Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year!

2013 was an amazing year for me. There was the competition of course, my book 'The Cheese and I' was published, I spent the summer on farms making cheese with my French cheese-making heroes and I came back to the UK and met loads of brilliant UK cheese people.

It looks like 2014 is set to be a big one too; I’m currently working on a second book, much more about the people who work in cheese than about me, with loads of tips about how best to enjoy cheese including a pile of my favourite cheese-based recipes. I’m also hoping to set up a series of cheese and wine evenings, get married and buy a flat – it’s going to be hectic.

I’ll keep you posted with everything that I consider to be interesting, but in the meantime, why not take advantage of the ridiculously good value of the kindle version of my book on Amazon at the moment – yours for just 99p!

Hope that you’re all having a good one – here’s a happy New Year goat…

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

More cheese adverts

The Nolan's cheese advert made me think of this one. Not sure that I would like panda cheese, but the advert is brilliant.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I was asked yesterday how it was going, settling back into London. I had to confess that it took remarkably little time to get back into the swing of London life. It’s busy, expensive and the transport system is frustratingly crowded but, there’s loads to do and see and the food is getting better and better all the time.
One of the seemingly unavoidable aspects of living in London seems to be the presence of mice - they’re all over the place and seem to affect most houses at some point or other.

So it was without too much surprise that found myself face-to-face with a mouse in the kitchen yesterday evening (before clumsily chasing it around the kitchen like something out of a Tom & Jerry cartoon). Our kitchen is pretty clean, and we keep our food up high having had problems before, but hey, mice happen...
As I was laying out the traps, I was reminded of two things.

First was the amazing video for Nolan’s cheddar – not a cheese that features significantly (if at all) in my life but I do like the advert.

Second, I remembered back when I was in the caves and had been sent out to the Savoie on the weekly trip to collect cheeses maturing in the caves. We had set out at midnight to make sure that the cheese was back in time to be put away by the day shift, meaning that our last farm on the trip coincided with breakfast at about 7am.

The warm farm kitchen was packed with family, employees and the neighbours who had come down from the mountains to drop off some of their cheese to us. It was a typical farm breakfast: thick black coffee, strange pappy French cake-things in their individual plastic wrappings, homemade charcuterie and of course, cheese.

The cheese on the table, smallish at about 1.5kg, showed some interesting marks, it had been gnawed by mice - turns out that a mouse had got into the ageing room and had a go at one of the cheeses. Of course, it’s unthinkable to sell a cheese that a mouse has chewed, so they kept those for themselves.

Naturally this became a topic of conversation and I was impressed to find out that in taste tests, the nibbled cheeses were also the ones that humans would consider to be the best – showing that there’s not so much of a difference between us after all. I’m not sure if there’s truth in it, but I love the story.

Mice are pests and spreaders of disease and they absolutely need to be removed, particularly from areas of food prep and storage. That said, it’s hard to hate on a serious cheese connoisseur.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Taleggio on chips

A while ago now, my amazing fiancée Jen won us a 3 night stay in luxury accommodation on Bryher – the smallest of the inhabited Isles of Scilly. Last weekend, we collected the prize.

Needless to say, we had an amazing time: rambling lazily around the islands, relaxing in the sun and eating really rather well. In fact the awesomeness of the food was matched only by its epic quantity (I put on 4 pounds over the weekend).

The view from our window

There were many highlights for me: chatting to the seals in the secluded bays, meeting the local goat, and sampling the black pudding in the gourmet full-English. What I thought I would share today though, is a pub snack that we had at the New Inn on Tresco - Taleggio topped chips.
I’ve talked about Taleggio a fair bit on the blog recently so this is the last post on that subject – promise!

Taleggio on chips - gooey, crunchy and thoroughly delicious. 

Actually, the cheese wasn’t the finest ever, it was a bit on the young side but that really didn’t matter. It had been applied perfectly, Taleggio is, to my mind, one of the finest cheeses for cooking, its washed rind which can have a sandy texture crisps up and the slightly bitter taste cuts the fattiness in a dangerously moreish manner. If you've never tried it, make sure that it goes on your next pizza.

In this case, the chips (hand cut of course) had been piled generously into the serving dish and were golden and fluffy. The cheese had been liberally applied on top and presumably grilled, turning it molten but gloriously stringy as you removed a chip.

The coup de grace? More cheese hidden under the chips! I was a happy man.

As we head into winter, this simple yet perfect dish will definitely be featuring on our menu...

St Mary's

Me and William the goat

Friday, September 27, 2013

A to Z of Cheese

Hi All,

In case you missed it, here’s a photo of an article that I wrote for the Daily Express this week. You can find a more readable image here, or you can head over to the Express site.

My A to Z of cheese

Here are a couple of extra letters that didn't make the final cut:

C is for Casein
Casein makes up most of the protein in milk - it’s usually soluble, and its form is a little like tiny balls of wool. The cheesemaking process starts with the unwinding of these balls or cutting them and reforming them into a big web, often with Rennet. This is the curd part of the curds and whey, once the whey has been strained off, you have a cheese – although you might want to take it to the Affineur before tasting it.

