Monday, 23 April 2012

St. George's Day Mushroom

A wet St. George's Day - perfect for the mushroom who takes the Saint's name.

The St. George's mushroom, is, of course, so named because it is always found around St. George's Day when the fungus fruits. Sure enough, each year, I return to the same site to harvest this delicious, and free food. I have spent hour upon hour searching for Porcini in the Forest of Dean, Chanterelles in Scotland, Pied de Mouton in the Lake District, and Morels in Gloucestershire, only to find they aren’t growing where I found them the previous year!
First St. George's mushrooms of the season

Not with the St. George's mushroom, for about 4 consecutive years I have found them growing in the exact same location – in large rings around the base of Hawthorn trees. I know under which tree I will find most, and always make for that one first. I went to my secret hunting ground last week, 7 days before St. George's day itself, to see if the mushrooms had begun to grow, and they were had. Amazing how they come up almost to the same week every year.

There weren’t many, but the ones I did pick were in excellent condition, with their caps just opening, and their flesh firm and free from maggots. Leaving the mushrooms to grow too big before picking often means they will be watery and slimy in texture, and full of little maggot.

Picking wild mushrooms can be a risky business, not to be advised unless you know what you're doing, but the St. George's mushroom is just about the easiest of fungi to correctly identify. The vast majority of mushrooms, both the edible and the deadly ones, fruit between late summer and late autumn, when the soil is moist and still warm from summer sunshine.

At this time of year, very few mushroom species are growing, apart from St. George's and Morels, so the likelihood of picking the wrong one is greatly reduced. The St. George's mushroom is a creamy, ivory colour, with gills of the same colour (never pick a white mushroom with white gills later on in the year, both Death Caps and Destroying Angels have a similar appearance, but are full of amatoxins, which will destroy your kidneys and liver and potentially kill you), and often gron in tight clusters on open pastures.

With this year's first harvest, I made a risotto - slicing the larger specimens, and adding the the base of sloftened onions, garlic, celery and thyme. I kept the smaller mushrooms whole, and quickly sautéed in plenty of butter, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a good amount of both salt and pepper. Whilst beating cold cubes of butter, and grated Parmigiano into the risotto, the stage known as “mantecatura”, I threw in a fistful of finely shreaded wild garlic leaves (abundant in damp woods at this time of year).

As with many very seasonal foods, the St. George's mushroom eats very well with what is naturally growing or being produced at the same time of year - think of ingredients such as asparagus, duck eggs, pea and bean shoots, milk-fed lamb, and fresh goat's and ewe's milk cheeses. I like to cook the mushroom quickly in butter, until they start to soften, then add a little white wine, and reduce until almost all the liquid has evaporated. A glug of double cream goes into the pan, and I let it all bubble down until thick and luscious.

Finally, a handful of chopped and blanched wild asparagus (living so close to the Vale of Evesham, the traditional centre of asparagus production, I find the vegetable growing wild, or at least feral, in hedgerows) and a little wild garlic join the mushrooms and wilt in the cream.

I lightly toast thick, doorwedge slices of chewy sourdough, and pile the creamy, mushroomy mixture on top. I lay slices of new-season, soft ewe's milk cheese on top – cheeses such as Flower Marie from East Sussex, or Wigmore from Berkshire work well, as would a fresh, lactic curd. This goes under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is molten and coating the mushrooms, a very delicious, and extreamly seasonal lunch!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Baking Camembert.

Baked Camembert seems to have very quickly become very popular. Every pub and restaurant have one on their menu in some form, ranging from the sublime to the, well, horrendous. As with any food trend, the quality of the dish can suffer with its popularisation, and can be subjected to horrendous and quirky interpretation. Or at best, punches below it's weight and falls to mediocrity. Surely putting a cheese (with comes usefully in a wooden box for baking) into the oven and cooking until molten is fairly fool proof? Sadly it wouldn’t seem so – I can vouch for this having recently been subjected to a nasty version of what should be the simplest and most delicious of cheese dishes.
A firm, cold cheese (mistake number one) had been cut in half horizontally (mistake number two, I didn’t order “half a baked Camembert), dipped in truffle oil (mistake number three, truffle oil is almost always rank), nuked for 2 minutes (mistake number four), and served with cold tomato bread and cranberry sauce (mistakes number five and six: what cuisine puts cranberries, truffles and tomatoes on the same plate? A confused one apparently).

