Friday, November 25, 2011

Toast is the new biscuit for cheese

I'm always struggling to find the perfect biscuit for cheese. I really don't like digestive biscuits and even find oatcakes a touch too sweet (except with blue cheese). I'm not a big fan of crackers and water biscuits though I do like crisp Italian-style flatbreads. Now along comes Toast for Cheese, the brainwave of the inventive Ann-Marie Dyas of the Fine Cheese Company in Bath (below).

I must confess I'm a huge fan of Ann-Marie's. She was the first to create biscuits and pastes to complement different cheeses, the first to devise attractively packaged cheese selections to sell online, the first cheesemonger - so far as I know - to sponsor a cheese festival and now she's discovered toast.

And not just any toast. Three different kinds studded with dates, hazelnuts & pumpkin seeds (for creamy cheeses such as Brillat-Savarin, Brie de Meaux and Vacherin Mont D’Or), apricots, pistachios & sunflower seeds for goats’ cheeses such as Valençay, Crottin de Chavignol and Ragstone and cherries, almonds and linseeds for blue cheeses such as Fourme D’Ambert, Stilton and Gorgonzola Dolce. Of course you can try other cheeses with them. I wasn't at all sure the apricot and pistachio biscuits wouldn't have been better with a slightly stronger washed rind cheese but the main point is that they look absolutely stunning and would make a great present for anyone you were visiting over Christmas. You can buy all three boxes for £7.50.

Here's what I did with the date, hazelnut and pumpkin seed ones at Cheese School the other week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Camembert roaster - the gadget you didn't know you needed

I love it when a small producer writes and tells me about something they've created especially when it's as off-the-wall as this handmade Camembert roaster which is made by Sussex blacksmith, Alex Moore.

It's designed to roast boxed cheeses like Camembert on the embers of an open fire, or log burning stove. You simply unwrap your cheese, place it back in the bottom of the box and put it in the roaster's pan. Needless to say I immediately wondered what would happen if the box caught fire but, as you can see, the base is really thick so as long as you don't have flames flickering round it you should be fine, Alex told me.

If you don't have an open fire, you can apparently use the roaster on the top plate of an Aga or put into a conventional oven with the door ajar. You can also use it for chestnuts.

Let's face it, no-one actually needs an object like this but it's amazingly beautiful and a lovely thing to use for roasting cheese with the family around Christmas or any cold winter's night. The perfect present for a cheeselover.

The price is £58, including delivery to a UK mainland address and you can order it from

PS have also spotted that they make some pretty funky garden benches and this lovely tree seat.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Knockdrinna Kilree goats cheese

I'm always slightly sceptical about food and drink awards. What does it mean that a particular cheese is the 'supreme champion' in the British Cheese Awards for example? That it's better than any other cheese in the UK and Ireland? Surely not. More like it's an interesting cheese that deserves our attention and Knockdrinna's Kilree goats cheese is certainly that.

I got to taste it at the Fine Cheese Co's cheese festival in Bath a couple of weeks back and it's a delicious cheese by any standards. Not obviously goaty but with a really savoury tangy edge and a lovely clean faintly crumbly texture - firmer than a normal washed rind cheese. We made short work of the piece I brought home - it's the perfect nibbling cheese with a glass of light to medium-bodied red wine like a Saumur-Champigny or other Loire red.

The only problem is it's incredibly hard to get hold of outside Knockdrinna's farm shop in Co. Kilkenny and, I would guess, top Irish cheesemongers like Sheridan's. I presume the Fine Cheese Co has some, and maybe Neal's Yard. Saturday morning, when I'm peversely writing this post, isn't the ideal time to ring a cheese shop and check but I'll update on stockists as soon as I find out. (15th November: finally managed to confirm that the Fine Cheese Company does have it but Neal's Yard, Paxton & Whitfield and La Fromagerie don't! Odd for an award-winning cheese.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our idyllic autumn cheese school

On Sunday we held our second all-day cheese school this year in the romantic and atmospheric surroundings of the Barley Wood Walled Garden at Wrington.

It was held in an decorated antique tent with cheesemaking demonstrations by Tim Homewood of Homewood Cheeses in the cider barn. (We were incredibly lucky that it was so mild for the end of October and that the rain held off!)

The tent had been decorated by Toast with candles, storm lanterns, bunting and apples

We had two visiting cheesemakers, Tim Homewood and Joe Schneider who makes the legendary Stichelton as well as our resident cheesemakers Todd and Maugan Trethowan of Trethowans Dairy.

We tasted all different kinds of cheeses and had our popular beer vs wine smackdown with Bristol Beer Factory and Matt Eggens of Avery's

We put together cheeseboards and seasonal cheeseplates like this one I based on Sparkenhoe's mature Red Leicester.

Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery brought along a selection of his amazing breads and even handed out cupfuls of his 76 year old (I think!) sourdough starter.

Jack and Matt of The Ethicurean who run the cafe at the venue cooked a lovely lunch of beetroot and curd soup, Old Demdike (sheeps cheese) and pear salad with leaves from the vegetable garden and a gorgeous sticky toffee apple cake about which I've raved already.

And Jack and Peter Snowman of the Bristol Cider shop talked to us about apples and cider and cheese.

I also bought the most beautiful wooden cheeseboard which would make a lovely Christmas present. If you want one like it email wayneyedgeATyahooDOTcoDOTuk (he'll have a website soon)

A special day. All credit to Jess Trethowan and Cathy Gremin the heroic organisers of the event.

The next Cheese School is a special candlelit evening of cheese (and wine and beer, of course) in the beautiful medieval setting of St Thomas the Martyr church, Bristol on December 15th.