Monday 31 January 2011

Forman's Love Cook Off (Win a Hamper Competition!)

If you happened to be a passing my basement kitchen last night, and stopped to listen closely. You might have heard the torrent of filthy curses, screams of rage and incredulous swearing emanating from my normally cultured mouth.
I thought I’d left that behaviour behind. Guests at our supper club often comment on how calm and serene the kitchen appears to be. But the blind cooking rage returned last night as I wrestled and sweated, trying to create something from a pretty random selection of produce sent to me by Forman & Field of London.

I’d somewhat naively agreed to participate in a Valentine’s Cook Off using a box of mystery ingredients with the aim of creating the best Valentine menu. I would be competing against a cunning and notoriously evil group of my fellow food bloggers.
‘I will crush them’. (Said in an Ivan Drago style voice)…

Tearing open and unpacking the mystery box, my excitement turned to puzzlement and then finally to panic I was confronted with the following luxurious, but utterly disparate selection of items…

H. Forman & Son Royal Fillet of Smoked Scottish Salmon
Formans Marinated Anchovies with Garlic
Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire Cheese
Moniack Castle Horseradish Sauce
Plantation Cottage Tarragon Jelly
Formans Brandied Cherries
Regent’s Park London Honey

What the hell could I do with this lot?

Sitting down to sob inconsolably and bang my head upon the table, I thought…and thought…and then, after about half an hour, ideas started to come to me, tumbling forth in an unconscious stream….

…It’s a Valentines menu, so it seemed obvious that it should be quite indulgent but also light, (so as to facilitate any après meal fumbling that might possibly result).
The Royal Fillet of Salmon was too good an ingredient to do anything with other than serve it sliced…
I could make a dessert out of the Honey and the Brandied Cherries…and I could incorporate the tarragon and the horseradish somehow…the anchovies, I had no frigging idea what to do with these, so…. errr…thought the best option was to pretend they didn’t exist and kicked them under the sofa.

There, a plan of sorts…now to refine, and tweak, cook, scream and swear as it all goes utterly tits up and finally force ‘E’ to eat the resulting mess…

Here’s the finished menu and recipes….

All recipes serve 2.

Sliced Salmon, Scrambled Egg Tart with a Tarragon Jelly glaze.

Salmon and scrambled eggs are a classic match, I thought it would look more impressive and elegant in a tartlet case, with the tarragon jelly brushed inside to glaze and give an interesting contrasting flavour.

For the Shortcrust Pastry: -

200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
75g cold butter, chopped
1 small egg
12ml water

Sift the flour with the salt. Rub the flour and butter together till it’s a crumble consistency. Add the egg and water and mix to form a smooth dough. Cling film and refrigerate for 30mins before using.

Roll out the pastry and line 2 greased tartlet tins, leaving the pastry overhanging to be trimmed later.
Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans, and bake at 180C for 15 mins.
Remove the beans and using a pastry brush coat the inside of the tarts with the Tarragon Jelly.
Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 mins.
Remove and put to one side to cool.

For the Scrambled Eggs: -

4x Large Eggs
Large Knob Butter
1 Tbs Double Cream
Salt and Pepper

I shouldn’t really have to give a scrambled egg recipe, but in the interests of completeness…

Add the knob of butter to a saucepan over a low heat and melt until foaming.
Beat the eggs with a fork, season and then pour into the saucepan. Stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the double cream and turn the heat down low, stirring regularly. The idea is too cook slowly until just set and creamy. Remove the eggs from the heat just before they seem ready.

Spoon into the tartlet cases.

Drape with sliced Salmon (Be generous).

Beetroot Jelly, Salmon and Horseradish Cream.

I’d made a Beetroot Jelly before, and knew that this flavour partnered with Horseradish and Salmon is an absolute classic. I pictured how it would look and how simple it should be, but the whole thing turned out to be quite fiddly to assemble and get right. I used Agar Flakes to make the jelly as ‘E’ is a Pescetarian but if you’re not bothered about such things, you could swap for Gelatine, as it’s much cheaper.