Don’t get me wrong, I adore a dish full of molten, gooey cheese, but not if its been buggered about with.
A decent Camembert isn’t too hard to track down. For a real cheese, choose a Camembert de Normandie Appellation d'origin contrôlée, and look out for the phrases “moule a la louche” and “au lait cru” - hand ladled and made with raw milk. A cheese whose box bears these words should be good, but always inspect the cheese inside before buying – the rind should be delicate, not too thick or with too many brown areas. A little brown is fine, a good indication the cheese has developed well and is ready, but too much and the cheese could be eye-stingingly sharp and full of ammonia flavours.

Before baking, let the cheese come to room temperature for an hour. This will help the cheese cook more evenly, and not leave you with a cold, uncooked centre.

Remove the cheese from its wooden box, and take off the waxed paper. Carefully place back into the box and make a small cross in the centre of the cheese. Lightly crush a clove of garlic and bruise a small sprig of thyme, and push them deep into the cheese.

Place the lid of the box over the cheese and wrap the box in foil – to catch any escaping cheese as it melts. Cook for 15 minutes, at 180ºC until the cheese is molten and collapsing.

Eat as soon as the cheese comes out of the oven, with toasted chunks of chewy sourdough to mop up the liquid cheese, a fruity chutney to cut through the richness, and a glass of soft and buttery Burgundy Pinot Noir.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Marcel Petite Comté

A certain French cheese has been receiving a lot of attention recently. Since Raymond Blanc covered Marcel Petite Comté on his series, “The very hungry Frenchman” two weeks ago, UK sales of the cheese have soared. That evening Comté trended on Twitter - #TheRaymondBlancEffect. And rightly so. Comté is far and away one of the most diverse French cheeses, with layers of complex flavours and aromas. But of equal interest is the production of the cheese, and the strong links in the chain of milk farmers, cheese makers and affineurs.

British farmhouse cheese tends to be produced using single herd milk, on the farm, where it is ripened and sold ready to eat. The system which is established for Comté production is quite different, and controlled with rigour. Milk is produced by some 3000 small scale farmers, whose herds are seldom more than 30 cows, but often as low as 12.

Map of Comté producers
95% of the cows are the Montbéliarde breed, with the remaining 5% of milk coming from the Simmental. Each cows must have 1 hectare of pasture during the summer grazing months. The milk is sent to the local fruitière – the dairy where the cheese is made. 170 fruitières are dotted around the Jura Massif and the Haut-Doubs, the two departments of the France-Comté region in Eastern France where Comté must be produced, and can only process milk from farms within an 8 mile radius. This co-operative system of production has been established for a thousand years, and has ensured that Comté cheese is can only be made on small scales, crucially by limiting the zone in which milk can be used by each fruitière and ensuring an extensive method of milk production.

The recipe for Comté is just as protected as the milk production, essentially each fruitière makes the cheese to the same method, in copper cauldrons, traditionally heated over a fire of spruce.
Equiptment for alpine cheese making

Compared to a British territorial cheese, the Comté recipe is very quick, with the milk being heated to 40°C and a solution of whey which has been used to rehydrate strips of calves stomach to extract rennin for the coagulation. Once the milk is set, the curd is cut and heated to 53°C, being constantly stirred rapidly to speed up syneresis (expulsion of whey from the curd structure). The curd will shrink to the size of rice grains, and have little acidity development at this stage, remaining sweet. The natural starter has a balance and range of microflora very specific to the indervidual fruitère, giving each fruitère a defined flavour profile.

