I’m often asked which cheese I serve at lunch at The Sourdough School. If I am honest it depends on what i have in the fridge, but I make a real effort to serve local cheese. This is one of my favourite dishes to serve, and the recipe is from my book Food for Thought, which I am delighted to drop in was The Telegraph book of the week last week.
I picked up a lovely Normandy Camembert last week. I was about to add it to my shopping trolley when I stopped myself and put it back. Old habits die hard though, and I’ll always have a fondness for French cheese. When I was growing up, it seemed difficult to find British cheeses beyond Cheddar, a rather rubbery Red Leicester and Stilton, while the French were the masters of the (cheesy) universe. But today, British cheesemaking has progressed to such an extent that even our neighbours across the Channel have noticed. One of my favourite ‘new’ British cheeses is Tunworth, which is made in Hampshire, by a small family-run business that pays a fair price for the milk they buy from their local dairy farmers. No peculiar additives, just milk with their own cheesemaking culture (rather like yoghurt) and a little rennet mixed in, to encourage the curds to begin to set, naturally, over the following hours. Then the curds are cut into cubes and placed into round moulds and left overnight for the whey to drain off, before being lightly salted and taken to the ripening room, where the cheese starts to develop its characteristic slightly wrinkly white rind. Finally, the cheese will spend several weeks in the maturing room, before being taken to market or sent to the purchaser.
Cheese is often overlooked as a sustainable food. It turns milk – a very perishable product – into something with a much longer shelf life, preserving its nutritional value for the consumer and its economic value for the dairy farmer. The simple stages of production are natural methods of preservation (dampness would hasten decomposition, but draining the whey prevents that, and then the carefully controlled addition of salt prevents excess acidity and, along with the development of a natural rind, halts any unhelpful bacterial growth). Like any agricultural process, it is open to industrialisation, and I find ‘processed’ cheese to be one of the most depressing products in the supermarket. But when you want something truly delicious to share, a baked cheese like Tunworth is just the ticket.
- 1 whole 250g Tunworth or another
- Camembert-style cheese
- 1 garlic clove, very finely sliced
- a sprig of fresh rosemary leaves only
- olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Remove the cheese from its box, discarding the lid and the waxy wrapping paper. Put a piece of baking parchment just big enough to come slightly above the sides into the base of the box, and put the cheese back in its place. Gently make diagonal cuts into the top layer of rind, then poke the garlic slivers and rosemary leaves into the holes with your fingers, or with the help of a table knife. Drizzle with oil then bake for 15–20 minutes, or until melted and unctuous in the middle. I love to serve this drizzled with a teaspoon of dark runny honey. In late summer, I simply add a plate of sliced ripe figs, and for the rest of the year, I serve it with breadsticks and fresh dates.
I often buy my cheese from The Cheese Shed or from Neals yard Cheese.