First make the Beetroot Jelly

You’ll Need: -
250g Cooked Beetroot
375ml Vegetable Stock
½ Tsp Caster Sugar
3 Heaped Tsp Agar Flakes

Grate the beetroot into a saucepan and add 250ml of the stock. Simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
Pour the remaining 125ml of stock into another saucepan and sprinkle over the agar flakes, leave for a couple of mins and then warm through stirring now and again until all the flakes have dissolved. This should take about 10 mins.
Pour into the beetroot pan and stir together.

Pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, do not force the mixture through.
Set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice, and stir slowly with a metal spoon until a gel begins to form. Spoon the jelly into a small flat-bottomed bowl lined with Clingfilm. Ideally you want the beetroot mixture to be at least 1cm thick.
Refrigerate until firm. This should take a couple of hours.

Next, make the Horseradish Cream.

You’ll need: -
100ml Crème Fraiche
2 Heaped Teaspoons Moniack Castle Horseradish Sauce
1 Tsp finely chopped Chervil or parsley

Mix all of these ingredients together.

To Assemble: -

Using a square cookie cutter, or sharp knife cut an 8cm x 4cm oblong out of the Salmon Fillet and place in the centre of the plate.

Cut a piece with the same dimensions from the beetroot jelly, and place on top of the Salmon.

Finally top with the horseradish crème, and garnish with some finely chopped parsley or chervil.

Regents Park Honey Parfait, with Ginger Crumb and Cherry Coulis

This is a bit of a cack handed homage to the beautiful Regents Park Honey Ice Cream Sandwich they serve at The Restaurant at St Pauls. It’s awesome, truly one of the best things I’ve eaten anywhere. For this, I made my own gingerbread and blitzed it up, but you could save time by blitzing some bought gingerbread biscuits, I doubt anyone would notice.

For the Honey Parfait
You’ll Need:-
3 Egg Yolks
90g Caster Sugar
225ml Double Cream
75g Regent’s Park London Honey

Line two small (6cm across, 4cm deep) ring moulds with Clingfilm.

Break the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar.
Heat the honey in a saucepan until melted then pour over the egg and sugar mix.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and honey over a saucepan of simmering water until doubled in volume.
Remove from the heat and whisk until cool.

Whip the Double Cream until at the soft peak stage, and then fold into the honey mixture.

Pour into the lined moulds (you’ll have some extra, so pour that into a tub), and freeze until set (at least 3 hours).

For the Gingerbread Crumb
You’ll Need:-
110g Plain Flour
Pinch salt
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
½ heaped Tsp ground ginger
¼ heaped Tsp ground cinnamon
25g unsalted butter
50g soft brown sugar
50g golden syrup
1 tsp treacle

Sift the flour, salt, soda and spices.
Heat the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle until melted and then cool.
When ready, pour into the dry ingredients and mix to form a dough.
Refrigerate for 30 mins.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C, and grease a baking sheet.

Roll out the dough to about 5mm thick, and cut out biscuit shapes.
Bake in the oven for about 7 mins, but keep an eye on it. Gingerbread although seemingly soft, hardens as it cools – it’s very easy to overcook, so be cautious.

Cool on a wire rack.

To Assemble: -

Blitz a couple of the gingerbread biscuits to a fine crumb and sprinkle onto a small plate.

Stone and Blitz a handful of brandied cherries to make the coulis.

Un-mould the Honey Parfait, and dip each end into the gingerbread crumb.
Top each with a whole brandied cherry and spoon cherry coulis around the plate.

Honey Oatcakes served with Mrs Kirkham’s Cheese.

I wanted to use as many of the ingredients as possible, but still had some of the excellent Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese left (Lets forget about the anchovies yeah?). In the end I decided to use some more of the Regents Park Honey to make some honey oat biscuits and to serve these simply with the cheese at the end.

You’ll Need: -
90g Rolled Oats
60g Butter
60g Regents Park Honey
Small pinch of salt

Melt the butter, add the salt, honey and oats and mix until combined.
Pour into a greased baking tin and bake at 170C around 25-30mins or until golden.
Remove from the oven and leave a few mins to cool, then cut into squares.

So that’s that. ‘The stuff that I cooked’.
I think that the tartlets and the honey parfait dishes worked best. Overall I was fairly pleased with how most of it turned out.

