Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why can't we have cheese bars in Britain?

It was, of course, inevitable that New Yorkers would do it first but I have to say I'm insane with envy about Murray's new Cheese Bar. Even after reading this review in Serious Eats which picks a few holes in the experience

I've been banging on for ever about how great a cheese bar - or, better still, a cheese café - would be eliciting pitying looks from my family and friends. Who would go to a place where you could only eat cheese, they ask? (Plenty of people, I argue.) Cheese is expensive, there's not enough profit in it. (Then serve high-margin drinks . . .)

I knew it would work having been to Artisanal and Casellula in New York a couple of years ago and now Tia Keenan who devised the pairings at Casellula has been poached by Murray's.

In this age of single food restaurants - burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken - surely we can have one devoted to cheese? Won't some cheeseloving enterpreneur open one?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A perfect cheese trolley

Cheese trolleys, as I've discovered from previous exchanges, divide cheese lovers. There are those who think no restaurant worth its salt offers anything less than 30 cheeses and others of us (betraying my own preferences) that reckon there's no way most restaurants can keep even 20 in good condition.

But Le Pot d'Etain in L'Isle sur Serein can, it seems. Its cheese trolley - or rather tray - unfortunately snapped in the gloom of a low-lit dining room this week, was simply superb. It included the best Epoisses I've ever eaten (matured by Fromagerie Berthaut), full-flavoured but not overpowering and just ripe enough but not so runny as to form a pool of molten cheese on the plate, a perfect Soumaintrain and another Burgundian cheese whose name I didn't catch, washed in Chablis. Even better the cheese course didn't attract a supplement as it does almost everywhere else. It was tempting to dive in for more but I was already full of snails and rabbit.

I guess the locals love their cheese so there's no problem with sad cheeses left lingering and unloved on the trolley but I'm sure it's more that the proprietor has a long-standing relationship with his supplier, gets his cheeses delivered at exactly the right moment and - crucially - knows how to keep them that way.

Le Pot d'Etain also has a stupendous winelist with the best collection of Chablis I've ever seen. Oddly the bottle we were drinking - a 2007 La Forest Premier Cru from Vincent Dauvissat - wasn't as good as I'd expected with the cheese. I usually find white wines better than red with washed rind cheeses but these very ripe cheeses possibly needed a sweet wine or a marc de Bourgogne.

Oh, and they also serve the most gigantic gougères, pictured alongside some mini cheese and ham 'cakes' (what the French call the quichey sort of savoury loaf they serve with an aperitif). Cheese heaven.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A memory of Daphne Zepos

I was shocked and saddened to read today of the untimely death of Daphne Zepos, founder of the Essex Street Cheese Company and a leading light in the US cheese community.

I spent a brilliant day with her in New York a couple of years ago when she showed me round New York's best cheese shops including the Bedford Cheese Shop, Stinky Bklyn and Saxelby's Cheese and generously shared her knowledge of the American artisanal cheese scene.

This is a picture with Tia Keenan of Murray's Cheese, then the fromager at Caselulla cheese and wine café, which perfectly captures the spirit of the day.

There's an excellent tribute to her on the Culture cheese magazine site from Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pomi-fritti fromage Corse

Apologies, first of all for the unannounced absence from the blog. I've been devoting my energies to the relaunch of my website Matching Food & Wine and to tell the truth haven't come across much in the way of cheese to report on lately. But this is the mother of all melted cheese experiences!

It was in the unlikely venue of a Corsican wine bar and restaurant in Bordeaux called A Cantina which, as you'd expect, had great artisanal charcuterie and cheese (Corsica being noted for both). And a CHIP MENU! Including a dish, pomi-fritti fromage Corse, with chips and melted cheese.

It was at the end of a long day and the bar was packed so I failed to get round to asking which cheese they had used (lax but we were knackered) but it had a tangy edge that suggests to me it was a sheeps' cheese and a wondrously molten consistency that indicated it was quite young. You'll have to play around with different cheeses.

