Thursday, 24 November 2011

Beaufort d'alpage

One of my favourite cheeses of all comes from the high Alpine region of the Massif Beaufortin, where the steep-sided mountains reach 3000m, with deep, lush valleys below. Beaufort AOC is a cheese which production is limited to 3 of the valleys in this remote region – Val du Beaufortin, Val du Tarentaise, and the Val du Maurienne. Here, the mountain sides are snow covered for at least 6 months of the year, but as the snow recedes in mid-spring, the “alpage” (or high mountain grazing pastures) comes to life, with hundreds of rare and indigenous grasses and flowers growing and blooming. Flowers such as gentians, saxifrage and orchids grow here on the light, limestone soils. This unique cocktail of clean, unadulterated pasture, untouched by any cultivation, fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides, along with pure air mountain air creates an environment perfect for the production of this very special cheese. This environment is grazed for 100 day of the year, from June to September, by the two local breeds of cattle, the Tarentaise and the Abondance, which are grazed in large herds of up to 200 animals. Coming from the region, these breeds are hardy, and adapted to the steep inclines of the hills and the temperature fluctuations between night and day. Milking takes place in small, mobile milking parlours, with the fresh milk being pumped directly from the udder into churns, before being taken down the mountain to the dairy.
There are 3 types of Beaufort: Beaufort d’Alpage, made using this special summer mountain milk, Beaufort d'été, made using summer milk produced further down mountain, and Beaufort d’hiver, made during winter months, when the cattle are kept inside and fed on hay.
In large copper cauldrons, the milk is heated to 32C and renneted using a solution made from strips of dried calves stomach. The digestive enzyme, rennin is released into the solution, along with lactic ferments to ripen the milk. After coagulation, the curd is repeatedly cut, stirred, and heated to 53-54ᵒC. The curds are cut to the size of rice grains, and the heating and stirring encourages syneresis, the expulsion of whey. After this cooking process, the thousands of tiny curds are left to settle under the whey, and begin to form a solid mass at the bottom of the cauldron. The cheese maker removes them by slipping a large square cloth below the curds, tying the four corners of the cloth together, and hoisting the mass out from the whey and into a mould for pressing.
The rind of Beaufort is concave around the edge as a result of the mould being tightened around the cheese before a 24 hour pressing, during which time the cheese is turned and the mould re-tightened.
Now the cheese is ready for brining, and its maturation process begins.
This week I have been eating a delicious Beaufort d’Alpage, one of the first of the season having been made in early June with the very first alpine milk of the year. It is young, milky, honey-sweet and floral, with a soft and buttery texture, and very delicious.

Beaufort is wonderful at all ages, and if the cheese were to have been kept another 6-12 months, the flavours would become richer, meaty, more complex, with a firmer texture and perhaps the satisfying grainy bite an old cheese develops.     

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Pheasant terrine

At this time of year I often find myself with more pheasants than I know what to do with. They can be delicious roasted (remove the legs and roast the breast on the bone with butter, apples and Calvados for 30 minutes at 230C), confit (lightly cure the legs over night with a dry mix of course salt, thyme and juniper, before covering in duck fat and cooking slowly for 4 hours), curried, braised, pot roasted, braised….almost any recipe which uses chicken can be applied to pheasant. Pheasants usually have a deeper, more satisfying flavour than a chicken – think of the hedgerow diets of berries, worms, grubs and grains that pheasant gorge themselves on all autumn.

Whilst I’d except to pay £15-£20 for a decent chicken, pheasants are often sold for a fiver a brace in the feather in rural butchers and farm shops, and £7-8 a brace plucked and dressed.
Here is a recipe for an autumnal terrine which celebrates the abundance of this versatile game bird.
  • 1 large pheasant, skinned and gutted (keep the liver, heart and gizzard)
  • 400g fatty pork (shoulder or belly)
  • 150g good quality bacon
  • 100ml brandy
  • Small bunch sage, chopped
  • 6 juniper berries, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 quince (roasted in 100gsugar, star anise, cinnamon for 90minutes, cooled and diced)
  • 1 leek
Joint the pheasant into 2 breasts, 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks.  Make a cut up the side of the drumsticks, remove the bone and all of the sinews and tendons. Remove the bones from the thighs. Take one of the breasts and dice into 1cm cubes and set aside, along with the remaining whole breast.
Dice the bacon and the pork, and add to the pheasant leg meat. Add the heart, liver and gizzard (cleaned and trimmed). Mix well with the salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg, juniper, sage and brandy. Put this mix into a food processor and pulse until the meats are well minced. Be careful not to blitz for too long continuously, which will destroy the protein structure, and result in a sticky, pastey texture.
In a large bowl, combine this mix with the diced pheasant breast and quince.
Bring a pan of water to a rapid boil. Take the leek, trim both ends, and make a cut half way into the leek and slice down the length, to separate each layer of the leek. Blanch in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then refresh in iced water.

Line a terrine or bread tin in cling film, and lay each leek left along the bottom and sides (see picture below).
Start adding the meat, pressing firmly down to avoid air pockets. When almost half of the mixture is in the tin, take the whole pheasant breast, and lay it on top of the mixture, then add the rest of the mixture to encase the whole breast in the centre. When you have all the mixture in the tin, pull the cling film tightly over the top to seal, and cover in foil.