*Needle skidding across Queen's ‘We are the Champions’*

But, what’s this?
You think I’m an incompetent fool who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow and you could rustle up something far more impressive with the same ingredients?


Leave a comment telling me what you’d have made with the same ingredients, or failing that; utterly berate me for being a culinary clown and ruining such beautiful produce. The best and most entertaining replies will be entered into a prize draw to win a Forman & Field Hamper worth £60.

PS: Make sure to leave an email address or Twitter name so you can be contacted. The competition closes on the 10th February.

Monday 24 January 2011

The Ledbury - London

Last January, on this blog I wrote a list of my ‘must visit’ restaurants for the coming year. I hardly made it to any of them for one reason or another, and to be honest I didn’t expect to. My list was always meant to be more aspirational rather than a solid statement of intent.
But right at the very ass-end of 2010, I finally managed to cross one very important restaurant off the list. It was somewhere that I’ve wanted to eat for bloody ages…

The place in question? The Ledbury, a two Michelin starred restaurant located in West London.
The occasion? My 30th (ish) birthday.
Who had booked this surprise treat and was paying for it? ‘E’. (Oooh hello).
Was I excited? Hell yes.

Although I’d never actually considered it at the time. Thinking on it now, as I write this, I’d never ventured into a two Michelin star place before. I’ve eaten at a number of places graced with one, but never two. So this was completely uncharted territory for me. Would it be twice as good as it’s lowlier one-starred brethren? I was absolutely gagging to find out.

But first we had to actually get there. The day started well as we left Bristol bright and early, preened and beautifully attired in our best going out clothes. Me resplendent in my all-in-one, skin tight, black satin dining suit with Nehru collar and enveloped in the understated masculine scent of Kouros. I was complimented by ‘E’ in her grey velvet poncho with hood and matching grey velvet jeggings. As you can imagine, we attracted many gasps of appreciation as we swept regally onto the coach.

About an hour into the journey, motoring down the M40 towards London we noticed the odd flake of snow beginning to fall. Then more, and more, heavier and heavier until within about half an hour the whole motorway was covered and traffic had been reduced to crawling along in one lane whilst a blizzard raged around us. I honestly have never seen so much snow dumped in such a short space of time. Needless to say the two and half hour coach journey took four and a half hours and finally arriving in West London blanketed under a foot or so of snow, we didn’t fancy our chances of getting to the restaurant in Notting Hill anytime soon. The Ledbury had very kindly agreed to hold our table for us, which was handy as there were no cabs and the tube was in its normal state of meltdown when any weather other than blazing sunshine looms over the horizon. We’d been left with no choice but to resignedly trudge through the snow to the restaurant from Earls Court via Holland Park.

After an epic trek, we arrived at The Ledbury (over 3 hours late!) and practically threw ourselves through the door into the warmth and the mercy of the smiling staff, who were utterly charming and understanding in equal measure.

Shown to our table and a chance to relax, I looked curiously around the room. The impression I got was of an elegant, modern space flooded with natural light from the windows lining two sides, in turn framed by heavy dark grey curtains. A mirrored wall at the back of the room gives the illusion of a much larger space than it actually is.

Opting for the set menu, and starting off with a glass of sherry each it wasn’t long before we were offered a dainty but beautifully crafted amuse each. ‘E’s consisting of goats cheese and cured black olives, mine of Foie Gras and Ginger, both encased in the lightest most delicate pastry cases. Both the merest bite, but each flooding the mouth with intense flavours. Suitably impressed, ‘E’ and I grinned inanely at each other across the table and awaited the next course.

Bread and lots of it. No parsimonious approach here where it comes to dispensing from the basket. Beautiful miniature sourdoughs, bacon onion brioche, and chestnut rolls. Want one of each? Fine. Not enough, want more? Also fine. Not needing to be asked twice and being peasants at heart, we positively gorged ourselves on bread. (I particularly like the bacon and onion brioche). Until a flurry of waiter activity signalled the arrival of our starters.

I couldn’t resist the sound of the Raviolo of Beef Short Rib with Cepe Consomme, Truffle and Parsnip. And my photo does not do it justice. It was beautiful to look at; in fact everything we were served was beautiful to the eye, aesthetically pleasing food to the upmost degree. And it tasted gorgeous; breaking through the pasta and taking a forkful of the ridiculously tender, meaty, beef combined with the almost pornographic truffle and parsnip dribbling down it. Thoughtfully, provided with a spoon to lap up every last dribble of the surrounding consommé, my eyes were practically rolling back into my head in pleasure.

