Sunday, February 28, 2010

Prima Donna: a Dutch cheese that thinks it's Italian

I always like trying new cheeses and came across one yesterday in our local deli that's a real curiosity: a Dutch cheese that's made to taste like parmesan. It's called - and this has to be an idea of some marketing department - Prima Donna and is made by a company called Vandesterre in the style of a Gouda. (It can't be classified as Gouda because of the fat content which is only 45% compared to the minimum 48% required for Gouda.)

It's much softer and more pliable than a parmesan but has quite a kick though less bitterness than a mature cheddar. Unlike many cheeses it tastes pretty good straight out of the fridge (as I can testify as I'm nibbling it right now!)

I suspect it would be very good to cook with and might also pair well with full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot (by no means true of all hard cheeses)

The only downside is that it's quite difficult to cut as my cheesemonger found (above). You can see that it split when it was cut. But who cares when it tastes this good?

There is apparently a milder version so look out for the red label and the word 'maturo' if you want the real McCoy.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A model way to serve cheese

We weren't planning to have cheese at what was already an over-indulgent lunch at Texture today but when we spotted their cheese course we had to give it a try. It consisted of just three cheeses - Valençay, Pecorino Sardo and Stichelton, cut and served on a square slate, each with a complementary relish.

In the case of the Valençay it was a honey and muscat jelly, the Pecorino was paired with a little peeled celery salad and the Stichelton with a delicately spiced pear and apple compote. There was also two kinds of toast, one made from thick slices of wholegrain bread and one (at the back of the picture) from some very fine slices of apricot bread.

The sommelier Erica came up with the perfect pairing, a spectacular glass of 1988 Cossart Gordon Sercial Madeira (see the website under Colheita) - all cream and caramelised nuts yet amazingly dry.

A model modern way to serve cheese.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Introducing Cheese School

Since I got back from my cheese trip to New York last December I've been buzzing with ideas about cheese events so it's good to be able to announce that cheesemonger Jess Trethowan and I have launched Cheese School which we're immodestly billing as the "ultimate experience for cheeselovers".

Basically Jess - who with her husband Todd runs Trethowan's Dairy in Bristol - and I thought of all the things we'd really like to do with cheese: meeting and talking to cheesemakers, trying new cheeses, playing around with different ingredients and wine and other drink pairings, cooking with it, scoffing it . . . and came up with the idea of a single day where you could do all of that.

The first day, which will take place on Sunday April 11th at Bordeaux Quay Cookery School in Bristol will have as guest cheesemakers Jess's husband Todd who also makes Gorwydd Caerphilly and Sam and Rachel Holden who make Hafod Cheddar, two cheeses I've enthused about on this blog before. Inspired by my recent Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge we're also going to be cooking up a great mac'n'cheese lunch and also getting tips on how to buy and keep cheese at its best. You can find the full programme on our new website here.

We're also up for organising one-off events and doing a bit of staff training which Jess, who likes a good pun, has dubbed Cheese Train. (I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time before we have a Cheese Bus. I kid you not - Jess has already got a Cheese Bike!)

You can keep up with what we're up to on the site and on Twitter where we tweet as @CheeseSchool. And we hope you'll come and join us for a day of cheesy indulgence!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cheese and onion soup

Since I tasted a sublime onion and cider soup the other day I've been dying to make one and the few desultory snowflakes this morning were all I needed to get going. This is a much more rustic version but worked rather well. I used the lovely Roscoff onions I bought the other week and a good wedge of Gorwydd Caerphilly I had left over from my purchases at the Cheesefest which interestingly made it taste creamy rather than too obviously cheesy and balanced the sweetness of the onions. Perfect February food!

Serves 3-4
1 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
450g good quality onions, peeled and sliced
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp flour
500ml light vegetable stock (I used 2 tsp Marigold bouillon powder)]
150ml dry cider
50g Gorwydd Caerphilly, rind removed and grated
Salt and white pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole, add the butter then tip in the onions, season lightly and stir well. Cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes until soft and golden, stirring occasionally adding the thyme half way through. Stir in the flour, add the stock and cider and bring up to simmering point. Turn the heat down and cook for another 20 minutes or so. Take the pan off the heat, leave for a minute until it's stopped bubbling then stir in the Gorwydd Carphilly. Adjust the seasoning and serve. You could scatter over a bit of chopped parsley if you wanted to pretty it up with something green.