The potatoes they used, by the way, still had their skins on and were hand-cut and there were a few little slivers of fried ham dotted about just to add to the calorie overload. I like the three forks impaled in the potatoes which encourages you not to eat them all on your own ...

The restaurant also offered a delicious warm crumble of goats' cheese and pistachio we had to try and which I might try to recreate. Again, young goats cheese, I suspect, layered with sliced tomato (I'd be inclined to skin it first) and topped with finely chopped pistachios, possibly blitzed with a bit of flour. Served with toasted baguette. It's very rich - you need to slather it on something.

I'm going to have to get experimenting.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Another clever cheese plate

A couple of nights ago I was at a dinner to celebrate 36 years of one of Bristol's best local restaurants Bell's Diner. The current chef Chris Wicks has only been at the stoves there for 12 years or so but put his personal spin on some of his predecessor's creations including - believe it or not - Tartex paté en croute. (Tartex was a 1970s paté substitute for veggies of which there have always been plenty in Bristol.)

But is was the cheese course I wanted to write about here: two goats' cheeses - Tymsboro and Sleightlett - from Chris's favourite cheesemaker, Mary Holbrook (below), about whom I've already written on this blog.

The cheeses were served on slates with a shard of lightly spiced flatbread and - the crowning touch - a small glass of goats' milk as if to pay tribute to the quality of the raw material. (It was also served with a glass of 2010 Domaine Tellier Menetou Salon which was the perfect match. From another long-term supplier Yapp Brothers.

Mary and her cheesemaker were there to talk about the cheeses, a really nice way of paying tribute to someone who'd been associated with the restaurant for many years.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Capra Nouveau

I've got a bit behindhand with my cheese posts - this was one I tasted about a month ago at my local deli, Chandos.

It's a washed rind goats cheese from a Shropshire producer called Brock Hall Farm. The surface looks almost as if it has been knitted and the interior is seductively yielding - a bit like a Vacherin.

It's quite assertive and fruity in flavour, but not strong and not at all 'goaty'. If I hadn't been told I'd have said it was a cows' cheese.

It's also very moreish. I bought a relatively small amount as I like to buy my cheese little and often and we wolfed our way through it in no time.

You can find other stockists on the Brock Hall Farm website.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How far should you let a Brie go?

Here is a picture of a practically perfect Brie. IMHO although some people might argue it had been allowed to mature too far.

It was served as part of a food and wine tasting I conducted at the cookery school Leiths the other day.

True, it made it trickier to find a wine match. The Chilean pinot noir I'd picked to go with it seemed a bit lightweight, it was so decadently creamy. On the other hand it hadn't got that sort of ammoniac character that Brie can acquire as it ages which can give it an unpleasantly bitter edge.

All you need is a hunk of crisp, freshly baked baguette to slather it on. And maybe a few grapes. The perfect lunch . . .

Beats the sort of underripe Bries you find on the supermarket chill counter hands down. You should never serve Brie straight from the fridge either.

But should you let it go this far if you value the wine you're drinking with it? What do you reckon?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Croatian cheese

One of the pleasures of travelling is checking out another country's cheese scene so I was looking forward to finding out what Istria in northern Croatia had to offer when I visited it last week.

The answer was not a great deal of distinction, just a lot of simply made fresh cheeses and a few aged, Pecorino-style ones. Cheese seems to be served almost as a condiment, accompanying vegetable dishes like asparagus or cold meats such as Istrian ham.

It's much more likely to be used at the beginning of a meal or as an accompaniment to a wine-tasting

Or as a selection of canapés at a buffet as with this hotel brunch (top and below).

Or it may be roughly grated, Pecorino-style, over a plate of pasta (in this case pasta with wild asparagus).