Once the cheesemaker has made the cheese, he sells the fresh cheese to the affineur, who takes care of the ripening of the cheese, before selling it on to the cheese monger. It is the affineur who uses his senses to judge the cheese, and how is best to take care of each batch of cheese he buys.
Fort Lucotte de Saint Antoine

Marcel Petite is generally regarded as the best Comté affineur, and the cheeses matured at 1500metres altitude in the Fort Lucotte de Saint Antoine are the very highest quality. It was in 1966 when Marcel Petite purchased the fort (which was built in late 1800s to protect France again Prussian invasion from nearby Switzerland). Marcel Petite developed a new method of maturing Comté cheese, using the naturally low temperatures of the stone fort to age the cheese slower, and for a longer period of time. This changed the nature of the cheese in two ways: a low temperature reduced the likelihood of “eyes” forming in the body of the cheese as a result of yeasts activity, and a greater complexity of flavours from increased enzyme activity over a longer time period.

Today, the fort at Saint Antoine houses over 100,000 40KG wheels of Comté, selected mostly from the higher altitude fruitières, each cheese bearing a casein label with the producers details. A team of robots patrol the aisles between highly stacked shelves of cheese, turning, dry salting, brushing and washing the cheeses.

The one part of the affinage of the cheese the robot can not, and will not ever be able to, is to test the cheeses, a highly refined skill of a small team of tasters, lead by the “chef de cave” - Claude, who “rings” each wheel regularly, by stroking the rind of the cheese in a circular motion, feeling the crust, followed by repeatedly knocking the cheese from the centre outward with his cheese iron, listening to judge the density and texture of the curd – keeping watch for cheeses with cracks or holes forming. The cheese iron is plunged into the paste, turned 180°C, and pulled out to reveal a golden sample of the cheese. The sample is sniffed, manipulated between the thumb and forefinger, and tasted. Each cheese is treated individuality, and selected for specific customer needs. A lot of the cheeses are ready for eating after 12 months, some after18 months, a few after 24 months, and a very select few make it to 36 months and over. At this age they have the greatest complexity and depth of flavour, and a dense, fudgey texture - peppered with a gritty, calcium crunch. I remember tasting the 3 years cheeses at St Anotine, magnificent cheeses which the richest, pineapple, caramel, coffee, praline, biscuity flavours. One of the most memorable mouthfuls I've had.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Marmalade as we know it has a great history, with the Scottish town of Dundee being reputed to have created the first jellied preserve set with shreds of orange peel. Prior to this, marmalade would have been of a more solid consistency, paste like, and usually made from quinces. The name comes from the Spanish "marmalada" – the predecessor of membrillo – the sticky quince paste found all over Spain, Portugal and re-created in Latin America.

It is written that King Henry VIII was gifted “a box of marmalade” from a gentleman of Exeter, in 1524. This would have been imported from Spain, and made from quinces, but started the English tradition of creating “sweetmeats”, set fruit pastes, which were formed in decorative moulds of animals, flowers and family crests.
The consumption of candied peel, both as a confectionery, and to flavour baked goods was a common practice through the Tudor times, and already oranges were noted for their medicinal qualities, so it was a natural progressing for small pieces of peel to find their way into a breakfast preserve. In 1797, Janet Keiller opened the first commercial marmalade factory in Dundee. Her husband had received a delivery of Spanish bitter oranges from Dundee harbour and Mrs Keiller took the decision to create a very different marmalade than was being written in English cookery books at the time. Instead of pounding the fruits to a paste, and concentrating the pulp to a thick paste, she followed a French method – a quicker recipe, where the peel was finely cut, and the juice boiled with water and sugar, and the marmalade we eat today was invented.
In 1861, Mrs Beeton wrote “the appellation of marmalade is applied to those confitures which are composed of the firmer fruits, as pineapples, or the rinds of oranges; where as jams and made of the more juicey berries...Fruit pastes are a kind of marmalade”.