 Place in a bain-marie and cook at 180C for 70-80minutes. Take the terrine out of the bain-marie and allow to settle for an hour or two. Keep the terrine in the tin and find a weight slightly smaller than the tin to press the terrine with. A standard brick works (wrapped in foil). Leave in the tin, with the weight on top for 12 hours before cutting and serving.
The addition of quince gives a sweet flavour to this dense, meaty terrine.

Serve with watercress, toast and cornichons.  

Monday, 7 November 2011

Potting Crayfish

If you go down to the river today….look out for crayfish! The American Signal Crayfish is causing mischief and mayhem in our waterways. They’re bigger and badder than our little native crayfish and are rapidly destructing their habitat, eating their food, and spreading disease.

During the 1970s, a new inland form of aquaculture took hold across the UK as a response to the public’s growing acceptance to new foods and flavours. Ponds and lakes were stocked with fast growing crayfish from America. Inevitably, they escaped before too long and have been having a great time ever since – spreading across most of the UK, hidden deep under water. Something must be done to control the invasive Crayfish before it’s too late for our native stock….eat the bastards!
Find Crayfish at farmers’ markets, food fairs, on decent menus (the Kingham Plough makes lovely use of them), or catch your own. All you need is a small trap (similar to a lobster pot), some bait (fish guts work well) and a licence from the Environmental Agency.
These fine specimens were caught in Cotswold spring-water fed ponds near Moreton-in-Marsh, and were sweet and juicy. In the kitchen they are just as versatile as any seaside crustacean.  To kill the Crayfish, place them in a box in the freezer for 15 minutes, they chill out and begin to go into hibernation. Bring a large pan of salted water to a rapid boil, and tip the sleeping Crayfish in. They die immediately from the temperature shock, and turn bright red in seconds. Boil for 3-4 minutes, and then plunge into iced water to halt the cooking (an over –cooked crayfish is a soggy morsel). They are now ready for peeling and eating.
I potted my Moreton Crayfish, much like Morecambe Bay pots its Shrimps.

For 100g of cooked, shelled Crayfish, clarify 100g of unsalted butter by melting it ion a pan slowly, and scooping off the white, creamy solids. Add generous pinches of cayenne, freshly grated mace and nutmeg, and take off the heat. Add the Crayfish and a good half teaspoon of salt. Pour the butter and Crayfish into a small dish and leave to set. If all the Crayfish are well buried below the butter, this will last for a good week.

To serve, allow the potted Crayfish to warm up a little, so the butter is spreadable, and eat on hot, brown toast.    

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

A question I often get asked as a cheesemonger - "do I eat the rind?"

Well, this I feel is a very personal thing, but I'd say, try it, and if you like it, eat it! Many cheeses have delicious rinds (or skins, or coats, what ever you want to call them).

A few weeks ago I got told, to my dismay that a cheese looked "really ugly". I gave a taste of the ugle cheese to he who judged the book by it's cover, and won him over - the cheese was undeniably delectable! But to me, the cheese was beautiful, the work of an artist, and in this case, beauty was more than skin deep.

So here are a few beautiful (or ugly, depending on personal preference) rinds...

 Tomme de Savoie, an alpine cheese with a soft, velvet-like rind, which gives off a scent of cellar and walnuts.

Gorwyyd Caerphilly, Todd Trethowan's Welsh Caerphilly cheese has a simular mucore rind, with with its proteolytic nature, breaks down the curd beneath to a buttery, semi-soft texture.

Mahon, a traditional cows' milk cheese from the island of Menorca with a rind rubbed in olive oil and paprika giving a exciting, spicy flavour.

Langres, from the Langres plateau in Champagne, is washed in brine with a little annatto give a light orange colour to the rind. The bacteria (Brevibacterium Linens) which the washing of the rind encourages breaks the salty, flaky curd down to a creamy, sometimes runny consistency below the rind. A yeast (Geotrichum) gives the wrikled, "brain-like" appearance.

Reblochon de Savoie is dipped in whey from the previous days cheese making before being rubbed in brine during the ripening period. The rind slowly ripens the cheese to a creamy, yielding consistency with a savoury, brothy flavour to the rind.

Maroilles, another washed-rind cheese, is bathed regularly in brine to give a very sticky rind and a strong, pungent aroma. Again, the bacterial growth on the rind alters the texture of the cheese below to a creamy, soft texture and a rich, fruity flavour.

Mont d'Or, from the Jura and Haut-Doubs. The undulating rind is tender, and coats a melting paste inside the cheese - scented with the aroma of the spruce bark which surrounds the cheese.

Dorstone, a goats' milk cheese from Herefordshire is coated in ash before a thin Geotrichum rind forms, followed by downy tufts of Penicillium Candidum.

Mimolette is made in the French Flanders, and can be likened to a vieux Gouda - nutty, sweet, caramel, and fruity flavours with a brittle, chewy texture. The rind is pitted and craggy from an aging period of upto two years, during which time cheese mites burrow around the crust.

Stichelton, the raw milk blue cheese from Nottinghamshire. Here, the rind has a multitude of yeast, moulds and bacteria on the rind. Firstly yeasts - Geotrichum reduce the surface acidity to create a hosptiable environment from the bacteria - Brevibacterium Linens to grow, which is followed by the white mould Penicillium Candidum...whilst inside, blue Penicillium Roqueforti blooms when the cheese is pierced.

So a rind should always be sniffed, and not sniffed at. It ripens the cheese, it protects the cheese, and can often give you flavours, aromas and textures (the main reason for eating most things) unfound in the body of the cheese.

Montgomery Cheddar, bound in cloth and coated in lard.