I’ve been away in Australia and suddenly it has been a whole mouth since I posted. I had ambitious plans to write whilst I was on holidays but I spent my time catching up with family and friends instead. This involved lots of eating and drinking and definitely not enough exercise to balance it out.
There was particularly lots of cheese eaten. On our second day in Sydney, my partner in cheese-loving, Naomi, introduced me to a strong and amazing Hunter Valley goats cheese. Made by Binnorie Dairy in the Pokolbin wine district, their Valencay is an ash-coated white mould goats cheese, made in the similar style and appearance to traditional French Valencay cheeses.
As an aside, when I looked up Valencay on google, the bulk of information relates to its shape. Apparently, it was once a full pyramid in shape, but an angry Napoleon chopped off the top on his way through the town after terrible fighting in Egypt, leaving the cheese in its truncated pyramid form ever since.
Aged for up to 2 months, a couple of hours outside of the fridge lets the outer part of the cheese become all dirty white and gooey, with an almost translucent appearance. This is next to the firm, but still crumbly, white centre, that was more distinctively goaty. It was one of the most delicious cheese I had tried in ages. It really doesn’t need anything else on the cheeseboard with it.
Wondering if jetlag may have made me overly enthusiastic, Naomi and I went to the the Binnorie stall at the Eveleigh Farmers Markets a couple of weeks later. It was just as good.
It’s funny where blog reading will take you. In addition to cheese, I am really fascinated by the geographies of food and how it links to place, how people see their environment and how this can be used in design and art. One blog I regularly read is Edible Geography. Recent posts included mapping linkages between cupcakes and gangs, as well as fascinating post on the meaning and information that can be imparted by wine labels. This got me thinking about cheese and the different approach to information-sharing that occurs here.
Looking online, I found an interesting collection of vintage cheese labels that was originally published in Culture magazine and reproduced in the Design Observer . I’ve included one below, which I hope they don’t mind.
Picture: Culture Magazine/Design Observer
What is interesting is that most of these labels are for processed and single size cheeses. They are really a form of advertising, for attracting buyers on the supermarket shelves. There is nothing wrong with this, but it contrasts significantly with many artisan cheeses, which tend to have much more limited labelling. Given cheese, just like wine, is in many ways shaped by the area where is comes from and that labelling/controlled title can be hotly debated, the minimalist approach makes cheese quite unique.
Most cheeses I buy have no labels or at least none that you can take home with you. Much of this probably practical, given lots of cheese is purchased as parts of the whole, as well as the desire by to see the cheese in its naked state – there are few things more lovely that a full display of different cheeses. But in some ways, the removal of labelling creates a central need for someone who can then share the cheeses with you. Cheese buying, especially for those of us with limited knowledge, can be exciting but overwhelming. Just a name can mean nothing, so a good cheese monger is essential to explain what it is, where it’s from, and how old it is. An unhelpful cheese monger can mean that questions are not asked and good cheeses are missed.
It has all been very hectic lately. I’m heading back to Australia tonight for a holiday – the first time I’ve been back in over two years. I hoping Sydney can produce some sunny, warm weather as I really want to go surfing without a wetsuit!
And I have lots of cheese plans. There is a whole world of local cheese that I barely know and hope to share. So I’ll try and keep you posted.
Turns out, there are lots of cheese names that could equally be the names of writing fonts. I randomly discovered this because of a slightly stupid (but surprisingly addictive and distracting) game – cheese or font? It can fill an impressive amount of time…so don’t play at work.
A post is much nicer with a photo, so I’ve included some crottin de chavignol. I ate it all before writing any notes but it is a dry and crumbly goats cheese from Chavignol in France. The name literally translates as ‘horse dung from Chavignol’ – a name whih doesn’t raise the most appealing imagery but comes from its appearance after lengthy maturing. Mine wasn’t quite that old, but if I had kept for 3 months, it should have shrunk down and turn quite dark.
It went bizarrely well with a homemade cashew and polenta soda bread. The bread was actually much more moist that it should have been so the cheese really saved it.
Tenaya or Madame Fromage writes a great cheese blog over in Philadelphia. Her love of blue cheese led to making March the month of blues and hosting a blue cheese invitational – with contributions from friends, cheese lovers and other bloggers from all around the place. It’s a lovely idea, resulting in a series of interesting posts about all things blue – from brunch to cooking to cheese boards. My contribution was to share my (current) favourite blue, Perl Las, an organic welsh blue I discovered at the St David’s Day tasting last week. You can see it here.
I’ve got a report that needs to be written, so I’ve been working at home a bit to try and get my head around all the research. It’s quieter than the office, and I can’t access my work emails, so less distractions. I can also duck to the small deli around the corner from our place for good things to eat. They have a small but interesting selection of cheeses and when I went most recently, the name ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ caught my eye. Inspired by the name and the shop assistant’s promise of a strong favour, I brought a chunk home for lunch.
It turns out to that the name comes from a traditional folksong about the joys of poaching (you can hear it here). The cheese is made in Lincolnshire by brothers Simon and Tim Jones. Using unpasteurised cows milk, it is made in a way similar to traditional cheddar – a process that involves layering blocks on curds on top of each other and letting their natural weight expel the whey (the layering bit is called ‘cheddaring’) – as well as 36 hours of weighted pressing. The 20kg truckles are then naturally dried and matured for 14-16 months,. There is more detail on the cheese-making process here.
It’s good on its own and would go nicely with a apple and sultana chutney (although we had none to hand). It has a nice bite to it and is a bit chewy although it isn’t quite as strong as I expected. We’ve also been using it like a cheddar in cooking, grated it on baked potatoes and melted it on toast. I tried the rind but probably wouldn’t recommend it. The makers also produce a vintage version that is aged for 18-22 months and I’d really like to try that.