Marmalade was quickly becoming an integral part of the British breakfast table, and an increasing number of confectioners were producing the preserve in the early 1900s, companies such as Wilkins of Tiptree and Frank Cooper of Oxford, who are still producing the countries highest quality marmalades.
Today, almost all of the bitter oranges grown around Seville are destined for the British marmalade market.

The season is at its peak now, find boxes of the fruit in greengrocers and farmshops, but only for a couple more weeks – the Seville orange season is always brief. I got mine from Daylesford, with green stalks and healthy leaves still intact.

This is how I make marmalade, which gives a rich, dark jelly, with a very deep citrus flavour and bright acidity. Up the sugar to taste if desired.

12 Seville oranges

1200g sugar (1000g preserving sugar, 200g muscovado)

2 lemons, chopped

3 litres water

Using a very sharp pairing knife, remove the skin of the oranges, with 2-3mm of white pith intact. Shred the peel to the thickness you like, I prefer a very fine cut.
Finely shredded peel

Cut the peeled oranges into quarters, and squeeze all the juice, flesh and importantly, pips out of each quarter. Place the squeezed oranges in a pan, and strain the juice over, so in theory, there are no pips, and minimal flesh in the pan.

Seville orange juice and pips, to be strained.

 Gather the shredded peel in a piece of muslin, and tie tightly before placing in the pan. Add 3 litres of water and the chopped lemons, and simmer for 2 hours. Pick out the muslin bag of peel, and strain the juice from the now pulpy orange quarters, gently squeezing to extras as much juice as possible without breaking up the oranges too much.

Squeezed oranges

Add the sugar and shredded peel, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Take to a rolling boil, and cook until it reaches 105˚C. This may take 30minutes or more. The syrup should darken, and thicken slightly. Drop a teaspoon on a plate (cold from the freezer) to test the gel. To ensure the peel is evenly distributed through the marmalade, leave off the heat for 15 minutes to begin to thicken, stirring often, before pouring into sterile jars.
A jar of the finished product.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Testun alla Paglia

The practice of making cheese using milk from more than one type of animal is common on the continent, but not something seen often in the UK.
In remote mountain areas, goats and sheep graze the steep and rocky hillsides, and cows tend to be kept on flatter, more gently rolling pastures, lower down in hills. In order for the remote mountain dairies to make cheese all year round, milk from high yielding cows is mixed with the milk from either goats or sheep, depending on which is available at the time.
From the beginning of spring to midsummer, cheese makers in the hills above the Piedmont town of Cuneo blend new season sheep's milk – sweet and fatty, with the year-round supply of cow's milk. One of the cheeses made is the Testun alla Paglia, a semi-soft, pressed “Toma”.
Testun alla Paglia

The rind of this artisanal cheese is rubbed in the herbage specific to the region ("Paglia" translates to "hay"), directly imparting the aromas, flavour and essence of the hills to the cheese. As the cheese ripens, the scent of the flower-rich hay develops through the cheese, giving an intense complexity and diversity of flavours.
To begin with, the cheese has clean, milky flavours, soon building acidity and mouthwatering fruitiness, with layers of buttery richness and a fair level of salt.
The cheese remains on the palate long after swallowing, with the lingering flavour of sheep's milk - a distinct almond-like quality.
This cheese is robust and bold, but balanced, with great subtlety and nuance. 
A product which truly portrays its origins.

The hay-coated rind of the Testun alla Paglia.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


