THIS weekend I was in Camelot – bet you thought it was an imaginary place. In real life Camelot is in beautiful, verdant Somerset.
I was in the area for a literary festival at Wyke Hall near Gillingham. Two other Irish authors, Victoria Glendinning and Edna O’Brien, were there but now at last cook book writers are included in the literary scene.
The Queens Arms, the village pub (with rooms) at Corton Denham, was heaving at lunch time. A little sign by the door assured us that “dogs and muddy boots are welcome”. A pile of warm pork pies were stacked on the counter with a selection of mustards to slather on top. A 20-year-old hostess was busy grating fresh horseradish onto Bloody Marys. Open fires blazed at both ends of the pub and there was a comfy, convivial atmosphere.
One party had driven up from Cornwall for lunch; others had come all the way from Bristol. There was no hope of a table but people seemed so eager to stay that they were prepared to sit outside on damp seats under umbrellas in the drizzle.
Despite all that, the food, when it arrived, was not all that brilliant. Local heritage tomato and peach salad with toasted pine nut vinaigrette could have been delicious but it really is too late in the season: the peaches were crunchy and the tomatoes pale and insipid.
The Corton Denham figs, crispy prosciutto rocket and Beenleigh Blue salad sounded great but sadly the figs were also dull. Nonetheless I look forward to trying both of these combinations next year. My wild rabbit stew was heart warming but the warm pork pies were the best of all – I’ve never had a warm pork pie before and these were delicious.
There was also a melt in the mouth Dorset apple pie cooked in a little iron frying pan. And then there was the cheese. This area, the West Country, is home to two iconic English farmhouse cheddars – Keens and Montgomery both of which are part of the Slow Food raw milk cheese presidia. I visited Keens’ farm on Saturday morning, where traditional farmhouse cheese has been made since 1899. Cheese buyers like Randolf Hodgson from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London come once a month to taste and choose. Each day’s cheese will taste different depending on the quality of the pasture, the richness of the milk and the skill of the cheese maker.
George Keane showed us around the cheese store. Timber shelves piled high with hundreds of beautiful mouldy truckles of cheddar quietly maturing – the cheese is turned regularly at first but then allowed to gradually age to mellow fruitfulness. Sadly I couldn’t stay to see the whole process because I had to whizz off to give a cookery demonstration, but next day we visited Montgomery’s, another iconic Cheddar farm close by in North Cadbury.
Jamie Montgomery is the third generation to make cheese from the milk of their Friesian Holstein cows that graze on the edge of Camelot. When we arrived Steve and Wayne had the process well under way. They had cut the curd into small granules and pitched it from one vat to another to drain out the whey. It looked like fine curdy scrambled egg. They use the same traditional culture from when the family started cheese making 70 years ago. A slightly different strain is used each day, which means they only lose one day’s production if something goes awry.
The curd continued to tighten as we watched, then it was cut it into blocks which were stacked and restacked on top of each other until Steve judged it was ready to mill. This is an essential part of the cheddaring process. Montgomery still use a traditional peg mill rather than the more modern chip mill. It gently tears the curd into shreds which are then dry salted and forked over to prevent it from clumping before being packed into moulds. It’ll be pressed overnight then turned and pressed again, before being dipped into almost boiling water (85 degrees).
The labour of love continues, the naked cheese is carefully wrapped in soft cheese cloth and greased with lard in the time honoured way. Montgomery make some small truckles, about one and a half kilograms in weight. They mature more quickly and are in huge demand for Christmas.
Over the years we would occasionally order one of these smaller truckles which would arrive through the post in a brown paper and twine parcel. They also make two other cheeses, one called Danegeld and another called Ogleshield and were also experimenting with a Comté type while we were there. Their huge cheese store had over £1 million worth of cheese. It is now well alarmed since the big break-in just before the British Cheese Awards a few years ago. The irony was that the thieves couldn’t dispose of the cheese because it is so distinctive.
Both Keens and Montgomery win top awards every year and are the yard stick by which mature farmhouse cheddars are measured worldwide.
The Queens Arms, Corton Denham, Somerset, DT9 4LR. Telephone / 01963 220317 email@example.com
James Montgomery, Montgomery’s Cheddar, Manor Farm, North Cadbury, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7DW T: 01963 440 243
George or Stephen Keen, Keen’s Cheddar Ltd, Moorhayes Farm, Verrington Lane, Wincanton, Somerset UK BA9 8JR Tel: +44 (0)1963 32286 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gratin of Haddock with Keens or Montgomery Cheddar and Mustard with Piquant Beetroot
This is one of the simplest and most delicious fish dishes we know. If haddock is unavailable, cod, hake, pollock or grey sea mullet are also great. We use Imokilly mature Cheddar from our local creamery at Mogeely.
Serves six as a main course
175g (6 x 6oz) pieces of haddock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
225g (8ozs) Keens or Montgomery Cheddar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp cream
1½ lbs (675g) beetroot cooked
½oz (15g) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A sprinkling of sugar
5-6 fl ozs (140-175ml) cream
Ovenproof dish 8½ x 10 inches (21.5 x 25.5cm)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Peel the beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain.! Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the beetroot, toss, add the cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if necessary. Serve immediately.
Season the fish with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the fillets in a single layer in an ovenproof dish (it should be posh enough to bring to the table). Mix the grated cheese with the mustard and cream and spread carefully over the fish. It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point. Cook in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is golden and bubbly. Flash under the grill if necessary. Serve with hot Piquant Beetroot.