‘E’ meanwhile was happily digging into her Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish. She described it as being incredibly light, with the frozen horseradish giving the dish a really unusual pleasant texture. I did try it, and it was pleasant, but as is so often the way it’s hard to appreciate that one solitary proffered forkful when you’ve been eating an entirely different dish.

Next to arrive was my main dish, Shoulder of Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb with Jerusalem and Chinese Artichokes, Winter Savoury Milk and New Season Olive Oil. Another artfully presented plate of food, the lamb being almost impossible to do justice to, tender and practically falling apart at the touch of my fork. I marvelled at what looked like some kind of crackling adorning the dish, but was in fact Jerusalem Artichoke skin and the winter savoury milk, dotted around the plate and apparently the result of some kind of kitchen alchemy.

Across the table ‘E’ was eating Fillet of Brill with Buttered Langoustine Claws, Pumpkin Puree, Trompettes and Ginger. And this is the problem with leaving it so long before writing about a restaurant experience, I remember at the time ‘E’ positively loving what she was eating. But asking for her impressions now, a scant 5 weeks later, she can’t remember anything about the dish apart from that she liked it, and she was impressed that the pumpkin was presented in various forms on the plate.
So looks like not much of a lasting impression, for this one.

We both went for the same dessert, a Date and Vanilla Tart with Clementine Leaf Ice-Cream. The tart was nice, but we both thought the ice-cream particularly good. The flavour being hard to define but it tasted almost ‘plant like’ and ‘green’.

At this point (‘E’ having informed the restaurant it was my birthday), I was surprised to be served an extra little dessert of a crème caramel. It was a really nice touch.

Coffee and a selection of petit fours to finish, of which; the Earl Grey Macarons were very good. ‘E’ paid the bill, her treat and we wandered back off out into the snow outside.

So, how does a restaurant with two Michelin stars compare to a one starred restaurant? Is there much in it?
The service was impeccable, friendly and efficient, but no more so than many other restaurants I’ve been to. The décor although certainly pleasant was again, no better than many other places I’ve been to. What really sets The Ledbury apart and what presumably makes it worth that extra star is the inventiveness, and the sheer technical talent displayed to produce such beautiful food. It’s full of new and interesting ideas, but at the same time it’s extremely polished and it works. No real duff notes. (Apart from most of the petit four; which I thought surprisingly ordinary). Everything else shone.

Oh, did I mention that the three course set lunch menu is £33.50? Which, I think anyone would agree is ridiculously cheap. I’ve spent more than that on a pub lunch.
If you haven’t been, don’t leave it as long as I did. Book and go. I'll certainly be going again to try the tasting menu.

The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Road,
Notting Hill
W11 2AQ

Telephone: 020 7792 9090

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Two whole years of Essex Eating!

Happy New Year to all (three) of my readers, and Happy Birthday to Essex Eating. That’s right, the blog I started in January 2009 (The only New Year’s Eve resolution I’ve ever actually kept!) is two years old today. Tres exciting!

And what a momentous year 2010 has been eh?
I started it off living in Essex, working in London, employed in I.T… and ended the year living and working in Bristol and employed in cheese mongering. (I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how exactly that happened).
Along the way I started a supper club with ‘E’, ‘
The Montpelier Basement’ which has been doing pretty well…. I cooked some lovely food (and some rubbish food), I met loads of nice people, and I ate in some amazing restaurants (and also some that weren’t so good).
So here it is – my best and worst of 2010…

Best Food Blog event I attended in 2010
Without a doubt the best event for food bloggers I attended in 2010 was vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard. To sit in the private room, eating excellent food all matched with vodka ranging from reasonably priced to eye wateringly expensive with the charming and debonair ‘Bob’ & ‘Ricard’ themselves, was a real treat. Despite ending the evening thoroughly drunk, I left learning a few things about vodka and with a real appreciation for BBR. I’ve since been back a few times at it never ceases to charm and amaze me. It remains one of my favourite restaurants in London.

