Monday, October 16, 2006

Absolute Winners!

I like cheese. Or at least, I like cheese that tastes of something. One of my memories of France when I was on an early exchange is of the local cheese – Brie de Melun – and the way it was displayed in the shop. It sat on a little rattan or cane mat, fairly oozing. At dinner that night the smell was pungent. With a sheltered upbringing I always thought of rotting cauliflower, and after the steaming cauldron of ox’s heart that we had just been served I wondered about the wisdom of this runaway cheese. After a childhood of Dairylea triangles it was a bit of a challenge. But smeared on a crust of good French bread and in the mouth – what an explosion. Al dente rind, a slight whiff of ammonia in the nostrils, and the creamy curd, liquid in the centre…I can still taste it in my memory.

French cheese came to English supermarkets on the backs of English holidaymakers. Little cane boxes of Camembert which got deep fried and served with cranberry sauce for a while, strangely. And dreadful white chalky triangles that were specially made to taste of absolutely nothing. Then, as if this was not insult enough to Gallic culture, we ourselves started to make something we had the nerve to call Brie. I am despondent to say we attach the good name of Somerset to it, and call it Somerset Brie. It’s like eating a blotting paper sandwich filled with Dunlopillo.

So I stayed well away from English people purporting to make French cheese – leave it to the experts I thought.

And THEN I went to the Great British Cheese Festival in Cheltenham the other day. O frabjous day, kalloo, kallay! Simon and Carol Weaver’s organic farm is in the Cotswolds, halfway between Lower Slaughter and Lower Swell (really) and they make really wonderful, wonderful Brie. Brie lovers should moan with pleasure. I tried the plain Brie there and walked, well, skipped, off with a whole Blue Brie. There’s another one too with a mix of organic herbs. I didn’t know we could do this, and my heart is bursting with pride! The cheeses are eye-catchingly packaged, in classy white with a black and gold band.

And then, as luck would have it, there were quinces in the market. Fragrant, and with a
woolly fluff that wipes off, they seem to me to speak of the Middle Ages. Their golden warmth is like the last rays of summer, before we settle down to the russets and conker colours of autumn. Peel them and chop, with a very sharp knife because they are extremely firm, and put in acidulated water. And as I had wonderful cheese I made membrillo to eat with it.

Quince Paste (Membrillo)
2lb quince, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tsp cinammon

½ tsp salt

1.5lb sugar

Place the chopped quince and cinnamon in a preserving pan or large, wide stainless steel or lined aluminium saucepan.

Add the salt and pour in enough water to cover the chopped quince.

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until t
he quince is tender.
In a food processor or blender process the quince mixture until completely smooth.
Return the quince puree to the pan and gradually add the sugar. Cook stirring over a low heat until the mixture thickens into a sticky paste and takes on a caramel colour.
Pour the quince paste into a lightly greased tray and let it cool and set.

I have left out timings because mine seemed to take much much longer than the original recipe. I didn’t quite have the courage to keep stirring until the colour was the rich dark caramel I was looking for, what with knowing it was about to burn on the bottom of the pan and having it spatter continually up my arm! So mine is a delicious rosy terracotta colour, not solid, but excellent all the same.


that English girl said...

Hmm.. Brie.. You know, god bless the Catalans and all their wierd cookery, but they and the their Spanish bretheren really don't go a bundle on cheese that quite literally has a life of its own. And France is within spitting distance. What a shame. But we do have a lot of quinces.. Apart from membrillo, what else can you do with them? Anyone?

June said...

As mine is not solid I was thinking it would make a very good filling, ice cream, sauce for monkfish - anything you might do with fruit. Nice colour too.

June said...

Oh, and cook with pheasant - yummm

nikkipolani said...

Oh my goodness! Your post made me want to run to the cheese counter and grab all the lovely flavourful cheese! That last photo of brie looks like cambazola - perhaps an American blend of Camembert with Gorgonzola running through the middle of it. Slathered on crusty Italian bread, it is amazing. Have a great weekend.

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