One of the phrases of 2011 which kept croping up in the cheese world was the notion of "3D flavour" achieved by the use of animal rennet in cheesemaking. Charlie Westhead's goats' cheeses were often noted for their depth of flavour resulting from both his use of kid's rennet in the make, and unpasteurised milk.
It is hard to describe in words what the term "3D flavour" means, but I suppose the easiest way to desribe it is a round, deep and interesting taste experience, as opposed to a flat, one dimentional flavour profile. In a wholistic and pureist approach to cheesemaking, the milk should be coagulated using rennet extracted from the same animal - so calves rennet for cow's milk cheese, lamb's rennet from sheeps' milk and kid's rennet for goats' milk. It seems the most natural way of cheesemaking (which is in essence a natural process, controlled to a varying extent by the hand of man).
Charlie Westhead's Ragstone and Dorstone goats' cheeses are amongst the most well made, interesting and sensual cheeses of their type in the UK. The cheeses are made at Neal's Yard Creamery, situated on a hill above Hay-On-Wye, in Herefordshire's Golden Valley, using the unpasteurised milk from a local goat farm.
They both start off life as the same product - a lactic set curd slowly coagulated over night, from both acid development and a very small amount of kid's rennet. The kid's rennet gives the  complexity of flavour in the cheeses as well as strengthening the coagulation; turning what would otherwise by a yoghurt-like structure into a delicate white gel.
If Ragstone is being made, the curd is ladled into long, thin, drainpipe-like moulds which are refilled several times as the curd sinks from gravity and the expulsion of whey from ladling.
If Dorstone is being made, the curds are placed in pillow-case like cheese cloths to pre-drain as a mass under minimal gravity, giving a lighter, more moussey texture with lower moisture and acidity.
The drained curd is scooped into small moulds to form, and firm up into small, individual cheeses.
Where as Ragstone is brined, Dorstone is dry salted and dusted with wood ash to control moisture loss and lower the surface acidity, creating a good environment for a thin geotrichum coating.
After 2-3 weeks ripening, Dorstone is ready for eating, with a wrinkled, blue/grey rind scattered with white, downy mould, and a light, fluffy interior.

The cheese has a delicious balence of acidity and rich, sweet cream, with both zesty, bright flavours and a softer nuttyness. As well as being a beautiful addition to any cheese plate, I like to cook with Dorstone. Whether it is grilled on sourdough and sat on a few bitter leaves sprinkled with honey, walnuts and fine herbs to make a salad au chèvre chaud, stirred into a risotto or crumbled into a savoury custard to fill a lunch time tart, Dorstone is a versatile little cheese.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


This week I am having a drastic change of diet, from one centred on cooked food (or at least foods which have had some heating as part of its preparation), to a very different diet of purely raw food.
My usual diet is not conventional as such, but despite my best endeavours to eat local, organic and seasonal food as much as possible, it must be fairly representative of how much heated food is eaten in most modern day societies.
Starting tomorrow, nothing which has been heated in excess of 40C during any part of its production, manufacture or preparation will enter my body for a week.
No pasteurised milk on my cereal in the morning, no mid-morning cake, no coffee (or the sugar in it), no bread, pasta, rice, polenta or barley for supper. No pasteurised cheese afterwards. No beer in the evening. And of course, no cooked meat, fish, fruit or vegetables.
So how will I eat? I think I’ll be eating very well indeed!
I may have some sliced pears with mixed seeds for breakfast.
I could make a light mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon and a scrap of aromatic zest, and mix into grated Celeriac with a scattering of tiny capers for lunch.
A salad of shaved fennel, very thinly sliced shallots, segments of clementine carefully trimmed of pith, with a few spoons of trout caviar (I have a little pot of this in the fridge from a local trout farm in the Cotswolds) would do very well for supper.
I hope that by putting very tight constraints on what I eat and how I prepare it, I will be discovering exciting flavours, textures and combinations in what would usually be a time of year when I’d be eating thick, rich, heavy meals - braised meats, roast game, thick broths, creamy pastas and mounds of fluffy mashed roots.
I hope to be eating vegetables in their crispest, sweetest, most pure and vibrant forms, dressed with soft herbs, virgin oils, and lemon, and meat and fish cured with salt into aromatic prosciuttos and jamóns, and fermented into salamis, as well as simply sliced into tender carpaccio, chopped as a delicate tartar and pickled as lively Ceviche.
When heated, most foods (especially vegetables) are known to be considerably lower in heat-sensitive phytonutrients and vitamins, antioxidants, and important digestive enzymes (namely lipases, proteases and amylases), so my raw food diet should not only give me a fresh approach to food and eating, but leave me glowing with health!
I will of course miss my early morning coffee, the deeply savoury, and salty, unami hit of charred meat, the chewy, sour tang of handcrafted bread, and the smoky, pungency of toasting Asian spices, I revel in the idea of my new striped back diet of uncooked, unadulterated ingredients.        