Best meal I ate in 2010
Tough one, I ate out loads in 2010. But I finally made it to The Ledbury in December for my birthday (‘E’s treat) and it was amazing (I’ve yet to write it up here on the blog, but it’s coming). The food was exquisite, beautifully put together, incredible to look at and exciting to eat. The tasting menu at Cinq Sentits in Barcelona was equally jaw dropping, so much so, that to be honest – I’d find it hard to pick one over the other. Although saying that, I had an amazing boozy lunch at the new Hawksmoor in seven dials with ‘E’ and Niamh from ‘
Eat like a girl’ which for me was a really memorable meal for completely different reasons. Although it’s not quite in the same Michelin starred bracket as the previously mentioned restaurants, it was a hell of a lot of fun, the Kimchi burger was awesome, and the cocktails left me practically crawling out of the place on my hands and knees.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2010
loads of home cooking this past year (Although I don’t seem to write about is much as I did last year). I think Stevie Parle’s Chana Masala from ‘
My Kitchen – Real food from near and far’ was certainly a revelation when it comes to simple, home cooked food. The book was left on the shelf for so long, but when I finally had a read and cooked this dish from it…its bloody amazing and dirt-cheap too. It’s become a firm favourite.

But I’m probably most proud of some of the dishes we’ve cooked for The Montpelier Basement, not just because they were nice, but also because to cook and serve up pretty good food on a fairly large scale whilst under pressure feels like such an achievement. I particularly liked the Baked Cornish haddock with pumpkin crust, leeks and white wine sauce; it was perfectly cooked, tasted incredible and looked so neat and professional. On the other hand bavette with triple cooked chips and béarnaise for 17 was cracking as it involved so much last minute work to produce and obviously béarnaise is notorious for splitting, if you just look at it the wrong way, but it all came out really well. (No photo of this I'm afraid, was just too damn busy at the time to get one!)
I’m really proud of so much of the food we’ve cooked.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2010
I was struggling to remember, perhaps it’s been a vintage year with regards to home cooking this past 12 months, and then suddenly it hit me. Barbecued sweetcorn with anchovy butter. It was bloody awful – truly foul. OK, it was a mistake. We forgot that the ‘herb’ butter leftover in the fridge had anchovy in it. But nevertheless, bleugh! (I think the bullet point here is – anchovy and sweetcorn = No).

It’s all coming flooding back now, ‘poached cherries with almond cream’ from the Moro cookbook failed entirely. I think I put too much liquid in whilst making the almond cream, and instead of just binning it and starting again (the ingredients cost money right? AND I was making dinner to impress ‘E’) I tried to save it with all the culinary cunning that I possess. Needless to say it remained a grainy inedible ‘soup’ and I ended up throwing it all away.

Best Booze I drank in 2010
Sadly, I often don’t remember what I drink whilst eating out. I think it’s something I should pay more attention to. I’ll try and remedy that on the blog in 2011. Nevertheless, the whole wine list at The Gurnards Head in Cornwall stands out as being memorable for the fact that it’s so good combined with being awesomely cheap (their lack of any real marking up is to be applauded). A bottle of Picpoul De Pinet we had at Source Food Café matched with crab was bloody good. Oh, and the whole cocktail list at Hawksmoor is bloody awesome, beautifully researched and interesting. Finally, in December a bottle of Rodenbach beer matched with excellent Pheasant at The Draft House Tower Bridge was certainly a surprising booze combination that worked beautifully

Worst Dish I ate out 2010
It pains me to say it, as I love, love, love The Ginger Pig and The Ginger Fox, but back in June their Brighton based newly opened, red-headed stepbrother The Ginger Dog provided one of the worst dishes I ate in 2010. Un-set freezing cold potted rabbit which I described at the time as “Meaty chunks of rabbit and vegetables swam past grimly, like survivors from a shipwreck as I plunged my spoon into in a sea of freezing cold, barely gelatinous fluid.” And “This wasn’t just a solitary errant miss, my dining companion “Mr Graphic Foodie” had ordered the same dish, and his rabbit was equally awash within a sea of arctic, jizzmesque liquid slipperyness.”
Here’s hoping this was just a 'bad night' and things have improved since then.

