Saturday in the Kitchen: Cheshire Cheese

Ms. Jeannie’s new discovery, crumbly Cheshire cheese

It’s a cool, cloudy, over-cast day in Ms. Jeannie’s world today – the perfect atmosphere to accompany her new blog post all about Cheshire cheese from England.

It was experimentation lunch on Saturday in the Ology household! Always up for a game of  “see-what-you-think-about-this-cheese,” Mr. Jeannie Ology, brought home a package of newly discovered Cheshire cheese from the market. Paired with a few local apples, a baguette and a new bottle of  Italian  il Carnevale di Venezia Pinot Grigio  – it was a feast in the making!

il Carnevale di Venezia Garganega Pinot Grigio from Veneto, Italy

Well, sort of.

Oh dear readers, have you ever tried Cheshire cheese? If so, please comment.

Ms. Jeannie was surprised to find that it was a very dry, dense cheese and very very crumbly. Similar in texture to feta but not as salty and not as moist, it reminded Ms. Jeannie a lot of curds in cottage cheese minus the creaminess.  Mr. Jeannie Ology was not really a fan at all – preferring more the strong pungent textures and consistency of blue cheeses, aged cheddars and smoked goudas.

Very crumbly – this Cheshire cheese was!

Ms. Jeannie had to agree. This cheese was incredibly mellow, so mellow, in fact  she believes it might have actually gotten lost somewhere on its transatlantic journey to America.  Perhaps though, she was at fault. Did she pair it with all the wrong flavors?

The pinot grigio also turned out to be very light in taste – although not bad –  it would have made a far better picnic wine on a hot summer day.  What was really needed now, wine-wise, to go with the cheshire was something that was complex and full-bodied, something overflowing with flavor that might have helped develop the subtly of the cheese. Sorry light Italian wine.

The apples were even a poor match, with their crunchy crispiness. Because the Cheshire was so dry, something more along the lines of an apple chutney would have been lovely. It could have surrounded the cheese like a nice hug.  Or a fruit, drippy with it’s own juices like a mango, or an over-ripe plum or a mixture of crushed berries – that would have been equally delicious. But fruit companions pose their own set of problems – because we are no longer in summer fruit season.

So what to do with this non-chalant little wonder of a cheese?  Ms. Jeannie took to the research department…

Hailing from Cheshire County in North West,  England, as it turns out, Cheshire cheese is one of the oldest cheeses in Britain. It’s crumbly, dense, ultra-firm texture was created purposefully, so that the cheese would remain intact while being transported to market in wagons and carriages. Aha!

At the start it had many many friends, including the Royal Army who stocked only cheshire cheese on their ships. Throughout the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, cheshire cheese reigned supreme. It wasn’t until the mid 1960’s that it began to see a decline in favoritism. Mostly this is accredited to the industrialization of the cheese making process, and now there are only a handful of farms making cheshire cheese the traditional way – which apparently – is the flavorful way.

1903 Map of England – (Cheshire in orange, top middle) from bananastrudel
Cheshire, England. Photo courtesy of oldukphotos.com

Cheshire cheese comes in three colors: red, white and blue (very patriotic!).  The white variation (what Ms. Jeannie sampled above) is the youngest of the three. The red, which is actually a pumpkin color is tinted with annato (a pulpy American tree seed used for dying fabrics and food) and the blue, which is aged with mold, resembles more of a veiny blue cheese. Perhaps Mr. Jeannie Ology would have liked that one better!

As far as recipes, Ms. Jeannie headed to epicurious.com to see how they suggested cooking with this now famous cheese. Surprisingly, there were only two recipes listed! How could this be, with a cheese that has existed since the 1600’s?!

Search results for Cheshire cheese on epicurious.com

One recipe was for Scottish farmhouse eggs, which is  essentially scrambled eggs with cheese and onions; and the other, a crabmeat crostini with chives and creme fraiche. Both, Ms. Jeannie noted, enhanced the cheese with a bit of cream (is this a hint?!)

The latter recipe also recommended a pinot grigio as a wine pairing, which would be lovely considering in addition to crabmeat and cheese, the recipe included tangy lemon and lime juices along with a peppery hot sauce. Sounds delicious!

Further research turned up the British Cheese Board website, which turned out be the equivelant of winning the cheese recipe lottery! There was a bevy of cheshire cheese recipes (organized by season, no less), along with other recipes for wonderfully obscure cheeses like Caerphilly, Cornish Yarg and Wensleydale. Such delightful names – thank you England! Wensleydale, in particular sounds like a new day of the week — as in — “Oh darling, let’s not go Monday or Tuesday – let’s go Wensleydale!”  So now we know – if need a new cheese recipe – stop by and visit the BCB. 

Ms. Jeannie will keep you posted on how some of these new recipes turn out, but in the meantime, if you have any suggestions as to how you like your Cheshire – please let us know!

