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10/08/10 - Stilton toastie suppers and no cheese dreams for our blue-veined blogger, Neil Sowerby

I DON’T often dip into Australian Men’s Health Magazine. I sympathise with any guy who’s recovering from croc or shark bite (or who’s contracted something nasty Down Under), but I suspect if I wrote in with my minor ailments I’d be dismissed as a whingeing Pom.
 
But cheese dreams, now that’s a universal trouble to mind and body. Little did I think Men’s Health would trouble itself with the nightmare effects of a post-dinner cheeseboard.
 
Yet here they are recently quoting research commissioned by the British Cheese Board and qualified by Neil Stanley, director of sleep research at the University of Surrey.

 


It was based upon 200 volunteers scoffing 20 grams of cheese 30 minutes before bed. Some 75 per cent of male Stilton eaters apparently experience quite bizarre dreams – a typical one involved a vegetarian crocodile (sic) upset because it could not eat children.


Meanwhile two-thirds of cheddar-lovers have celebrity-based dreams. Not about Paris Stilton, obviously. Red Leicester stimulates nostalgia and poor mellow Cheshire is the least dream-inducing.
Meanwhile, a study by researchers at Laval University in Canada found people who slept more than nine hours a night were 25 per cent more likely to gain five kilograms over six years than people who clocked up between seven and eight hours. Were cheese suppers involved? We need to be told.
 
Still even the prospect of a purple werewolf painting my toenails in a dream, say, is not going to stop me indulging in my latest passion – late night Stilton toasties. With bacon and pomegranate seeds and thinly sliced walnut bread if you can find it. Delicious. Two even better, with a glass of stout. And a dreamless night guaranteed.
 
MY recent blog about Stilton in literature provoked an odd little scholarly response about TS Eliot taking umbrage over a proposed statue to Stilton. Back in 1935, the Nobel Prize-winning poet wrote a letter to The Times supporting Sir John Squire’s “manly and spirited defence of Stilton cheese” while rejecting his plan for a national Stiltonian Monument.

 


Instead, Eliot recommended the formation of a Society for the Preservation of Ancient Cheeses, but showed his own lack of discrimination by declaring the “inferiority of even the finest Stilton to a noble old Cheshire when in prime condition.” (He also at one point called Wensleydale the Mozart of cheese.)
 
The following year, 1936, the Stilton Cheesmakers Association was formed, a much more progressive outfit than an Ancient Cheese Preservation gang. Witness the year-on popularity of Blue Stilton, while Eliot’s reputation has been on the wane. There’s still time to get that statue built, though. Atop a hill overlooking the A1, a giant crusty truckle perhaps. The Big Cheese around here. Poetic justice.

04/08/10 - Hold the front page for a Stilton scoop

In a long and varied journalistic career I can’t recall ever getting a Scoop!! You know the kind of thing... bursting into a newsroom full of clattering typewriters to yell “Hold the front page”. 

My entrances were usually along the lines of “Great news, a new wine bar’s opened in town” or “Do you think Berni Inns would do a recipe column with us?”

So when I came across a different kind of scoop online the other day, it reminded me of those innocent prehistoric, pre-blogging times. 


For just £9.95 Middlesex-based Teddington Cheesemongers (www.teddingtoncheese.co.uk) were offering a choice of elegant Stilton cheese scoops in TWO versions – twist neck polished and knot-handled.

How could I resist and what would I actually do with either? Was scooping, I wondered, connected with the mostly discredited habit (at least in my circles) of pouring Port into a whole Stilton? In the Swigging Sixties it was all the rage, but then so was Fondu laced with Kirsch. I rest my case.

 

Where better to consult than Vivienne Marquis and Patricia Heskell’s The Cheese Book, published in 1966?

 

The cheese gals suggested that because of Stilton’s height – nine inches compared with Roquefort’s five – it cannot be cut easily  in one straightforward motion. Hence  lot of folk preferred to scoop out the luscious blue-veined stuff, eventually tunnelling into the heart of the cheese, leaving a wide rim to dry and harden...

 

“The more dedicated scoopers pour Port into these unsightly craters to restore the moisture – a practice all connoisseurs deplore, and with reason. Port goes superbly with Stilton, but when it’s mixed with the cheese itself it adulterates Stilton’s unique flavour and turns its creamy texture into a sodden mess.”

