Confessions of a cheese-loving repented “foodie”
Are you tired as I am of the overused, overhyped word “foodie”? Ok, I admit there was a time when I even used it about myself as a convenient portmanteau, but enough of that. Now, if anyone is interested, I’d rather talk to them about my love for food, passion for restaurants and obsession about great edible produce – not necessarily in this order, but without banding about the “foodie” label. Restaurants, I may go to less and less lately; but love for food and produce, it’s still going strong and in fact I get more time to indulge in it the less I eat out and spend time buying and cooking my meals – and oh! there are always new discoveries, even close to home without going far East as I do on this blog. Think about the most commonplace ingredients – bread, butter, cheese – so much to learn just by looking closer to those!
For instance, I only recently learnt that cheese is seasonal. The beautiful “A year in cheese” cookbook, written by the owners of legendary fromagerie Androuet, reminded me of the entire world of nature, craftsmanship, tradition and creativity that the simple portmanteau word “cheese” hides.
Seasonal cheese is about listening to nature, understanding the grazing and birthing cycle of the animal that’s being milked, knowing what they’re eating at which time of the year, and recognising optimal maturity and ageing times. (from “A year in cheese – a seasonal cookbook”)
The book has a lot more than just cheese based, seasonal recipes. It also tell the authors’ pretty interesting stories of how did they get involved with the cheese business – as well as featuring really wonderful photography not just of varieties of cheese, their making process and of the producers, but also of the incredible landscapes they come from. The mountains and hills of Rhone-Alpes, the caves where Reblochon matures, the green pastures bringing us Comte. It’s been a welcome change from the style of some recent same-y same-y cookbooks with bright, Pinterest-like, shallow depth-of-field foodporn shots. Not to say that the food shots don’t look great, but the look is definitely moodier and darker- and I like this grown up feel more.
The book is divided into four Seasons chapter, each explaining why each of them is the peak for some cheese variety, and with accompanying sweet and savoury recipes. I have been a tiny bit obsessed with cheese icecream after I had an amazing Brie icecream to go with my Dutch apple pie at Gramercy Tavern in New York, and the book has many surprisingly but delicious-sounding recipes for savoury/sweet treats like “Vintage Gouda icecream with Pumpkin and Amaretti” and “Cornish blue icecream with Caramelised Walnuts” (my friend Rosana made it on her blog Hot and Chlli). Not to mention ideas to make the perfect seasonal cheeseboard – can’t wait to impress my “foodie” friends (or just devour one by myself with a nice glass of red and a book).
What is a “winter cheese”?
Now, winter is definitely upon us, so when it came to make a recipe from “A year in Cheese”, I naturally tended to gravitate towards the end of the book, which celebrates the boldest of cheeses. Gooey Reblochon, creamy Comte, and the lesser known Mont d’Or – made from the same Comte animals, but later in the year when they feed on less verdant grass in the lower valleys – are all perfect cheeses for the cold season. And of course, my one true love…blue cheeses.
The Italian king of winter cheeses is Gorgonzola. Made in Lombardy, the north-Italian region around Milan, it is a matured cheese with both sweet and blue version (that we funnily called “hot”), and and absolute delight especially when bought from a traditional producer. I got mine from the newly opened deli-cum-wine shop “Il Cudega” in London Fields, specialising in food and drinks from Lombardy, and it was so much better than the generic version. Needless to say, also get some good Portobellos as the hearty, musky flavour contrasting the richness of the filling is key.
So here’s the recipe from “A year in cheese” – with a few tweaks as I am pathologically uncapable to follow a book! My dish was delicious, but not a looker so no pictures- but trust me, really worth making. Bon appetit!
- 8 large Portobello mushrooms
- 80g butter (I used salted, recipe says unsalted)
- ½ tbsp thyme leaves
- 250g button mushrooms
- 50g onion, chopped
- 80g Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 20g breadcrumbs
- 50g walnuts, chopped (I used mixed nuts and ground them finely in a food processor)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- Prep your mushrooms: wash and cut away odd bits; remove the stalks and place the caps side down on an oiled baking tray.
- Add 1 tbsp of butter to each and sprinkle with the thyme leaves, salt and pepper
- Bake for 10 minutes until slightly soft.
- Prep your filling: finely chop your button mushrooms and the stalks from the Portobello (I used a food processor for a quite fine texture)
- Preheat the grill
- Melt 1 tbs of butter over medium heat, when it's hot add the onion and garlic
- Sweat for 5 minutes until it's soft but not browned
- Add the chopped mushrooms, stir and let it cook for 10 minutes until the mixture is quite dry. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add ⅔ of the gorgonzola, the parsley, breadcrumbs and ground nuts
- Divide the mixture between the Portobello mushrooms caps and place under the grill until golden (5-10 minuted depending on your grill)
- When cooked, sprikle with the remaining Gorgonzola, some parsley and serve
- The book recommends Italian Castelfranco radicchio and celery salad as a side - I used British chicory and it was excellent. Just make sure you make a sharp vinaigrette to keep things crunchy and counterbalance the richness of the mushrooms.
“A year in cheese- a seasonal cheese cookbook”
Written by Alex and Leo Guarnieri
Recipes by Alessandro Grano
Frances Lincoln Limited Publishing
Available on Amazon at £18.55 (price as of Dec 11, 2015)
I received a copy of the book for review purposes from the publisher. Opinions are mine.