Another contender would have to be a fried quail with peaches starter I ate at the Gordon Ramsay Gastro-Pub, The Warrington (So Kentucky fried quail yeah?). It was bloody awful, thickly coated in breadcrumbs with the delicate meat completely lost within, it just didn't work at all, it ate like deep deep fried bones basically...and from memory it was something like twelve frigging quid!! God knows why I chose it.

Best Dish I ate out in 2010
This is really hard, but The Restaurant at ‘St Pauls’ certainly served up the best dessert I ate in the shape of their stonkingly good ‘Regents Park Honey Ice and Gingerbread Sandwich’ Although saying that, on the dessert front the incredibly moist ‘Rhubarb and ginger Bakewell’ I was served at St Werburghs City Farm in Bristol was almost equally as good. A starter of ‘Lyme Bay scallops with garlic and white port roasted in the shell over the charcoal fire’ I ate at The Seahorse in Dartmouth back in March was frankly amazing too and the Raviolo of Beef Short Rib with Cep consommé, Truffle and Parmesan I ate at The Ledbury in December has to be up there. But, wracking my minuscule brain it’s the simpler pleasure of a beautifully cooked pheasant with all the trimmings, eaten with thick snow visible on the ground outside whilst in the warm at The Draft House Tower Bridge in London that stands out as the best thing I ate last year. It truly was sublime, even the accompanying sprouts were awesome.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2010
Car Sick South Cornwall
Hiring a bodyguard in buenos aires
How do i cook pock cheak
Places in essex that sell fernet branca
Scotch egg heat supermarket
Small petite porn tube

Best Recipe book 2010
I guess the cookbook I’ve most enjoyed this year has been Stevie Parle’s ‘
My Kitchen – Real food from near and far’ Most of the more exotic dishes have been new to me, the book is quite a fresh exciting mish-mash of this and that. And the recipes have produced excellent results.
On a different note – despite featuring many, many…many photos of a disturbingly hobbit’esque Tom Kitchin relaxing in various states of outdoor garb, holding dead animals and trying to look sincere, but instead looking smug (there’s even a picture of him in a frigging diving suit for crissakes!) His book ‘
From nature to plate’ is cracking, I’ve cooked a few recipes from it and they’ve turned out really well.
Oh, and despite knocking out some bloody awful formulaic, bandwagon jumping recipe books in the last couple of years, Gordon Ramsay’s '
Great British Pub food' is a surprisingly brilliant one featuring loads of useful recipes for cheap meat cuts such as ox and pork cheek. I highly recommend it.

Strangest things I ate in 2010
Basically a whole years worth of strangeness in one meal at Chilli Cool (Intestines, ears, tendons to name but a few body parts on the menu) and Duck Hearts (again) at Southville Supper club in Bristol (although not so strange I guess the second time around, and once again – bloody tasty) and finally, jellied pigs head at St Johns Tavern in Archway.

Must visit restaurants 2010
This is last years list, and I’ve only really crossed one off (The Ledbury) apart from that I’ve drank at Terroirs, Hix & Rules (All on numerous occasions but no food). Eaten the famously good Scotch Egg at The Harwood Arms (but nothing else) and the rest of the list has been errrr….pretty much bypassed entirely.

Anchor and Hope
The Ledbury
The Bull and Last
The Sportsman - Whitstable
The Kitchin - Edinburgh
Harwood Arms
Theo Randall

The King is dead, long live the king!
My new, sexy updated must visit restaurant list for 2011 reads like this….

Anchor and Hope - London
Racine - London
The Sportsman - Whitstable
The Kitchin - Edinburgh
Magdalen Arms – Oxford
Brawn – London
Casamia – Bristol
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road – London
St Johns

So that’s it, my second year here at Essex Eating.
Here’s to an exciting third year in 2011. ‘The Montpelier Basement’ should feature heavily as ‘E’ and I move on with that. We’ve had some very interesting offers, and we’ll see where it all leads. I of course will continue to eat out as much as I can afford. And talking of money, (after being made redundant in 2010) I guess I should find a real job – hopefully something involving food.

All offers gratefully considered!

So, stay tuned in 2011 for more of the same.

PS Don’t forget to comment. I love a comment me, doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It’s the thought that counts…. or something.