More vivid is the revulsion shown by early 20th century food writer Ambrose Heath: “After much summoning by waiter and head waiter, there was borne to me half a Stilton encased in a kind of blood-stained cloth, as well it might be: for inside the rind was a strange lurid pulp, which the waiter stirred vigorously with a spoon.”

 

Of course, Heath and others were neglecting some traditional reasons why the Port pouring might have been useful. Before the days of refrigeration and pre-packed cheeses many households were obliged to buy whole or half Stilton cheeses which would have been wrapped in damp cloth to keep them from drying out and kept either in the larder or on the sideboard in the dining room. 

Eventually, after several weeks, they would dry out and the Port was added to rejuvenate the cheese - hence the need for a scooping spoon. 

 

Nowadays, with refrigeration the cheese can be kept cool and smaller pieces frozen for up to 3 months. Simply defrost in the fridge overnight and your Stilton comes out better than when it went in, an experienced Stilton hand tells me. He also tells me there’s absolutely no waste if you let the family dog eat the Stilton crust. They love it.

 

Final word from Marquis and Heskell: “The scooping practice is indeed wasteful. A Stilton weighting 14lb will yield, if scooped, probably no more than 7lb of really good cheese – whereas, if it is cut properly (ie halved first) there is very little waste.”

 

Don’t let that put you off buying a scoop, though. A stylish kitchen addition. Just been back to Teddington online to double check the offer and found, for £18.95, in addition to the scoop of your choice you also get a hand-made stainless steel traditional cheese knife accompanying it in a presentation box. My truckle runneth over.

 

Are there any inveterate scoopers left out there? Let me know if you believe it is still a major pleasure in eating Stilton, one denied to those who only buy a small pre-pack portion.

 

22/07/10 - Stilton in fiction, rhyme and recipe. Our blue veined blogger, Neil Sowerby waxes lyrical

YOU’D think fiction would be stocked with characters named after cheeses – Cheddar George or Red Lester maybe. The movies have, after all Kenneth Williams as Citizen Camembert : “He’s the big cheese around here” (Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head, 1967, Sid James played the Black Fingernail, a spoof on the Scarlet Pimpernel, geddit?). Then there’s Rocky, Rocky II and Roquefort (sic).

copywright Edizioni Piemme


In children’s fiction there’s a best-selling cavalcade of titles purported to be written by an erudite mouse called Geronimo Stilton, editor of The Rodent’s Gazette (originating in Italy but translated into English since 2004). The closest he gets to the world’s greatest blue cheese is in novel no 31, The Mysterious Cheese Thief (August 2007) when our hero receives a legal paper telling him that he may no longer use t

he name Stilton because it is the trademarked name of a British cheese.


It leads him to travel to Britain and find all the Stilton in his village destination has been stolen. This entails a lot of sleuthing on the intrepid mouse’s part and informative tidbits about Stilton cheese, Britain, cheese-making, recipes and the like.

He’s far more likeable than the thick-necked dolt called “Stilton” Cheesewright in PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels. Oxford rower Cheesewright is continually threatening to break Bertie’s neck if he lures away the affections of Madeleine Bassett.

Wodehouse’s literary contemporary, GK Chesterton, provides the only sonnet I know written about Stilton. Do you think it captures the transcendent beauty of the great dairy product? Mail me your poem on Stilton to neil@neilsowerby.co.uk and we’ll come up with a suitable prize for the best.

Here, meanwhile, is Chesterton’s Stilton sonnet:

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art.  Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I.
She is a Fen.  Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.

Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

Not sure that’s a great poem. There is perhaps more beauty in a great recipe. Here is a bistro classic translated from the French, substituting Blue Stilton for Roquefort in a salad of endive, blue cheese and walnut. It’s not just national  loyalty but I preferred the nuttier mellowness of Stilton to the more pungent soapiness of the French blue cheese. Here’s an adapted recipe courtesy of the great French-influenced, London-based chef Chris Galvin:


1tsp Dijon mustard
1tsp wine vinegar
25ml walnut oil
90ml vegetable oil
25g double cream
8 heads of Belgian endive (chicory)
200g Blue Stilton (young)
180g roasted walnuts
20g chopped chives

Refrigerate all dressing ingredients to ensure it doesn’t split. Blend mustard and vinegar in a processor. Combine both oils and cream and pour into blender.


Cut the bottom off the endives and wash well. In a mixing bowl toss endive, Stilton and walnuts in the dressing. Place in serving bowls and sprinkle with chives. Quite creamily lovely.

07/07/10 - Stilton cheese - bottoms up!