T is for Terroir
A French term used to represent everything that makes a product made from that area unique. It’s a combination of geology, geography, local climate, animals and plant life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The anatomy of a cheese label

In the last post I wrote about a piece of Taleggio that I had bought from the supermarket. It struck me later that it might be interesting to talk a little bit about the packaging of this cheese and the process of judging a cheese by its cover.

I’ve included a picture of the wrapper below and will talk through what I consider to be the important bits.

Label from the cheese that I picked up

(a) Here we have the name of the cheese and its origin, but the interesting bit is the “DOP”. This stands for ‘Denominazione di Origine Protetta’, which translates to ‘Protection Designation of Origin’ (PDO) for British produce and ‘Appellation d'Origine Protegée’ (AOP) for French produce.

This label is proof that the product conforms to, and is protected by, European legislation that ensures that the cheese was not only made in the area from which the cheese was originally produced but crucially was made using methods considered essential to the giving the cheese its unique character. This is the same legislation that requires Champagne to have been made in a very specific part of France according to a well-defined method.

Cheddar isn’t protected in this way and can therefore be made anywhere in the world (although West Country Farmhouse Cheddar PDO is now protected).

The presence of this label doesn’t guarantee the highest quality but it does set a minimum standard that the cheese must have attained and is therefore generally considered to be a good representation of that cheese.

(b) This is the DOP label that demonstrates that the product conforms to the requirements for this type of cheese.

(c) This is the stamp of approval from the ‘Consorzio Tutela Taleggio’ (CTT) – the consortium for the protection of Taleggio – which was set up by the makers and maturers of the cheese to help create the case for the geographical protection of Taleggio .

This precise label is specific to Taleggio but other cheeses may have their own labelling for their own unions.

(d) This is the identification mark. It’s an identifier for the establishment which produced and packaged the cheese or other consumable. This helps to maintain a degree of traceability despite the branding and packaging of the retailer. With a little internet research, these can also be used to find the producers of supermarket ‘own brands’.

‘IT’ is the country code (in this case Italy), and will be found at the top, ‘CE’ stands for European Community (note that this changes with the country according to their language) and will be at the bottom. In the middle is the national approval number for the processing facility.

A quick google of “IT 03/048 Taleggio” brings up a number of sites that link the number to Emilio Mauri S.p.A., a well-known exporter of Taleggio. You can then review that website to find out more about how the cheese was made.

(e) A standard safety warning for this kind of cheese – note that it doesn’t say unpasteurised milk, implying that the milk is pasteurised. If it was unpasteurised then this would have to be marked on the label.

(f) I quite liked this little snippet of advice.

The use by date was stuck to the wrapper as a separate sticker – with a soft cheese like this; I personally would ignore what the use by date says and pick the softest feeling piece of cheese. You’ll probably find that this is the one with the shortest use by date though.

Also note the absence of a ‘Suitable for vegetarians’ label, which implies the use of animal based rennet – a very common in the production of traditional cheeses such as this one.

I’m not going to discuss the nutritional information in this post – I’m no dietician after all. Let’s just say we should try to enjoy cheese, as everything else, in moderation.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Taleggio (from Sainsbury's)

I was in the big Sainsburys on Clapham high street looking for important household goods (elderflower cordial and silver polish) and wandered over to the cheese isle. It turns out that even supermarket cheeses have a strange gravitational effect over me – let’s call it professional curiosity.

I was actually pretty surprised to find an intriguingly diverse display of European cheeses in the “Taste the Difference” range. Readers of this blog will know that I have previously advised against buying cheese from supermarkets but something about the Taleggio called to me. It was a cheese that I enjoyed selling in the shop in France and often would bring a hunk home with me. I think as well, that this was the first time that I had seen the cheese on sale in the UK.

Soft centred and pale - clearly more liquid just under the rind

Taleggio is an northern Italian cow’s milk cheese, named after the valley in Lombardy of the same name. It’s notable for its square shape and wrinkled terracotta rind; its pale centre starts almost chalky but with ageing softens and turns almost liquid under the rind. The rind, when really pushed in age darkens, even taking on a brown/black colour in some areas.

The taste is somewhere between mild and strong depending on whether you eat the rind, it’s kind of confusing on the palate. The rich creaminess of the centre is cut through by the bitterness that the rind imparts, leaving the mouth salivating and eager for more. When aged, the rind turns quite granular, almost sandy and for many, will be left on the side of the plate, although once grilled, becomes brilliantly crispy – ideal for cheese on toast and pizzas.

Rind was quite pale, showing relatively little development

So how does the Sainsbury’s Taleggio fare?
Actually it’s surprisingly good. I was concerned about how long it had been cut, pre-wrapped and left in the fridge – looking at the range of sell by dates they had, I’m guessing potentially 2 or 3 weeks – but it didn’t taste too flat.

The cheese was ripe enough (it’s a good idea to pick the one nearest the sell-by date if there really isn’t any other way to pick between bits) but the rind really hadn’t developed and was rather anaemic looking. That carried through into the flavour which I found to be a bit lacking, I missed some of the more complex hay and meat notes that I was used to with our product in France.

Crucially, did it make a good cheese on toast? Again, definitely passable and made a nice change from cheddar.

The Taleggio performed respectably under the grill
All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised, certainly a step in the right direction and a sensible starting point for those without access to cheese shops and markets.