So there don't appear to be many strong cheeses but maybe that's deliberate so it can act as a foil for Croatia's gorgeous, grassy olive oil.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Two 'drunken' cheeses

By chance I've come across two cheeses lately that are both matured with the by-products of red wine. The first, last week, was at Al Pompiere in Verona where I tried a Monte Veronese Ubriaco (above, front) a local hard cows' milk cheese that had been soaked in grape must, and which was served with a sweet red onion marmalade.

Then back home I came across a fantastic cheese called Testun (pronounced tess-toon) at Zucca in Bermondsey Street - a smooth, tangy cheese which is apparently wrapped in nebbiolo vine leaves. I think it must be similar to the Testun al Barolo which is described here on the US cheese retailer Artisanal although the rind didn't have the same craggy appearance.

What this type of ageing process seems to result in is a more pliable consistency and a deeper more savoury flavour than you would find in a conventionally matured cheese and one that gives it a greater compatibility with red wine (although this article by the San Francisco Chronicle's cheese writer Janet Fletcher, suggests the contrary).

Both come into the category of ubriaco or 'drunken' cheeses, a description I must say I rather like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two simple, stunning ways to serve mozzarella

Most people I would guess use mozzarella one of two ways - in the classic insalata tricolore with tomatoes and avocado or to top a pizza. But I came across two brilliant new ways of serving it this week which I thought I'd share.

One was at our local wine bar and restaurant Flinty Red where the chef Matthew Williamson had topped it with a sharp little salad of shredded cabbage, capers, lemon and fried roughly torn bread.

The other was at the legendary River Cafe in London where it came with smashed chickpeas, roast artichokes and Italian erbette (lightly cooked greens)

Both looked beautiful, I think you'll agree and in each case made a lovely fresh-tasting, easy to assemble starter. Both relied on top class ingredients including great olive oil and super-fresh bufala mozzarella.

You might think that would be hard to get hold of if you don't have a good cheese shop nearby but you can buy it direct from Italy online from sites such as

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Whisky and Cheese pairing

I've just posted a piece on my food and wine matching site on a whisky and cheese tasting I tried out at The Capital bar this week. Click here for more.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

La Tur - a gorgeous Italian cheese

We went out for dinner to friends last night and they served just one cheese - a gorgeous triple cream cheese called La Tur. It sounds French but in fact comes from the Langhe region of Piedmont - maybe why it went so well with the Dolcetto we were drinking.

According to this site belonging to Clarks Speciality Foods it's a mixture of pasteurized cows, sheep and goats milk and has a delicate, slightly lactic earthy flavour and the most wonderful creamy silky consistency as if it's about to melt. My friend actually bought it at Waitrose where it seems to be stocked in larger branches. A real find and at £4.95 - enough for six - quite a bargain.

Incidentally I like the sound of the Clarks Italian cheese selection which includes La Tur, a cave aged Tallegio, Gorgonzola Dulce, Ubriaco which is rubbed with red wine must and Basajo, a blue cheese that's soaked in sweet wine

Friday, February 24, 2012

A clever cheese plate at Dabbous

I've said this before but it always surprises me how little effort restaurants make to serve their cheese with style so it was good to find this clever cheese plate at one of London's hottest new openings, Dabbous.

What caught my eye was the fact that it came with baked apple. In fact it was more like the sort of sticky, caramelised apple you find on the top of a tarte tatin - though not as sweet.

The cheeses were from front to back were Driftwood a French-style goats' cheese from Whitelake in Somerset, Wigmore, a bloomy-rinded ewes milk cheese from Berkshire, a scoop of creamy Lancashire Bomb a 24 month old Lancashire cheese from Goosnargh and Crozier Blue, a ewes milk cheese from Co. Tipperary, sister (brother?) cheese to the more famous Cashel Blue. The Lancashire and the Crozier Blue went particularly well with the apple.

Full marks for presentation and for serving a selection of British and Irish rather than French or Italian cheeses. The plate also came with toasted sourdough - toasted on one side which didn't make it too crisp.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gorgeous gougères

There's nothing nicer with drinks than something warm, crisp and cheesy and gougères fit the bill perfectly. I made a batch last night for a couple of friends and wondered why I didn't make them more often. (Probably just as well, on reflection. We scoffed the lot.)