IT doesn't have to be Port. The tipple that's inexorably yoked to Stilton. It doesn't have to be wine. An ale that was developed to compete with claret back in the 18th century (when we were at war with the French) probably hits the spot better than most in accommodating the creamy yet spicy challenges of the world's best blue cheese.

Barley wine deserves to be lauded more than it is, but its reputation is stuck firmly in a time warp.

A drinking partner recalls old blokes in pubs sticking a bottle of Gold Label as a nightcap into their pints of Whitbread Trophy (‘the pint that thinks it's a quart"', remember the Seventies ad?). And at 10 per cent it was a lethal test of a young lad's manhood (I failed).

Such memories came flooding back the other day when I set up a Stilton and barley wine matching session with a craft brewer, who makes four different versions. It went so well I missed the first half hour of England's clash with Germany, which in retrospect wasn't a bad thing.

 

Trevor Cook from Bare Arts concentrates on producing a range of bottle conditioned beers from golden ales brimming with Cascade hops to dark, brooding, coffeeish porter and (another one for nostalgia buffs) a milk stout.

The best place to try them is in his own Good Beer Guide listed Barearts bar/gallery in the Yorkshire/Lancashire border town of Todmorden. It's an odd little set-up, painted entirely pink, matching the feminine-centric art on display from Trevor's wife, Kathy.

You even sit on pink barrels as you sup your beer from small jugs (bottle-conditioned ales throw a sediment and need decanting).

Among the bar snacks there's always well-kept Quenby Hall Stilton. I took along some Colston Bassett and aged Tuxford and Tebbutt to accompany some immensely characterful beers. What a match! And I don't mean the woeful football.

 

The three Stiltons, one young and fresh, one complex and balanced, one pungently challenging were all too much for the young, still quite bitter, golden barley wine we kicked off with.

Our second barley wine was much darker, brewed in September 2009, slightly medicinal but with the intense dried fruit flavours of a good port. A mouthful of cheese and this elixir, brewed with British Maris Otter and Dark Crystal Barley malts and hopped with Kent Goldings hops, was meltingly perfect.

Especially with the aged Stilton specimen, where there was a rush of grassiness, then a comforting alcoholic warmth in the mouth. It was 9.6 ABV after all, almost wine strength.

Finally we opened a dark barley wine with another year's bottle age on it, mellowing beautifully to a slight nuttiness. The Colston Bassett, in particular, was enhanced by its presence.

At a separate sampling session we tasted a beautifully silky Cropwell Bishop alongside an equally silky, amber-hued Marble Special barley wine from the famous Manchester Marble Arch boutique brewery. Ten months old it boasts a 2009 vintage on the bottle. Even direct from the brewery costs a whopping £12.50 for a 75cl bottle. You are paying for 10.7 alcohol and a great complexity, the equal in it own way of great cheese.

In Belgium, they treasure such brews and celebrate beer with food. Stilton has maintained it pre-eminent position by fighting its corner. It would be good to see Barley Wine achieving a similarly high profile. Preferably in smaller bottles.

05/07/10 - Cauliflower; the unsung food hero

Brits' love affair with the cauliflower has nosedived over the past decade with sales down 35 per cent (five per cent in last year alone, new research shows). Perhaps it's down to the perception that green veg is healthier or maybe it's the curse of stringy processed cheese devaluing one of the great comfort foods - Cauliflower Cheese.

Here's a pretty healthy alternative I've dug out of a quirky Australian veggie food blog called Albion Cooks (I must get out more!), which uses oh-so-good-for-you tofu plus Stilton to give it that extra tang. I tried it and it works. Let me know what you think.

 

 

Recipe (2 servings):

  • 1 small cauliflower, cut into florettes
  • 3-4 oz firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 3 oz Stilton, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 2 tbsp hot water
  • cayenne

 

Steam the cauliflower for a few minutes, until it is partially cooked, but still has crunch.

Put hot water and creme fraiche in a non-stick skillet and stir over medium low heat until well combined. Add the cheese and cook additional minute. Add in the tofu, cooked rice, and steamed cauliflower and place into two individual ramekins and top with cayenne (and additional cheese if desired). Place gratins about 4 inches from the broiler and broil until the top is lightly browned (5-6 minutes).