How to Cook Beetroot: Leave two inches (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for one to two hours, depending on size. Beetroot is usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if it dents when pressed with a finger. If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.
Warm Pork Pies
We baked these in a tin but usually they are hand formed. I love Jane Grigson’s filling from her book ‘English Food’ published by Macmillan.
For 4 to 6
12oz (340g) white flour
6oz (170g) butter
4 fl oz (100ml) water
Pinch of salt
1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze
2 tins, 6 inches (15cm) in diameter, 1½ inches (4cm) high or 1 x 9 inch (23cm) tin
Pork Pie Filling:
900g (2 lb) boned shoulder of pork or spareribs, with approximately ¼ fat to ¾ lean meat
225g (½ lb) thinly cut un-smoked bacon
1 tsp chopped sage
½ tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1 tsp anchovy essence
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Dice the butter, put it into a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil. Pour the liquid all at once into the flour and mix together quickly; beat until smooth.
At first the pastry will be too soft to handle but as it cools it will become more workable.
Roll out to 2.5mm/¼ inch thick, to fit the tin or tins. (The pastry may be made into individual pies or one large pie.). The characteristic note of pork pies from Melton Mowbray is the anchovy essence. It makes an excellent piquancy, rather as oysters do in a steak and kidney pudding.
Chop some of the best bits of pork in 5mm (¼ inch) dice. Mince the rest finely with two2 or three3 rashers of the bacon (the bacon cure improves the colour of the pie on account of the saltpetre: with it the filling would look rather grey when the pie is cut). Add the seasonings. Fry a small amount and taste to see if adjustments are needed. Mix in the diced meat.
Line the base of the pastry with remaining bacon and fill with the pork mixture. You will always get a better texture if the meat is finely chopped rather than minced. Make lids from the remaining pastry, brush the edges of the base with water and egg wash and put on the pastry lids, pinching them tightly together.
Roll out the trimmings to make pastry leaves or twirls to decorate the tops of the pies, make a hole in the centre and egg wash carefully.
Bake the pie or pies at 200C/400F/regulo 6 for 40 minutes approx. Serve hot or cold.
Dorset Apple Cake
225 g (8oz) butter
450 – 500g (1lb to 18oz) Bramley Seedling apples
1 organic lemon, finely grated, zest and juice
225g (8oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g (1oz) ground almonds
1 tbsp Demerara sugar
5 tbsp milk
Softly whipped cream to serve
1 x 23 – 24cm springform tin lined with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Mark 4. Peel and core the apples, cut them into 1cm (½ inch) pieces, then toss them in the lemon juice.
Cream together the butter, caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add a little flour with each egg to prevent the mixture from curdling. Sieve the remaining flour and the baking powder into the bowl and fold gently into the butter mixture with the ground almonds and milk. Stir in the apple pieces.
Spoon the cake mix into the prepared tin. Smooth the top and sprinkle with the Demerara sugar.
Bake in the oven for an hour or until well risen and golden brown. Test the centre with a skewer. When inserted into the centre of the cake it should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with plenty of caster sugar. Serve with softly whipped cream.
Jane Grigson’s Cheese and Oatmeal Biscuits
Use a hard, dried-out piece of cheese, Cheddar or a mixture of Cheddar and Parmesan in the proportion of 3:1. These biscuits are delicious with soups, or soft curd cheese.
75g (2½ oz) oatmeal
150g (5oz) white flour
100g (3½ oz) salted butter
125g (4oz) grated Cheddar cheese
Salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne
2 egg yolks
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Mark 6. Mix the oatmeal with the flour, rub in butter. Add grated cheese. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and cayenne, add the egg yolks and a very little iced water, just enough to mix to a dough. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Roll out in batches and cut into triangles or rectangles. Place on trays lined with parchment paper. Bake 10 minutes, or until nicely coloured. Cool on a wire rack.
I CAN’T wait to meet the eventual finalists of Cully & Sully’s contest Cheffactor. The public are invited to enter on Cheffactor.ie At stake is a place on the coveted January’s Ballymaloe 12-week certificate cookery course. The top prize, which includes accommodation, can be redeemed in either 2011 or 2012 and will include two weeks with Colum O’Sullivan (Sully) and Cullen Allen (Cully) to learn the ways of the food business. It is open to everyone – whether you’re a whizz in the kitchen or just a novice. www.cheffactor.ie
Sustainable Clonakilty Energy Festival (October 18–23): The Local Food group is promoting a “50 mile meal” initiative. The aim is to showcase locally produced food through the menus of local restaurants and to increase awareness of food miles. Restaurants in Clonakilty will provide a three course menu from local produce for the week. Alice Glendinning, (085) 143 9007 or email: email@example.com
John and Olive Hallahan from Castlemary, near Cloyne are making several delicious cheeses and yoghurts from their goat’s milk. They have also opened up a little farm shop to sell home-reared lamb, pork and goat as well as other local produce from their farm. Open Saturdays 10am to 4pm – look out for a sign for Canine Country Club. Contact 087 7977203
Another convivial East Cork Slow Food dinner takes place at Wisteria Restaurant in Cloyne on Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 7.30pm.
Darina Allen and Colm Falvey have chosen a delicious menu to showcase and celebrate the food of the local farmers.
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