Read My Cheese

The British artist Stanley Spencer once said rather ruefully that he wished ‘people would read my pictures.’ A book holds the reader in its own atmosphere, he argued, and ‘this same absorption is possible in pictures.’

This may take a little leap of faith and it’s altogether a more mundane, possibly even banal example. But I would like you to read my cheese. Cheese is one of the oldest foods in the world, dating back to before the Roman Empire. This dome of creamy deliciousness holds everything within it that is good about food and cooking. And I’ve just made it for the first time. So thrilled was I when it emerged from the fridge that I needed to invent a new word for thrilled. Fromagicated seemed about right.

Ancient alchemists who tried to turn base metals into gold were crazy. I can’t understand why they weren’t satisfied turning yoghurt alchemically into cheese. If I were to read my priceless cheese I would say that it is majestic, simple, exquisite, nourishing, satisfying, clever, ancient, unassuming, atmospheric, exotic, comical and historic. And the great thing about reading cheese is that you can eat it afterwards.

Fresh Cream Cheese

500g authentic Greek yoghurt

Three quarters teaspoon fine sea salt

Stir the salt into the yoghurt, then turn the mixture into a small sieve lined with muslin. Allow the yoghurt to drip into a bowl in the fridge overnight and the next morning you will have the most exquisite, creamy cheese as if by magic. That’s it. And this is what I did with it next…..

Home-Made Cheese, Ham and Peach Bruschetta

Toast slices of firm, chewy white bread. Spread thickly with cream cheese, lay a slice of Italian dry-cured, smoked ham on top, followed by thin slices of ripe peach and a handful of rocket leaves. I’ve just bought blackberry vinegar online from Womersley and once I’d reduced it a little in a pan, I spooned it over the bruschetta. The saltiness of the cheese and ham, combined with the sweet, fruity peaches and vinegar were sensational. The cheese would also work well with my black garlic and beetroot bruschetta.

If you make this and then read your cheese, let me know what it says.

Black garlic – fashion faux pas or design classic

It amuses me to see fashion stores from Zara to Benetton to Topshop packed with rails of military capes this season. How did the cape survive its first outing, let alone get resurrected? I remember pleading for one as a teenager, along with a pair of white pull-on wet-look knee-length boots. I eventually got the cape – still waiting for the boots.

The first thing I learned about wearing a cape is that the restrictive slits give you instant Dalek-arms. In fact, the whole silhouette is startlingly Dalek-like. So, no, I won’t be buying a cape this time round.

The food equivalent of the over-rated cape has to be foam. To my mind, eating foam is no tastier than lying on the beach, swilling the frothy water’s edge around your palate like a whale sieving plankton. I’m not 100% convinced by anything ‘en croute’ either, since it’s little more than a posh pie with a swanky name.

I’ve just been to a food fair and I bought what was described as ‘the next big thing in food’. It’s black garlic – standard white garlic fermented for three weeks and dried for another week. