Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My new book

Did I mention that I wrote a book?!

An advance copy of my new book
Well here’s a photo of the advanced copy that I was recently sent by the nice people at Michael O’Mara books. It’s amazing to see it finally in print.

You’ll be able to get your hands on a copy on the publication date (5th September) from the usual bookshops and on-line retailers. 


Apologies all, a technical problem resulted in this post getting deleted. I have now reinstated it.

Hi everyone. Apologies for the lack of posting recently, I’ve been pretty busy making cheese with some great producers. Internet access has been something of a sore point though and my brilliant plans of posting using my smart phone received a rather crushing blow recently (smartphones, as it turns out, don’t take well to heavy rain in the mountains).

I thought that as a taster of what’s been going on, I would share this photo of perhaps my favourite scene to date in the cheese world – the milking of the Salers cow.

There is no milking parlour, we’re out at high altitude in rich, rain-drenched pastures. The Salers cow provides tasty beef, but it was the the milk that this herd was churning out that we were after. It was exceptional and rich, with deep and complex grassy notes.

The beautiful cows of the Salers breed have a tendency to hold onto their milk unless their calf is present - which is why her calf is in frame, tied to her front leg for the milking (one udder is left for the calf afterwards, leaving plenty of milk to supplement their diet). The cows get all the nutrients that they need from the vast expanses of pasture but they do like a bit of salt, so the farmer places a handful on the back of the calf, which the cow will then lick off - an act which calms the calf.

This is a long winded process - the forty or so cows are free to roam in the milking enclosure and with the addition of an equivalent number of calfs and a bull, the milking could well be described as a kind of organised chaos.

The cheese is awesome, what you’re looking for is “Salers Tradition” the “Tradition” is important, it’s a controlled term that ensures that you are eating a cheese made up in the mountains according to the traditional practises. It’s rich, buttery and heavily scented, with grassy, herby notes battling a strong dose of farmyard and an incredibly satisfying bitterness that entices you to take another bite. This is a ‘real cheese’, as real as they get – made how you would want cheese to be made. But a proper description will have to wait for another post – it’s time to get back to the farm...

Monday, August 19, 2013

On age and cheese

So in a previous blog post, I commented that ‘Comté and Beaufort tend to reach their peaks of flavour and texture at around 15 – 18 months’. A reader asked why that was, given that much older Comté is available and very good.
Opening a Comté - one of the best parts
of working in cheese

I am not a specialist in ageing pressed, cooked cheeses such as Comté, Beaufort and the Swiss Gruyeres, but I have been working around them for a fair while now. In the shop I would open perhaps five or so a week with varying ages, and would make sure to taste each and every one of them – partly to check for faults and problems, partly to enable me to describe it to customers, but mostly because the moment that the wheel is cut open is sacred. This cheese has been looked after, caressed and cared for over many months and I have the privilege of opening it and being the first to take advantage of that labour of love. A newly opened wheel is hugely fragrant, but sadly that fragrance disappears very quickly. You can recreate this effect to an extent by taking a freshly cut piece of cheese and breaking it in two then quickly smelling the break.

I found personally that it was the 15 – 18 month period that was the most interesting, and most of the rest of the staff were in agreement on that score - as were a large number of our clients when they tasted our range of Comtés. Of course this is subjective however, and not everyone will agree.

My personal experience of age and hard, cooked cheeses is that over time two main things happen: the texture changes and flavour develops (and of course the price increases). The texture will become less supple, drier and crystals will begin to form (these aren’t salt crystals but rather the amino acid Tyrosine). In terms of flavour, this will improve steadily, becoming more and more interesting, but after about a year and a half I find that whilst the concentration of flavour continues to increase, its complexity begins to decrease. Heavily aged Comtés taste strong, but I find that I miss some of the more subtle expression of the milk that you would find in a slightly younger cheese.

Next time that you have the opportunity to try a younger cheese followed by a mature one, check for yourself how the taste evolves in your mouth and see if you agree with me.

A final point to note is that age is not always the best indicator of quality. Leaving a wheel of gruyere in a walk-in fridge for three years without taking care of it isn’t going to result in the best ever gastronomic experience...