Sunday, 11 January 2009

Stilton et Lincolnshire Poacher

A few years ago, I had a work trial at Neals Yard Dairy, the renowned purveyor of artisanal British cheese. After a day of wearing wellies, cleaning floors and scrubbing counters, I was turned down. The stated reason? An inability to stretch plastic wrap neatly over the large cheese rounds.

I can’t claim discrimination by the shop’s managers—I was terrible at wrapping cheese, and probably not much better at describing its taste—but it did seem that a high proportion of the employees were male, with a propensity towards scruffy facial hair. This was also true of the gentleman who served us last weekend, though he was both generous in his tastings and eager to explain his cheeses.

As is so often the case at Neals Yard, we gravitated towards two highly-popular cheese types: blue and cheddar. The former is rightly dominated by Colston Bassett Stilton, a buttery, slightly crumbly cows milk cheese; an unpasteurised upstart, Stichelton, is more variable but at times stunning. On this occasion the Stilton won easily, showing the mellow yet almost savoury flavours which make it such a favourite.

Deciding amongst the cheddar-style cheeses (so called because of the process of “cheddaring” curds into uniform blocks) was considerably harder. Our usual choice is the blue-ribbon standard, Montgomery’s, one of just three cheese-makers recognized by the Cheddar Presidium for continuing artisanal practices in a small corner of England’s West Country. Aged for upwards of a year, Montgomery’s is nutty, a bit dry, and riddled with the same kind of caramelised, sweet-salty crystals that can be found in a good Parmesan. The Keens, which we tried next, had more of the characteristic cheddar tanginess, along with a slightly moister texture. But after some further tasting, we went home with a sizable chunk of Lincolnshire Poacher, a cheese from England’s Northeast which on that day combined the complexity of the Montgomery’s with the slightly smoother mouthfeel and refreshing sharpness of the Keen’s.

Most good Paris cheesemongers have le cheddar anglais and even occasionally a small wheel of stilton hidden away in a corner of their display cases. And, for a price, it is even possible to buy Neals Yard cheese from a few of the most upmarket fromageries. But while I do have late-night urges for a hunk of sharp, almost meaty cheddar, piled on top of an oatcake smeared with chutney, this—and so many other things—are best indulged on a superficially similar but far more stylish red couch that lives on the other side of the English Channel.

Iranganis’ Date Chutney
Vegetarian Cooking School, Bath

While you search for proper cheddar, make this chutney, which will only improve with age. Another dried fruit—perhaps abricot—could be easily substituted. If it will be kept in the fridge, the jar doesn’t need to be sterilized.

200 ml rice vinegar
200 ml water
2 garlic cloves
thumb-sized piece of ginger
½ cinnamon stick
4 cardamon pods
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp salt
250g pitted dates
4 tbsp brown sugar

Heat the vinegar and water. Finely slice the garlic and ginger, lightly crush the cardamom pods, and add, along with the other spices and salt, to the liquid. Simmer covered for 5 minutes. Chop half the dates coarsely. Add the chopped and whole dates and sugar to the vinegar mixture and simmer gently, uncovered, until the dates are very soft, about 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely then decant into jars and refrigerate.

See this again, along with lots of other cheese, at the next Fete du Fromage round-up, available here later this week.

1 comment:

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