Sunday, 11 October 2009

Say cheese!

Apples. Little globes of infinite variety; deep red, mottled, orange, green; speckled or streaked; a solid mass of powerful colour. Dusky skins to be polished to a sheen with a sleeve.

Cut into firm, juicy flesh and find sweetness or tartness. Pips like tiny teak tears fall out.

And what do you eat these gems of autumn with? There's little better culinary companion than a chunk of cheese.

Apples are wonderful.

Cheese is just magnificent.

I have a problem. The Other Half doesn't like cheese. So I cannot use it in cooking for both of us. Imagine – he doesn't like cheese!

After my recent week in Brighton, when I didn't have any cheese for days, I've gone rather potty on return, unable to resist buying the stuff at various opportunities.

Currently in the house are the remainder of a wedge of Taleggio, a semi-soft Italian cheese (this is the first time I've tried it), plus some Comte and some Tombe Brebis from France.

But much as I love French cheeses in particular (plus good, properly aged Dutch Gouda and Swiss Gruyere, Spain's Manchego, Feta from Greece – a perfect match for new season broad beans in the spring – and Italian cheeses such as Mozzarella), the English have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to cheese counter. Well, at least they do if you can get past much of the rather plastic stuff that is sold in supermarkets.

Take Lancashire cheese as a prime example. I was introduced to this when living in Lancaster, in the north of the county. You'd go to the old Victorian indoor market and have the choice of three Lancashire cheeses: mild, medium – and 'tasty'.

Supermarkets, in their quest to find lowest denominators that have better profit margins, have taken the mildest of these and packaged it in plastic (heaven help!) and stocked it in the chiller cabinets with a flavour rating of two out of five (with five being the strongest).

Lancashire cheese, at its very best, should crumble wonderfully and should tingle on the roof of the mouth. It cooks well too. My mother used to occasionally take a small, round enamel dish, put a little milk in it, a slice of bread and some Lancashire cheese – the 'tasty' variety – on top, then pop it in the oven. The cheese would melt to a wonderfully stringy texture on the bread and over the sides into the milk.

Wonderful comfort food. Although of course, today, as with so many other things, cheese has an aura of luxury about it – a high-calorie, high-fat treat that shouldn't be indulged in too often. But then again , in our diet-obsessed age, when apparently over 90% of UK women are dieting at any one time, it's also worth noting that, when we give up dairy produce, considering it an unhealthy indulgence, we give up serious nutritional value too. It's no coincidence that dieting women have a lower bone density level than those not dieting – in cutting dairy produce, we cut calcium. Bring on the osteoporosis.

There's also the taste factor. Marketed for years as a low-fat cheese, the generic Edam you find lacks much flavour.

Flavour and fat have, in many foods, a strong link. Chicken is another good illustration: thighs are so much tastier than breast meat. They're cheaper too, as breast sells better – not least because it is perceived as 'healthier'. So what if you have to take the most flavourless foods and drench them in sauces, pastes and so forth to give them a taste.

Chicken thighs have the added 'complexity' of of mostly coming complete with skin and bone – but it's a doddle to rip the skin off before cooking (if you want) and it doesn't require a qualification in butchery to remove the bone if you want to do that too. A good pair of kitchen scissors make light work of that task.

But back to cheese. Goat's cheeses – little gems of tangy taste and texture – were just made for salads. And they work particularly well at this time of year.

Chuck some leaves on a plate. Take an apple or a pear, slice it and pop it on the leaves (you can make a pretty pattern with it if you want). Mix up a bit of simple dressing – virgin oil and fresh lemon juice with seasoning – and drizzle over at this point so that the fruit won't discolour.

Toast some walnut halves, slice up your goat's cheese and pop both of these on the salad. It doesn't get much easier – and the tastes are wonderful.

Do something similar with a good Stilton – it crumbles well for the job. Cheshire cheese, if you can get it, has a good crumbly texture too – it's a wonderful compliment to eating simply with an apple.

And then, of course, there is Cheddar. Over the years, I've decided that my favourite Cheddar is Davidstow. Indeed, if there's one foodstuff that, merely thinking about my mouth starts to water, it's cheese. I'm dribbling on the keyboard even now. And Cheddar doesn't sit around for long before it's opened. And then I'll nip into the kitchen for a surreptitious sliver every now and again, the tangy taste twisting my taste buds into a frenzy of pleasure.

So, even if I can't make hot dishes with cheese very often, there are still plenty of wonderful ways to enjoy this food of the gods, at any time of the day.


  1. You have the most marvelous way of describing food and food preperation. Makes me hungry!

  2. That you, Revised! I'm really glad that you enjoy it!

  3. A good story

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

    Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

    I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

    I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.