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Winter salad of alpine cheese

With roasted squash, smoky ham, and fresh, raw spinach, this salad is warming and quick to make on a cold winter evening. I used a cheese called Chartreux, a semi-firm, washed rind cheese from the Vallée des Entremonts in the French alpine Chartreuse mountains. A fruity, lively flavoured cheese, fragrant and grassy, this is a typical mountain cheeses made in the valleys of the Alps. Cheeses such as Comté, Beaufort, Appenzell, Morbier, Raclette or Tilsit would be interesting substitutes.
1 bag baby leaf spinach
150g smoked ham, cut into lardons
1 butternut squash
150g Chartreux (or similar) cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
3 cloves garlic
1/3 baugette
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
6 banana shallots

1.       Dice the squash into 2cm cubes, toss in olive oil, sea salt, pepper, a little chopped rosemary, and a few bruised clove of garlic. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes, or until soft and beginning to caramelise.
2.       Meanwhile peel and quarter the shallots, and place in a small frying pan with a little butter, olive oil, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of sugar. Start cooking on a high heat before transferring to the oven.
3.       Cut the baguette into smallish pieces, toss in olive oil and place in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp and start to brown.
4.       When the squash and shallots are ready, take them out of the oven, and allow to cool slightly.
5.       Place a frying pan over a medium heat, add a little olive oil, and lightly fry the smoked ham, until warmed through and taking on a golden colour.
6.       In a large bowl, toss the baby spinach, shallots, smoked ham, squash, crisp baguette together with the slightest sprinkling of sherry vinegar and olive oil.

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.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Bletting the medlars

“I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness.

I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
So morbid, as the Italians say.

What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream.”
So wrote D. H Lawrence on the medlar in his poem, “medlars and sorb-apples” from “Birds, Beasts, and Flowers”.

The medlar is a small fruit which to look at is somewhere between a small apple and a large rosehip, and is related to both. I have a small medlar tree which crops very heavily without fail each year. The tree can often be found in old orchards or growing feral in hedgerows, especially in the Midlands, Nottinghamshire and Kent – historically regions where medlars were popular.
When young, the fruit is coated in a fine peach-like down which is lost as the fruit matures and forms a rough, course skin. It is brown-russet in colour with a bowl shaped depression at the bottom end.
The medlar was grown as a food source since at least the 2nd century BC by the ancient Greeks, who valued the tree due to the fruits’ late-ripening. Traditionally the medlar would be the last fruit to be picked in the orchard, after an abundant autumn crop of plums, pears, apples and quinces, the medlar could be left on the tree until hard frosts began. But once picked from the tree, the medlar must undergo a unique preparation before it can be eaten. The fruit must be “bletted”, or rotted. Perhaps “controlled fermentation” sounds a little more appealing.
To blett a medlar, the fruits (hard and inedible from the tree), are put in a box and covered in sawdust. Hidden beneath the sawdust, the inside of the medlars break down from a hard, bitter, acidic flesh to a moist, brown, soft and fragrant paste ready for eating. D. H. Lawrence described the bletted medlars as having “wine-skins of brown morbidity” and “an exquisite odour of leave taking”. The smell is powerful and pungent, but not over powering; like the smell of an orchard in late autumn; full of wet leaves and decaying fruit. And the flavour of the medlar at this point isn’t dis-similar; a slightly alcoholic flavour, sweet and succulent, a little acidity and an earthy, woody, appley taste.
The Victorians scooped the soft pulp from the skins, separated the 5 large seeds, and mixed the fermented medlar flesh with cream and sugar and eaten as an accompaniment for port.
As much as I like the idea of this very antiquated fruit, I have to say, there’s something about the texture of a bletted medlar that I can’t quite stomach. However, I capture the aroma by making a medlar jelly, adding sugar dulls the more “fermented” flavours and brings out a honeyed, floral quality, not unlike quinces. To make the jelly, I chop the bletted medlars roughly, cover with water and stew for 30 minutes until very soft and pulpy. I strain this through a large square of muslin for 24hours – the juice must drip through very slowly to give a smooth-texture and clear appearance, never squeeze or apply any pressure to speed up the dripping.
Measure the quantity of medlar juice you have (discard the dry pulp left in the muslin) and add the same quantity of sugar. Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar. Once you are sure all the sugar has dissolved, bring the jelly to a rolling boil for 10 minutes before testing the set. When the jelly has the level of set you want, pour into sterilised jars and allow it to cool down and set.  
The jelly is a beautiful shade of deep crimson, and is delicious served alongside game - with roast partridge, pheasant or mallard.  