Basically they're a cheese-flavoured choux puff and choux pastry is the easiest type of pastry to make. You simply melt the butter in water, tip in the flour, beat in the eggs and spoon it out. Well, pretty much. Here's the actual recipe from my book Food, Wine and Friends which is out of print though you should be able to find a second hand copy.

Makes 20-24
50g (2 oz) butter
75g (3 oz) strong white flour, sifted with 1/4 tsp salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 large (but not extra-large) eggs and some extra beaten egg
50g (2 oz) mature Gruyère or Comté, finely grated (but not as fine as parmesan. I used Beaufort which I happened to have in the fridge which worked just as well)

You'll also need 2 lightly oiled baking trays

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Measure 150 ml (5 fl oz) of water into a saucepan and add the butter cut into cubes. Heat gently until the butter has dissolved then bring to the boil.

Take the pan off the heat and tip in the sifted flour all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan clean. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Beat the large eggs and add them to the pastry bit by bit, working them in till the mixture is smooth and glossy (This is much easier and quicker in a food processor) Add all except 1 heaped tbsp of the cheese.

Beat the remaining egg and brush the top of each puff lightly with a pastry brush, sprinkling them with the remaining cheese.

Run the two baking sheets under the tap to make them slightly damp. Shake off any excess water. Using two teaspoons place spoonfuls of the mixture onto each sheet then bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until puffed up and golden. (Some people pipe the paste which gives you more perfect results but I can't be bothered.)

Remove the gougères from the oven and cut a small slit in the base of each to let the hot air escape and keep them crisp. Pop them back in the oven again, base side upwards for a minute then remove and cool on a wire rack.

Eat warm so if you make them ahead - and you can - just heat them through for about 4 minutes in a moderate oven. (Very good with Chablis and other white burgundy or a glass of champagne.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Real Swiss cheese

If you asked the proverbial man in the street which countries make the best cheese I’m sure Switzerland would be in their top three which makes it ironic that, Gruyère apart, we get hardly any Swiss cheese of note in the UK.

So it’s good to find a food writer colleague of mine Sue Style has written a really excellent book on the lesser known artisanal Swiss cheeses, called Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture. It’s charmingly illustrated with old prints and paintings and covered with a edelweiss-patterned material which is apparently used for the shirts that are worn by cheesemakers, country music players and, er ... wrestlers.

We tasted three of the cheeses she writes about at a food writers’ get together before Christmas and they were totally delicious, particularly the gooey Vacherin-like Bergfichte from Willi Schmid of Lichtensteig. The others were an 18 month old Gruyère Surchoix and a Mont Vully Classique, a semi-hard Appenzeller-like cheese from the Fribourg canton

The book is thorough but never dry, explaining exactly how each cheese is made, how it tastes and the story of the producer she has chosen to represent it. What’s fascinating is how the French, German and Italian influences in the country all make their way into the cheeses. There are also details of tourist trails such as the Chemin du Gruyère and the Sbrinz route which runs through the mountains south of Lucerne.

Sue is also an accomplished cookery writer and there’s a short but appealing selection of recipes at the end of the book including a wicked-looking cheese pudding called Ramequin, a cauliflower and broccoli cheese with walnut crumble, cheese pasties with bacon and potatoes and - best of all, I suspect - a double decker ‘rosti’ sandwich filled with melted cheese which looks well worth abandoning the new year diet (what diet?) for.

You can buy Swiss cheese, as I’ve mentioned before, from KaseSwiss who are now back in Borough Market opposite the Monmouth Coffee Company on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and still at Druid Street on Saturdays. And you can buy Sue's book direct from the publisher Bergli here. At 49 Swiss francs (£33.63) it's not cheap but if you're a cheesemonger or a serious cheese aficionado it's well worth it.