Mwah Mwah

Essex Eating

Sunday 2 January 2011

Cheese! (The blog post).

I’ve always liked cheese. I’ve eaten it for nearly all of my life, although if I’m truly honest most of it has been processed, factory made crap. The proper rubbery, dayglo yellow rubbish. Rarely have I had the opportunity to sample the really good stuff, and even when I did – I didn’t really know what I was eating. I appreciated it, yes. But I’d never go out of my way to procure it, or consider it as an option on a restaurant menu. But finally, my eyes have been opened. I recently started working for Trethowan’s Dairy, selling their own Gorwydd Caerphilly and other fantastic British (and some French) cheeses for Christmas in the Bristol Harvey Nichols food hall pop-up.
It’s been an incredible learning opportunity, and I’ve grasped it with both hands. (Thanks Todd, Jess and Ben).

I wanted to post this before Christmas when, as is traditional, many of you would be buying huge slabs of cheese. Sadly I was just too damn busy actually selling the stuff to finish the post. Nevertheless, this information will still be valid all year round, therefore let me share with you what I’ve learnt.

So without further ado…Essex Eating does cheese. *Fanfare*

First of all, for the most part, forget pasteurised. Unpasteurised is where it’s at with regards to cheese. All of that which really makes a cheese unique, interesting and tasty is lost when made with pasteurised milk. (Pasteurised milk, in case you’re nodding wisely, but in reality have no idea what I’m talking about, is where the milk is heated to a certain temperature to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria present, but.... there’s bacteria which as it develops gives a good cheese it’s flavour and this is also lost).

Every batch of unpasteurised cheese has to be tested to ensure it’s safe to eat. This is not the case with pasteurised cheese, so in fact in theory it’s actually potentially dodgier. (But saying that, just to be on the safe side - add unpasteurised cheese to the whole list of things you shouldn’t eat if you’re pregnant).

Next, buy your cheese from a cheesemonger, or failing that a delicatessen. I don’t know why it is, but most supermarkets seem incapable of selling cheese in decent condition. If you have the choice, buy your cheese from a specialist.

British cheese is fantastic. There has been a real renaissance in the past 20 years or so, and there are loads of unbelievably good regional handmade, unpasteurised products. Real artisan stuff. Don’t let anyone tell you Britain doesn’t make good cheese. Ours is some of the best anywhere in the world.

So, you’ve got your lump of expensive, tasty, artisan cheese. How long will it last? And how to keep it?
Unpasteurised cheese is a bit like fruit, there’s no expiry date on it. So treat it the same way, if it looks manky – it probably is. If it looks good, it’s no doubt fine. Trust your sense of smell and taste. In any case, it’ll probably dry out before it ‘goes off’.
Store your cheese, believe it or not – in the salad drawer at the bottom of the fridge, or as close to the bottom of the fridge as possible, but away from any strong flavours (such as onions).
In addition, if your cheese came wrapped in waxed paper – then make sure it’s re-wrapped again before storing it. Cheese left uncovered in a fridge will dry out quicker than a Jacobs cracker wrapped in loft insulation and left to fend for itself in the Sahara desert.
If the cheese has a naturally ‘mouldy rind’ then in addition to keeping it wrapped in waxed paper, clingfilm the cut edges, but only the cut edges mind. The cheese breathes through the rind; it’ll keep so much better if you do this.
Although saying that, some cheeses (such as Gorwydd Caerphilly washed rind or Parmesan) actually benefit from being wrapped in clingfilm, so make sure to ask your cheesemonger on how best to store your no doubt eye wateringly expensive, (but worth it) lump of dairy.

What cheese should you buy?

Well based on what I’ve been selling (and sampling) here’s my selection. Mostly British. All unpasteurised and all handmade.

This is one of my favourites. Made from organic milk on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire, it’s the only unpasteurised Stilton you can buy (but they can’t call it Stilton…. long story). This is a beautiful cheese, incredibly creamy and flavoursome. I love it. You can eat the rind on this; it has an interesting salty, ‘biscuity’ texture.

