Ray McVinnie's simple ways to enjoy cheese
I have added sauerkraut to my list of favourite fermentations, but my heart still lies with my original holy trinity of fermented products, wine, bread and cheese. Add the odd salad and a person could live on these.
We are good at making cheese in New Zealand. We make far too much generic block cheese that seems to fit with the commodity mindset many people here still have about the food we produce. We also have producers who still insist on using European names for their cheeses which are often meaningless outside Europe.
There are only seven ways to make cheese and these correspond to the different styles of cheese. Brie and Camembert, for example, are both made the same way and, apart from size, the difference between them in flavour and texture is due to where they were made. It makes a nonsense out of Kiwi producers labelling their products with such names.
Cheese, a living thing, is still embalmed in plastic wrap in supermarkets, while cutting cheese to order seems like another example of that great Kiwi anathema “too much muckin’ around!”
It would even be damningly described by some Kiwis as “a bit over the top” in its attention to detail. That last point is a shame as one of the pleasures of buying cheese and learning about it is to taste before buying. But we also do have many artisan cheesemakers turning out great cheese. We have always had good English style cheeses such as blue cheese and cheddar, although many Kiwis think cheddar only comes in a 1 kg block (and why amI calling it “cheddar”? It has never been anywhere near the Cheddar caves where real cheddar is aged).
We are getting a strong contingent of Italians making excellent mozzarella, ricotta and burrata. The Dutch here have always produced superb goudas and the goat and sheep herders are definitely making their presence felt with their award-winning cheeses.
So there is plenty of good cheese in New Zealand. You may still have to go to specialist shops or markets to buy it but, hey, we live in a bland culture of supermarkets, so isn’t this always the way? I love cheese but am judicious about cooking with it. It is already a recipe made to be enjoyed as is so it doesn’t need a lot of complicated ingredients added to it.
It certainly doesn’t need the paraphernalia some chefs include on their cheeseboards. I would rather see the skill of the chef demonstrated by how they understand cheese and how to look after it so that when I order it (and I like the way the French use the cheese course to finish off their red wine) I get cheese in peak condition.
I used to judge cheese and I learnt everything I know about it from Kiwi cheese master, Juliet Harbutt, who will be appearing at the upcoming summer FAWC event series in the Hawke’s Bay in November. Meanwhile here are some simple ways to enjoy cheese.
Al dente hot short pasta, such as penne or rigatoni, tossed with rocket leaves so they wilt, crumbled blue cheese, ricotta, lots of freshly grated parmesan and toasted walnut pieces
Make a deluxe croque monsieur sandwich. Make a white sourdough bread sandwich filled with prosciutto and gruyere cheese, press together, dip in beaten egg and fry in a little extra virgin olive oil until well browned and melting inside. Serve with homemade oven fries (peeled agria potatoes cut into 1 ½ cm-thick fries, tossed in extra virgin olive oil, a little salt, spread out on a baking paper-lined oven tray then baked for 50 minutes at 200C) and a crunchy green salad.
Line a shallow pie dish with Paneton (made with butter) flaky pastry, slow fry lots of thinly sliced onions and leeks and finely chopped garlic. Remove from the heat and cool then add toasted cumin seeds, plenty of crumbled creamy feta, beaten eggs, chopped curly parsley and coriander. Pour this into the pastry lined dish and bake on a pizza stone at 200C for 30 minutes or until well set and the bottom crisp. Serve in wedges with spicy chutney and salad.
There is nothing better than a simple French style potato and cheese gratin. Make layers in a shallow gratin dish with thinly sliced, peeled agria potatoes and grated gruyere, a little chopped garlic and plenty of pepper and salt. Pour in enough cream, milk or both to just cover, top with more cheese, cover and place in a 200C oven for about an hour or until bubbling and golden and until the liquid has been absorbed by the potatoes. Serve with a salad for a vegetarian meal or with steak or roast chicken for carnivores.
Halve a Turkish pide loaf horizontally and warm in a hot oven. Spread each half with bean puree (process a drained can of borlotti beans with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil). Make it into a sandwich and fill with fried slices of haloumi, warm roasted beetroot, wild rocket, semi-dried tomatoes, sliced red onion.
Make a blue cheese sauce for pan-fried steak by crumbling blue cheese and adding barely enough cream to cover, warming over moderate heat in a saucepan and serving over the steak with oven fries and a green salad that includes plenty of bitter leaves such as radicchio, endive and witloof.
Boil plenty of peeled agria potatoes, cool, break into bite-sized pieces and place in a gratin dish. Add 4cm diced boneless organic chicken thighs, crumbled fetaand a couple of small cans of Mutti pizza sauce. Mix and place in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and everything bubbling. Serve sprinkled with mint and coriander leaves and a salad.
Make an antipasto salad. Rip up some ciabatta into bite-sized pieces and toss in a little extra virgin olive oil. Season and spread out on a roasting dish. Bake until golden and crisp at 200C for about 10 minutes. Cool. Put plenty of salad greens, including radicchio, on a platter, sprinkle the roasted bread on top and add sliced fresh mozzarella (my favourite is Il Casaro in Auckland), lemon zest, kalamata olives, caper berries, halved cherry tomatoes, paper thin-sliced prosciutto and basil leaves. Dress with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Split a french loaf in half lengthways horizontally. Fill with sliced emmenthal, tomatoes and cucumber, fried Henderson’s (it is not made with chemicals) bacon rashers, cos lettuce leaves, capers and sliced gherkins. Pour plenty of vinaigrette, made with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, over everything. Top with the other half of the bread. Wrap it in cling film and press under some dinner plates for a couple of hours and then slice and enjoy. A riff on the pressed Provencal sandwich, “pan bagna”.
Make small triangular turnovers with melted butter brushed filo sheets filled with chopped garlic, boiled sliced silverbeet, chilli, roasted pine nuts, golden raisins and lots of crumbled sheep milk feta. Bake at 200C until very well cooked, browned and crisp. Serve with plain unsweetened yoghurt, mint leaves and thin cucumber slices.