Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The weird and wonderful world of Canadian cheese

One of the things that made the greatest impression on me on my visit to Toronto last week was how fantastic Canadian cheese is - both the quality and the way chefs use it. This despite the fact that Canada, like the US, bans the production of young raw milk or unpasteurized cheeses. However many of the most interesting cheeses come from Quebec whose government has recently reversed that position to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses under the age of 60 days.

Cheesemakers in Ontario also labour under the additional handicap of not being free to choose the style of cheese they make. If they want to use cows' milk (the restriction doesn't apply to sheep and goats') they must be able to prove to the province's Dairy Farmers' Association that no similar cheese is being made. Popular styles are on allocation so you can’t for example make a cheddar if the cheddar quota is already taken up. Mad - or so it seems to me at least

Despite this discouraging commercial climate some excellent cheeses are being made, particularly in Quebec. Ones I tasted and liked included Grey Owl goats cheese, Le Riopelle (a white-rinded triple-cream cheese), 1608 a slightly floral semi-hard cows' cheese from Laiterie Charlevoix and Tiger Blue (above as served at Annona) which is made by Poplar Grove in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. And I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of what Canada has to offer.

I was also really impressed by the way chefs were presenting them with accompanying flatbreads, dried fruits and highly original jams and fruit compotes and by the sort of dishes they were making with artisanal cheeses such as the goats' cheese and beet salad that chef Dylan McLay of The Epicurean in Niagara-on-the-Lake makes with the local Ontario Chevre (below)

For more about Canadian cheese visit Cheese of Canada, the website of Canadian cheese expert Gurth Pretty, the website of the Ontario Cheese Society, and that of Quebec Cheese

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Finn and Mushroom Melt

One of the problems about being a cheeselover is that cheese is not exactly slimming - or at least not in the quantities that I eat it - so I'm always on the lookout for ways to reduce the overall calorie load of any cheese-based meal. Leaving out or reducing the amount of bread, pasta or potatoes is one option. Skipping an accompanying glass of wine another.

At lunch today I fell upon a new way to do a melt. I fried up some sliced portabella mushrooms with a little garlic and parsley then added some sliced Finn, a gloriously rich triple cream-style unpasteurised cow's milk cheese made by Charlie Westhead of the Neal's Yard Creamery in Herefordshire*. It had been at room temperature for an hour so melted beautifully into the mushrooms. The meal was completed by a lightly dressed watercress salad and a small slice of potato bread and frankly was just as good as if I'd made the whole thing on toast (which would probably have gone soggy).

If you can't find Finn, which is available from Neal's Yard and new on-line retailer Pong (from whom I got it) you could use Brie.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In praise of Irish cheese

Even if you're not doing anything particular to celebrate St Patrick's Day today I do urge you to go out and buy some Irish cheese. If, of course, you can find some. My own rather fruitless hunt in Bristol yesterday resulted in just one - a Cashel Blue. You'd have thought that cheese shops and delis would have been quicker to latch on to the chance to mark the occasion, an opportunity seized by the famous New York cheese shop Artisanal (though the fact they include Gorywdd Caerphilly in their selection shows their geography is a little hazy!)

Anyway Cashel Blue, a blue cows' cheese made in Co. Tipperary by Jane and Louis Grubb, is a great cheese - on a par in my view with the best Stilton and Gorgonzola but somewhat more sympathetic to any accompanying red wine. You can read more about it on the very helpful Teddington Cheese site here.

Other Irish cheeses I would single out are Ardrahan, Durrus and Gubbeen (all washed-rinded cheeses), the Gouda-style Coolea and St Tola organic goats' cheese but there are many more.

If you're in London today a good place to find them is Neal's Yard in Covent Garden and Borough Market, or in Dublin at Sheridan's (above) a tiny boutique-like shop in South Anne Street.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two brilliant cheese dishes

It’s been a good week for cheese. Not individual cheeses for once but two brilliant cheese dishes I’ve eaten in restaurants. (Apologies for the dreadful quality of the pictures - both places were very dark)

The first was an oyster rarebit at Wright’s Oyster and Porter House in Borough Market. Such a simple and brilliant idea. The rarebit which had a good mustardy kick was cut into three fingers, each topped with an raw oyster - presumably well drained of its juice. Both elements - oyster and rarebit were perfect with the accompanying cool, velvety glass of Guinness. Bliss.

The second was last night at Bell’s Diner in Bristol, one of my favourite locals and was frankly the best macaroni cheese I’ve ever eaten. Outrageously rich and creamy, it came in a small cocotte, sprinkled with shavings of Perigord truffle and surrounded by wild mushrooms (chanterelles at a guess) over a scattering of cress. The sommelier Lionel partnered it with a glass of 2004 Chateau de Chorey Chorey-les-Beaune which was perfect.

The great thing about both dishes was that neither was expensive - even with the truffles and mushrooms the macaroni cheese was only £15.50, cheaper than any of the other mains. And both would be do-able at home. (If I manage to prise the recipe out of Chris Wicks, the chef I'll let you know . . .)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lovely Little Rydings

Since my husband is dairy intolerant - well, more specifically cows' milk-intolerant - I'm always on the lookout for interesting sheeps' cheeses, the type of milk he seems to tolerate best and this was a cheese I found at the Bristol Slow Food market last Sunday I've been meaning to share with you.

It was created by Mary Holbrook, one of the best cheesemakers in the south-west, but is now made by Wootton Organic Dairy in Somerset. It has a wonderful flavour: fresh-tasting, slightly sharp and citrussy with a light moussey texture that almost seems to melt in your mouth. Much lighter than Camembert which it otherwise resembles

Apparently it's just coming into season so do look out for it. You can buy it online from The Cheese Gig though the Slow Food market, which takes place on the first Sunday of the month, is of course cheaper (£5 a whole 200g cheese, compared to £6.99 though the latter is by no means unreasonable for a cheese of this quality)

When young like this I'd accompany it with cider though I'm sure it wouldn't pose any problems for a medium-bodied red wine like a Rioja.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New places to buy cheese

I've just been checking out a couple of new places to buy cheese in the UK, one shop, one online.

The shop (to the right) is called La Cave - an ambitiously large cheese shop and café just by South Kensington tube station in London. It's got a pretty good selection though I do find it depressing to see a display of cheese wrapped in clingfilm and one or two of the cheeses looked as if they had seen better days.

They do however hold regular cheese tasting events in the form of a fortnightly cheese and wine tasting session which might be a fun thing to do if you're in the area. (They cost £35.)

The other is a new on-line cheese retailer called Pong - a brave move, I feel given that not everyone is into stinky cheese - but it has a very funky site with some sexy photography, some imaginative and fairly priced cheese selections and some appealing recipes. I love the sound of the Westcombe Cheddar and bacon stuffed baby baked potatoes as a party nibble.

It's a difficult time to be selling artisanal cheese which suddenly seems very expensive. The other day I bought some sheeps' cheese at my local farmers market that cost more per kilo than fillet steak - although of course you don't need quite so much of it.

I can't help but feel that La Cave must be struggling in such an expensive location and in competition with cheese meccas like Neal's Yard and La Fromagerie. But not everyone has a good cheese shop near them and for them the answer could well - if they hold their nose - be Pong.