Friday, February 5, 2010

A cheese room: the new 'must-have' restaurant accessory?

As I was lunching at the River Café this week (see here for my review) I took the opportunity to take a look at their glossy new cheese room that they installed after their refit a couple of years ago following the fire that destroyed their kitchen.

In fact it wasn't as large or as lavish as I'd imagined - just a narrow room at the far end of the private dining room (above) but it enables them to keep their cheeses at the ideal temperature and humidity (between 10-12°C and 80-85% respectively)

Needless to say the cheeses themselves were perfect specimens like this Provolone del Monaco (above) and Puzzone di Moena (below) from Trentino Alto Adige, both unpasteurised cows milk cheeses.

I've only seen one other cheese room in London at the South African steak restaurant High Timber but they look so cool I'm sure other restaurants are going to want to follow suit.

Have you come across a restaurant with a good cheese room?


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ultimate Macaroni Cheese Challenge: the winners!

Well, I knew it was going to be a hard call to decide on our winning entries and it was! I can’t tell you how glad I was to have roped in some guest judges to share the burden of decision-making but we got there in the end!

In an ideal world we’d have made and tasted all the entries but at the end of the day this is just a piece of fun, not a serious competition. So to any of you who feel aggrieved that we’ve overlooked your masterpiece, my sincere apologies.

First off, the best drink match, a last-minute category suggested by Denise of The Wine Sleuth who nobly agreed to judge the entries. We had four which you can see here. We both liked the entries from Andrew Barrow of Spittoon who suggested an English white, the Oakengrove Vineyard Dry White 2006 and Lucy Bridgers of Wine, Food and Other Pleasures who went for a mature white burgundy, Rully 1er Cru 2000 Les Cloux from Vincent Girardin but Denise reckoned that the Rully would be more likely to deliver over a range of mac’n’cheeses and that Lucy made her case persuasively.

The photography category was small but we had one outstanding winner, according to our judge Marie-Louise Avery: Rob of Eat Pictures who submitted a highly original and colourful take on the subject.
“Rob's picture is well lit, nicely composed, uses focus interestingly and is an original approach” said Marie-Louise.

In the artisanal cheese category we felt three entries stood out: Signe Johansen’s version which used Montgomery, Wensleydale, Gorwydd Caerphilly and Stichelton, Sharmila’s, which used Montgomery, Ogleshield and Isle of Mull Cheddar and Scott’s extensively researched Mac and Montgomery Cheddar. It was a tough call but judge Jess Trethowan of Trethowan’s Dairy thought Signe performed the greatest service to the British artisanal cheese cause. “Great cheeses, great crème fraîche - very nice and simple but delicious."

And finally - the big one - the best original recipe which as I explained meant the best recipe invented by you rather than the most off the wall. There were so many outstanding entries in this category judges Xanthe Clay, Marlena Spieler and I really had a struggle. We loved Mathilde’s Mac’n’Cheese à la française, Scott’s Mac ‘n’ (Man)Chego, James’s stylish lobster mac and Susan of Food Blogga’s Italian macaroni and cheese but in the end it was a toss-up between Elly of Pear Café’s delicious-sounding Macaroni cheese with Welsh Rarebit topping and Helen of Food Stories' wickedly indulgent Mac and Cheese for an Army made with cooked ham hocks. And being piggy that was our final choice though Xanthe, who was unable to resist cooking it up, offered the suggestion that it could do with a touch more flour to stablise the lavish amounts of cheese! (Interestingly it looks like it was your choice too. It was the most frequently mentioned of the recipes and attracted no less than 34 comments on Helen’s blog.)

So four worthy winners! Congratulations, all. Your prizes will all be winging their way in the next week or so and I hope those of you who didn’t win will still agree that this was a great deal of fun.