I have to admit, when I think of cheese I don’t tend to consider it as a seasonal product in the same way as fruit and vegetables. It turns out that just like many other tasty foodstuffs, eating cheese with the seasons is the best way to enjoy it.
Cheese, particularly goat’s cheese, is one of the reasons I know I could never be vegan. I was therefore delighted to receive a copy of ‘A Year In Cheese: A Seasonal Cheese Cookbook’ to give me tips on eating the right cheese at different times of the year. For example, fresh cheeses such as Brillat-Savarin are better in the spring time when goats, sheep and cows have the chance to feast on fresh grass. This affects the flavour of their milk and therefore the cheese. As we’re now in winter, it’s time to turn to more bold flavours such as Camembert, Stilton and aged Comté. So that’s my Christmas cheeseboard sorted!
‘A Year In Cheese’ is full of atmospheric, cheese-filled photography and simple cheesy recipes. It has been compiled by Alex and Léo Guarneri of Androuet in Spitalfields Market, London. The Guarneri brothers started Androuet as a stall selling top quality seasonal cheese, before then moving into a shop and restaurant (still in Spitalfields). The recipes grouped by the seasons are written by Alessandro Grano, previously Androuet’s head chef and now at La Fromagerie. Between them, these men really know their cheese.
Cheese is incorporated into dishes a variety of ways, from a rarebit using Montgomery Cheddar with the unusual inclusion of cauliflower, through to a hearty rack of venison with Cornish Blue sauce. There are also plenty of vegetarian options, including roast beetroot, goat’s curd and pine kernel salad, or perhaps the autumnal dish of roast butternut squash with vintage Gouda. On the more decadent side are chocolate fondants with a Blu di Bufala heart (a buttery cheese made from blue water buffalo’s milk).
The recipes are straightforward and easy to follow, with lots of flavour enhancing herbs to accompany the cheese. There are helpful suggestions for substitutes if the suggested cheese isn’t available where you live. I cooked up the Portbello mushrooms stuffed with walnuts and Gorgonzola and it was perfectly balanced comfort food on a wintery evening. I’ve also earmarked the Stilton, port and pear terrine for Christmas. There are of course many French-influenced dishes with the requisite touches of cream and butter. These sit comfortably alongside some more experimental options, such as vintage Gouda ice cream with pumpkin and amaretti.
If you prefer to indulge in unadulterated cheese, here are some of the Guarneris’ tips for the perfect seasonal cheeseboard:
– for an after-dinner cheeseboard allow about 80g cheese per person; increase this to 120g if you’re serving cheese, charcuterie and nibbles as a meal
– keep cheese in its original packaging and take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving
– odd numbers of cheese look best on a board – choose 3, 5 or 7 types
– ideally include soft, hard and a blue cheese (unless you really don’t like blue cheese; if so, just leave it out!)
– include different milk types – cow, sheep’s and goat’s
– the best fruits to serve with cheese are pears or grapes
Cheeses to choose by season:
Spring – goat’s curd, Brousse, Camembert, Chabichou, Brillat-Savarin, Ossau-Iraty, Westcombe Cheddar
Summer – Ricotta, Mozzarella, Feta, Gruyère, Fourme d’Ambert, Red Leicester, Ogleshield, Barkham Blue, Manchego
Autumn – Lincolnshire Poacher, West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, Montgomery Cheddar, Roquefort, Emmental, Gruyère, Gouda, Brie de Meaux, Raclette
Winter – Beaufort, Aarewasser, Vacherin, Comté, Camembert, Gruyère Etivas, Aged Gouda, Castelmagno, Stilton, Bleu des Causses, Gorgonzola, Cornish Blue
If you want to go the whole hog (or should that be cow?), there’s also the below recipe for making fresh cheese. Unlike matured cheeses which are stored for long periods to let the flavours develop, this is a simple recipe using milk, vinegar and salt, plus some flavourings of your choice. It’s a great way for a cheese-novice to dip their toes in the world of cheese making. Add a combination of flavourings so that it’s just to your taste.
Homemade Fresh Cheese
Makes approximately 400g
3 litres full-fat milk
90ml white wine vinegar
½ tsp Maldon salt
Optional flavourings (adjust according to taste)
Mixture of chopped parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme
Chopped thyme with grated zest of lemon
Chopped sundried tomatoes with chopped black olives
Red chilli flakes
Put the milk in a large pan over a low heat and heat slowly until it reaches 95°C (203°F), checking with a cooking thermometer.
Immediately remove from the heat, pour over the vinegar, stir and leave for 10–15 minutes until a curd floats to the surface and the whey that remains is clear.
Meanwhile, line a colander with a clean tea towel. Use a sieve to remove the curd then place it in the lined colander. Sprinkle with salt. If you wish, sprinkle with the flavouring of your choice – mixed herbs, chopped thyme with lemon zest, chopped sundried tomatoes with chopped black olives, or red chilli flakes. Stir very gently to combine.
Transfer the curd to a cheese mould or small sieve. Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3–5 days. Serve as an antipasto or crumbled into a salad.
Recipe extracted from ‘A Year in Cheese’ by Alex and Leo Guarneri, recipes by Alessandro Grano. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20).
This month’s prize is a copy of ‘A Year In Cheese’. Simply subscribe to Food At Heart emails to be in the running to win.