The medlar (once know as "dog's-arse")

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bonjour Mont d'Or!

The season for Mont d’Or has finally arrived!
 After a long summer of grazing the hillside pastures of the Haut-Doubs and the Jura to produce milk for Comté d’estive and Morbier, small herds of the regions’ famous Montbéliarde have been moved into winter housing in preparation for the harsh alpine winter months.  
It is now, when the cows are being fed only the purest, sweetest alpine hay cut and dried from May-August, that Mont d’Or (or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs) is produced. Not only has the cow’s diet changed, but the lactation cycle of the herd will be coming to an end, a time when the fat level of the milk naturally increases.
Calving is usually staggered in larger herds of cows, to give a continual milk supply with changes in milk composition at various stages of the lactation being lost in the volume of milk. A smaller herd will tend to “block calve” so all the cows give birth at around the same time, and are all on the same lactation cycle. This rich, fatty milk is better suited to making soft cheese than hard cheese (although Comté is always made using partly-skimmed milk), and so is utilised by making a very special cheese – one of Frances greatest soft cheeses.

Mont d’Or is beautiful to look at; beautiful to taste; and with a beautiful story of respected tradition and regional agriculture behind it – the seasonal movement of animals dictated by landscape and climate, and the seasonal production of artisanal cheese, dictated by the milk.

The famous spruce band which makes Mont d’Or such a visually striking cheese is tied around the cheese when the cheese is very young, before the rind has begun to develop. The spruce cambium (a thin, pliable layer between the bark and wood of a tree) serves a practical function – to hold the ripening cheese together as it develops a melting, almost liquid texture, and also imparts the most striking aromas to the cheese. An aroma of rubbed pine needles, of Christmas trees, of soft-wood resin. As the cheese ripens and this unmistakeable aroma begins to develop, a thin rind starts to form – a delicate geotrichum bloom which breaks down the firm paste of the cheese, giving a creamy texture and yeasty flavour. Fluffy white moulds coat the cheese and act with the geotrichum to ripen the cheese and also give the rind an undulating or crumpled appearance.  Once fully ripened, Mont d’Or will have a tender, delicate rind with a powerful aroma – not just of spruce, but of cream, cauliflower and cured meat.

Try baking a small Mont d’Or. Stud the cheese with thin slivers of garlic and small sprigs of thyme before sprinkling with a little white wine and baking for 25 minutes.
The cheese comes hot and molten from the oven, scented with garlic and thyme. Spoon the cheese over toasted pain de campagne, baby celery hearts, French mountain hams, saussie de Morteau, acidic little cornichons and maybe a salad of frisée dressed with the lightest drizzle of walnut oil. This is one of the best meals of the year.
The Mont d’Or will be available from specialist cheesemongers until February or early March when the season draws to an end. The cows are dried off, for a few months before returning the hillsides for the first spring grazing after a winter under snow.
It is here where the herds will calf, and begin to produce milk for summer hard cheese making. Here they will stay, grazing in the summer until next autumn when the Mont d’Or season will start again, just as is has done for over 200 years.