Gorwydd Caerphilly
My employer’s own cheese and it’s absolutely superb. Handmade using traditional methods on the Treothowan’s farm in Llanddewi Brefi in Wales. It has a subtle, rich, buttery taste with a slight bite. The breakdown at the edge is almost Brie like, and you can eat the rind – in fact you should eat it. It has a raw mushroom taste to it and really adds a nice contrast to the other flavours. A really classic British cheese, I can’t get enough of it. (BTW it’s also sold at Neals Yard and on a stall in London’s Borough Market itself – keep an eye out for it and have a taste, it’s impossible not to like).

Vacherin Mont D’or
The French and the Swiss argue over who owns this cheese and both produce it. Made from unpasteurised winter milk, and only available from around September until March. I was gifted one of these to try over Christmas (thanks Todd). As is traditional, you prick the top with a fork, insert some garlic and pour over a splash of white wine. Wrap the whole wooden box in foil and baked in the oven until it becomes liquid, almost like fondue. Oh my God, it was amazing…. seriously decadent, rich and grown up smeared on crusty bread with some cornichons. It really is something you should try. These retail for around £12, but will serve at least four people.

The Comte we sell is considered to be ‘The Best’. It’s Marcel Petite Reserve. And, it’s fantastic. Full stop. With an incredibly rich taste, buttery but with complex grassy flavours, it’s probably the nicest cheese I’ve ever tried. We gave out samplers of this, and what was amazing to me is seeing people’s reaction as they absentmindedly picked a piece up on their way past the counter, and then stopped, gobsmacked for a double take on what exactly they’d just eaten. The reason it tastes so buttery and grassy? It’s made from the summer milk of cows that graze in high alpine pastures, and their diet includes a high proportion of herbs and flowers. It’s an amazing cheese and one that I would go out of my way to buy despite it being pretty damn expensive.

A British Camembert ‘style’ cheese, from Hampshire. This is cracking stuff. To be honest, I didn’t like it much at first, but it really grew on me and I ended up a big fan. The tasting notes often say it has something of a 'cabbage' taste, but I don't get this. I think it has a fresh, almost spring onion and wild garlic pungency to it with a delicate soft texture.

A mature goats’ cheese log produced by Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire. If you like goats’ cheese, you’ll love this. Strongly flavoured with a real lemon tang to it. Personally, I find this cheese a bit too ‘goaty’ for my liking, preferring instead its stablemate below…

Also produced by Neal’s Yard Creamery, this is an extremely young goats cheese. In fact, so young it’s coated in vegetable ash to make it easier to handle. These are fresh, almost mousse like in consistency and also have a real lemony tangy flavour. I really like these and I'm especially taken with their gnarled, unusual looking exterior appearance.

Keen’s Cheddar
In the summer I was lucky enough to be taken along for a visit and shown around Moorhayes Farm in Somerset by George Keen himself. The Keens make a classic British Cheddar. It’s a million miles away from the processed blocks of rubberised, tasteless junk you’ll see on most supermarket shelves. This is the real deal; handmade, cloth wrapped and produced using traditional methods. This cheese has a real depth of flavour, but is quite fresh tasting with a ‘bite’. It’s lovely stuff.

Montgomery’s Cheddar
Another classic British Cheddar, also from Somerset, also handmade, cloth wrapped and produced using traditional methods. But, and this is the interesting thing – tasting completely different to Keen’s. Montgomery has an earthier, nuttier taste to it with really complex flavours. It’s quite strong and punchy, but in a rather subtle, subdued way. It has such depth of flavour you can still taste it a good few minutes after eating a piece. I reckon this would be a lovely cheese accompanied by a glass of red wine or port.

Old Demdike

Yet another cracking Somerset cheese, and named after a particularly loathsome witch. Unlike the rest of the cheeses I’ve listed, Old Demdike is made using vegetable rennet and is therefore suitable for vegetarians (although I’ve found that some veggies aren’t particularly bothered by the whole rennet thing). This is Ewe’s milk cheese, and I think it looks amazing, being almost stone-like in appearance. It has a subtle, sweet almost nutty taste. I like it a lot.

So, there you have it, “the stuff what I learnt”.
I now have a real appreciation of quality cheese, and a real sense of what makes good cheese worth paying that bit extra for. I also have been left with a newfound awareness of all the amazing artisan British cheeses that are being produced out there, with real love and much care. Long may it continue.