I wonder about lots of things – will it be too wet to ride to Whitstable this weekend? Do I have time to make brown bread and raspberry ice cream? I’ve also been thinking about which cheese rinds should be eaten. My approach to date has been pretty much if it is natural and not as hard as woodchips then I will try chewing it. This isn’t a bad approach but it has resulted in some pretty awful mouthfuls.
An article in Slashfood suggested that eating the rind is just as important as the smell – it draws a stronger picture of the cheese in your memory through texture and taste. I like this idea. And although it is very much a personal choice, there tends to be a fairly general view that if its natural, it is at least potentially edible.
One of the best discussions of this topic is on the old blog of Murray’s Cheese shop in New York. The people at Murray’s cheese have also put together a great map that categorises different types of cheese by their rind (and kindly let me include it below):
In some ways it’s odd – wanting to eat mould seems counter intuitive but I can’t imagine not eating the chewy rinds of young, soft white mould cheeses, such as camembert or brie. I’m equally partial to the outsides of washed-rind cheeses, as although they can get quite tough, so much of their character is bound up in the rind that is seems wrong to separate them.
The main ones that less palatable are the old, leathery rinds from aged air-dried hard cheeses, such as parmesan. Although it unlikely to be bad for you, these have been open to the elements and collect dust and all sorts of other natural bacteria. Even if they’re not eaten on their own they don’t all have to be thrown away; there are a range of recipes that call for rinds, especially from parmesan – such as minestrone or toasted parmesan rinds.
In between these extremes are cheeses with all sorts of natural rinds, including nettle leaves and ash. I was trying some Gorwydd Caerphilly at Neals Yard Dairy the other week and learnt that the rind is central to the taste. The Gorwydd has three main textures and levels of dryness that results from the inward drying as it ages, just like tree rings. Removing the outer layer would mean losing one level of taste and texture.
I’ve been trying to make a camembert-style cheese this weekend. The lovely rind and flavour found in this kind of cheese comes from a white mould produced by the fungus penicillium candidum. This fungus can be obtained in a freeze-dried format from cheesemaking supply shops, or, as I decided to try, from the rind of another good camembert-style cheese.
I’ll write more about the cheese-making itself later as what I want to write about now is the cheese I used as the inoculent.
I had a possibly irrational desire for an English cheese, so chose Tunworth. This cheese is made by Hampshire cheeses and won Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards in 2006, as well as a gold at the World Cheese Awards 2007; it seemed like it might be a good mother-cheese.
Produced from unpasteurised cows milk, it has a strong, grassy, almost farmyard (in a good way) aroma. The smell alone made me want to eat it although some of my work colleagues were slightly less enthusiastic when I kept in in the fridge for the last few hours of Friday.
The texture is gooey, sticking to the knife and the back of my teeth. I’m still working on how to describe the taste of cheese but it is rich – with an earthy, almost sour, kick. I would be really happy if my cheese comes any where close to this.
For Christmas this year, we had the unusual experience of staying in a converted stairwell on the Basque atlantic coast. I can only guess that the fading grandeur of the art-deco apartment building by the port in Guethary inspired some entrepreneurial thinking on how to raise funds but no matter, it was cool, with the old stairs leading up to a ladder, which climbed to a mezzanine and other tiny rooms, with a further ladder replacing the next staircase. Even better, it was within stepping distance from the sea and we could hear the waves hitting the port ramp all night.
While we were there, a surprising number of places were open and I tried what was called Basque brebis cheese, where it was served in thin slices with a small wedge of quince paste. I thought Brebis was a place at first, but eventually worked out it just meant sheep’s cheese, which made it more difficult to find out more about it once I got back. The cheese I ate had small air pockets throughout and a tough yellowy rind that is best not eaten (I did try, just to see). I did kind of expect more. There was nothing really wrong with the cheese, but it was mild and had a firm (although very slightly rubbery) texture. The smell was quite fresh, but it didn’t leave much of a taste behind, and was easily lost in the sweetness of the quince paste.
I tried another sheep’s cheese from Aramits when we were up in the Pyrenees after a day of snowboarding (well falling and trying to stand again really).
This one was better – served on fresh bread high in the mountains, which might explain the difference.
I love eating and the way different foods can work together to create new flavours and textures. But…since starting this blog, I’ve realised I’d never tried to describe this in words before, and I’m finding this really interesting (and hard!).
Take Cabrales. Cabrales is a blue cheese from the Asturias region in Northern Spain that I first tried last year. The cheese is made from unpastuerised cows milk (although sometimes goat or sheep milk is also used) in either a village of the same name or one of three other illages in the Pico de Europo mountain range. Air dried and then aged in caves, it is traditionally wrapped in Sycamore Maple leaves although the export version is wrapped in plastic and foil. Although the cheese is protected under the “Denominación de Origen Protegida” (D.O.P.) regulations, an odd exception is the cheese that isn’t for export but instead is sold locally wrapped in maple leaves – for some reason these are not eligible for the D.O.P label.
My new block is an export one, so wrapped in foil rather than leaves, and it’s good. We were eating some last night and found it difficult to describe how it tastes. It’s dry(ish)and almost flakey. It has a salty hit which becomes a bit sharp on the tongue. We combined it with a rich south american red, and it made the wine sparkle. It is lovely to eat on its own but is also good in cooking. We’ve added some to sautéed mushrooms and onions in the past and tossed it with pasta for a quick week night dinner.