Source - http://albioncooks.blogspot.com

02/07/10 - Our blue-veined blogger Neil Sowerby talks Stilton with Marianne Lumb

In recent blogs I've written about Professional Masterchef finalist Marianne Lumb from Stilton heartland Long Clawson and the brilliant new cheese bible, Cheese: The World's Best Artisan Cheeses (Jacqui Small, £30) by Patricia Michelson, which is very complimentary about the world's finest blue-veined lactic product!

Bizarrely, I've discovered a link. Patricia runs La Fromagerie, just off Marylebone High Street. London rival Neal's Yard may have done more to champion our native cheese but for a panorama of European cheese La Fromagerie's temperature-controlled, humidified Cheese Room can't be rivalled.

La Fromagerie was the setting for the launch of Marianne's book, Kitchen Knife Skills (Apple, £14.99), which on the back of Masterchef exposure cleared an astonishing 40,000 copies.

I found this out when I finally tracked down Marianne, one of Britain's finest private chefs. She has cooked for, among many famous folk, David Cameron. We expect nowadays the PM would choose the starter and main, while Nick Clegg would be responsible for the pudding option. Sour grapes provided by Gordon Brown?

It's a far cry from Marianne's girlhood as daughter of a Long Clawson butcher. She recalled: "I spent one entire summer turning the cheese in Long Clawson dairy. It was tough, quite an experience (Stilton hoops or moulds containing curds have to be turned daily to ensure consistent drainage).

"It is worth all this effort, though. Stilton really is a quality product. And it still means home to me.

"I remember I was over in Australia, setting up a cafe in Sydney. I was a bit lonely, homesick. Then I wandered into a food hall and saw some Stilton on the shelf. I bought a piece and felt so much better.''

Marianne, who is a quarter Swiss, admits to a love of the high Alpine cheeses, and confesses she wasn't keen on blue Stilton as a child, but grew to love it.

Her favourite recipes utilising it? With cob nuts in a salad for Christmas or substituting it in the classic French Roquefort and pear souffle.

08/06/10 - Blue-veined blogger Neil Sowerbys pilgrimage to Melton Mowbray

Blessed are the Cheesemakers, to quote Monty Python's Life of Brian.

I certainly felt blessed to be lunching with the Stilton brethren (and an equally knowledgeable sister or two) in Melton Mowbray. Venue: the Sysonby Knoll Hotel, in whose beautiful gardens May was finally starting to blossom big time.

Representatives from all six Stilton dairies spent the morning at their AGM. I was just there for the lunch (story of my life), so I sped down into Melton Mowbray, epicentre of pies and cheese but for some reason I bought some crab off a van from Grimsby!

To compensate, I purchased a large pork pie from the legendary Dickinson & Morris in Nottingham Street - one of the more expensive hand-raised ones made on the premises.

Hoping not to spoil my appetite for lunch, I snacked off it in St Mary's churchyard after finding the beautiful church itself too busy for quiet contemplation. They were preparing it for the next day's annual British Pie Awards after all.

Stilton seemed to be getting squeezed out here. I was feeling positively pie-eyed, so I wandered over to one of the best cheese shops in the land, the Melton Cheeseboard in Windsor Street. Fitting street for the King of English Cheese.

Tim and Lyn Brown claim to sell more Stilton than any other shop in Britain and certainly the blue-veined stuff quite rightly dominates their display. I was under strict orders, though, not to purchase. Inevitably lunch would end with a choice of dessert or a large perfectly ripe Stilton. No contest really.

A swift half in the church's 13th century neighbour, the Anne of Cheese, sorry Anne of Cleves - where Stilton was enticingly paired with ham on the menu - but it really was time to do justice to lunch.

 

The Sysonby Knoll's lovely owner, Jenny Howling (sorry, if it sounds like we were written by Stephen King, she told me), stowed my crab in the fridge and I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the company of cheesemakers, past and present. So much knowledge in one conservatory dining room. It was all too much to take in but over the coming months I am going to badger them for tips and lore to share with you. Watch this space.

And I must confess, the Stilton cheese on offer was well worth the wait and tasted simply divine having been couriered to our table direct from one of the six licensed dairies.

Stilton gets the perfect homage in perhaps the most beautiful book ever produced on cheese. Patricia Michelson's new Cheese: The World's Best Artisan Cheeses is subtitled ‘A Journey Through Taste Tradition and Terroir'.

It sets its stall out early with a lovely picture of one of the Colston Bassett herd on Page 15.

Terroir, it's not just about wine. Here's a paragraph from Patricia's prominent Stilton entry:

"Weather patterns play a big part in how all blue cheese develop, and for Stilton the perfect conditions are early autumn when the grass is dry and sweet, the air is warm during the day and cools considerably in the evening.