Wednesday in the Kitchen – Simple Tomato Basil Tart

Ms. Jeannie is thoroughly lucky to have come from a family of cooking adventurers. Her parents, her sisters, her husband all love to cook and enjoy experimenting with new flavors and diverse ingredients.

When she was small, Ms. Jeannie’s mother taught her the “old-fashioned” way of baking, with recipes handed down from generation to generation. Which meant everything, always, was made by scratch. Cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, chocolate sauce, whipped cream,  every decadent delight was made by our  hands with real, whole ingredients.

Ms. Jeannie’s great grandfather, William Earle aka Grandpa Bumpy, was an excellent baker. It’s his pie recipes that we still use today in our family.

As Ms. Jeannie grew and started her own experimenting, this love of building creations from the mixing bowl up stemmed out into other aspects of the palatte: homemade tomato sauce, chicken broth, pasta, salad dressings, soups, breads…it was thrilling to know that she could indeed make anything she wanted.

One of her most favorite things to make is pie crust. There is something about lumping a few, simple ingredients together in a bowl,  mixing it about and then rolling it out into a delightful sheet of smooth paper-like dough.

There are challenges still though – even after all these years… like that wonderful flip of the thumb that makes a beautiful scalloped edge around the rim of the pie crust.Ms. Jeannie cannot seem to master this for the life of her. Instead she opts for the more rustic, “provincial” style of folding over the extra dough, which creates a very humble look.

Gorgeous scalloped pie crust (not made by Ms. Jeannie!). You’ll see Ms. Jeannie’s rustic style further down the blog. Apple Pie photograph by Summer Owens.

Ms. Jeannie was consistently taught by her mother that  using good ingredients was just as important as using good equipment. Which meant having a good set of mixing bowls, rolling pins , flour sifters and a pastry cloth.  Necessities. Each and every one of them.

Vintage Kitchen Tool Collection from JodysVintage

When Ms. Jeannie was off to college and on her own, she tried to cut a few corners in the equipment department. Using an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin, the wooden cutting board as a pastry cloth and a fork in place of a dough cutter, Ms. Jeannie was off and baking to somewhat satisfactory results.  Sometimes the dough would be tough and difficult to work, flour would get all over everything (almost always on the floor!) and the dough never rolled out perfectly on the square cutting board – usually lopping off one side, making it thicker in that section then all the others.

For years she baked like this – improvising and substituting, working with what she had at hand instead of getting the proper tools.  A pastry cloth – that is really what Ms. Jeannie desperately needed. But she always seemed to overlook this one neccessity when she was out shopping.

Until…two months ago! When she FINALLY she purchased a pastry cloth at the kitchen supply store. It cost $5.00. What are on earth was she waiting for all this time? It was indeed a jubilant and monumental day:)

Ms. Jeanne’s new kitchen darling!

Now, whatever Ms. Jeannie rolls out onto this magic carpet comes out lighter, flakier and more evenly consistent. It is completely marvelous! As it turns out – pastry cloths have been in use for over a century. Because they are made usually from unbleached cotton and/or oilcloth they provide a wonderful non-stick work environment. Seasoned with a little flour and carefully stored, pastry cloths can last for years. Marvelous, says Ms. Jeannie, since it took her years to acquire!

Here is Ms. Jeannie’s latest creation using her lovely kitchen helper… (note the rustic crust!)

Ms. Jeannie’s Simple Tomato Basil Tart

Simple Tomato Basil Tart – Serves 4

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

6 tablespoons of vegetable shortening

1/4 cup ice cold water

1/2 lb. Farmer’s cheese

4 large handfuls of fresh basil, washed and torn in pieces

2 lbs. organic home-grown cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the halved tomatoes in a medium size bowl and toss in 3/4 of the fresh basil.  Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Set bowl aside and let tomatoes marinate while you make the dough.

2.  Now onto the dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and shortening.  Using a dough cutter (or a fork – in Ms. Jeannie’s case)  mash the shortening into the flour until it forms small crumb-like bits. Add the cold water and combine until dough forms.  Knead it lightly into a ball with your hands. Just until it is no longer sticky. Be careful not to overwork the dough – then it will become tough.

3. Sprinkle a small handful of flour on your work surface (aka the pastry cloth!)  and roll the dough out  as thinly as possible. Place crust in a round cake pan and bake in oven just until the crust is firm but not brown. About 20-25 minutes.

4. Remove crust from oven, add the tomato/basil mixture. Take the farmers cheese and slice in thin chunks on top of the tomato mixture. Carefully mix cheese and tomatoes together with a spoon, making sure not to scrap a hole in the bottom crust. Top with the remaining 1/4 basil.

5. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Broil for an additional 5-6 minutes until the cheese starts bubbling and turns golden brown.

6. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve this with a simple side salad and a glass of white wine (Ms. Jeannie chose a Pinot Grigio) and you have a lovely, light, late-summer dinner!