps cheese

It's a great sign of the health of artisan cheesemaking in Britain that you keep coming across new - and really good - cheeses. This was one I tried at the Stroud Farmers' market on Saturday made by Karen and Roger Crudge who make cheese with milk from Wayfield Farm near Stratford upon Avon.

They say it's a gruyère type cheese but I don't really get that. It's not as smooth though it does have a real depth of flavour and a fuller, creamier consistency than, say, Berkswell. They recommend it with fig and ouzo jam!

They apparently sell at Stroud on the 2nd and 5th Saturdays (when there is a 5th Saturday) and Woodstock, Chipping Norton, Deddington, Hebington (Oxford) and Wolvercote (Oxford) Farmers Markets. There's a nice piece about them by local foodwriter Matthew Fort here.

Not quite in the same league but I also enjoyed a Boursin-style pepper cheese (above) from Brinkworth Dairy and a convincing organic Cotswold Mozzarella from Simon Weaver in Upper Slaughter.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Four good restaurant dishes with cheese

I'm always on the lookout for interesting cheese dishes on restaurant menus and here are four recent ones which would be simple enough to adapt at home. (STILL writing my current book so I haven't had time to roadtest them but they should, I hope, inspire you!)

First a shallot tart tatin with goats cheese cream (above) at The Albion pub in Islington. Clever presentation - it looks just like a classic apple-based tatin with a scoop of what looks like icecream melting into it. The chef, Richard Turner, says you use 'unripened' goats cheese, beat it until smooth then add double cream and continue beating [until you get a scoopable texture, I would guess] They served it with a few rocket leaves and a drizzle of wild garlic purée.

Next a rather dramatic looking dish of burrata, basil and blood orange at Yotam Ottolenghi's new restaurant Nopi. I'm not sure I don't prefer my burrata (a richer kind of mozzarella) roughly torn Jamie Oliver-style but the combination with blood orange and coriander was brilliant.

Then Gorgonzola and date croquetas from The Opera Tavern, a great combination of sharp, salty, sweet and gooey. (I love croquetas in any guise.)

And finally, a deliciously old fashioned starter of creamy smoked haddock in individual ramekins at the Brown & Forrest smokery in Somerset. Just flaked smoked haddock in a bechamel with a bit of strong cheddar added and grated cheddar on top. Perfect comfort food.