"At this time of year, the cattle are content since they can stay outside all the time and do not have to shelter from the elements. That is why we always look forward to Christmas when Stilton is one of the most sought-after traditional treats."

Your starter (or main) for 10:

If you were in Melton Mowbray and had the choice of one purchase - a large local pork pie (454g) or the equivalent wedge of the finest blue Stilton, which would you choose and why?

Let me know your feelings on the subject.

16/05/10 - IF you want to be a big cheese as a telly chef, surely it has to be Stilton, ponders our blue-veined

Mastercheff

DHRUV  Baker, latest Masterchef winner (in the amateur variant of the nerve-shredding cooking shoot-out), plans to open his own restaurant. Don't they all? Do the contestants never learn?

What was so refreshing six months ago when Marianne Lumb narrowly failed in the Professionals final was her disinclination to immediately seek premises to trumpet her talent to an adoring public.

As a private chef, with a much-praised cookbook just out, Marianne was doing just fine already. Her clients had included David Cameron - not the best role model in a three way contest, as we now know. Probably Masterchef judge Michel Roux's praise was more rewarding, but even that wasn't going to go to her head. That's what comes of being raised in a solid, good food-conscious environment like Long Clawson.

Great imported chefs such as Raymond Blanc and Giorgio Locatelli are forever rabbiting on about the influence of the terroir or the canny kitchencraftthey learnt at Gran's apron strings. As if it's the sole prerogative of superior French and Italian food cultures.

'Balderdash' as they say in Balderdash-in-the-Wolds, never in Sacre Bleu-les-deux Chevaux.

Blue Stilton has no reason to feel a poor relation to Roquefort or Gorgonzola. Some of us think it is different class. In any case, it's a quite other style of blue cheese being justly celebrated by a new generation of cooks re-discovering and enhancing British traditions.

I just wish one of the high profile cookery shows would feature Our Favourite Blue Cheese in a dish again (a missed opportunity, Marianne?).

I'm not counting that alleged off-camera spat in Celebrity Come Dine Me, when Sherrie Hewson supposedly didn't fancy Hannah Waterman's Stilton and Broccoli Soup.

We're talking proper chefs. In the 2007 Great British Menu that inventive Nottingham Michelin man Sat Bains managed to slot a bit of blue into a pudding course.

Even the title remains unforgettable - Rhubarb and strawberries, rapeseed oil pastille with Stilton, port and black pepper.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/rhubarbandstrawberri_88480.shtml

Even last year Sat was at the sweet and savoury again in his restaurant, dishing up a postage stamp sized piece of toast sandwiched between a sliver of pungent Stilton and a cube of sweet pineapple.

Maybe in next year's Great British Menu would any contestant be bold enough to cook an entire four courses, each featuring Stilton? Now that would be going out on a Lumb!

PS - A more user-friendly dish than Sat's for the home cook. Those lovely folk at Love Food, Hate Waste add celery to their Broccoli and Stilton Soup. It makes it feel cleaner on the palate. Check out their website - www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes/show/136-celery-broccoli-and-stilton-soup

By Neil Sowerby, Stilton cheese's resident blogger

09/11/09 - EAT IN WITH STILTON AND THE CULINARY GUIDE

Online foodie bible www.theculinaryguide.co.uk has this month shown its support to the king of cheese by featuring four of Gizzi Erskine’s contemporary Stilton recipes.

The Culinary Guide, which is packed full of fantastic recipes and food news, is also running a competition to win a luxury Stilton hamper. For your chance to win click here.

23/10/09 - MARIANNE IS OUR MASTERCHEF

Tip of the hat today goes to local girl and Masterchef: The Professionals contestant Marianne Lumb, who put up a spectacular fight against fellow finalists Daniel Graham and Steve Groves last night.

 

Marianne may have missed taking the Professional Masterchef crown, pipped at the post by Steve Groves, but she did the region proud and will no doubt be the Masterchef in the hearts of the people of Leicestershire.

 

Growing up in Long Clawson, home to the Long Clawson dairy where Stilton is made, Marianne’s passion was inspired by her father’s trade as a butcher and her mother’s home cooking.

 

The Stilton Cheese Makers Association (SCMA) has no doubt Marianne will go on to even bigger and better things, and we wish her all the best for her future career.

 

Marianne Lumb - Stilton, the king of cheese, salutes you!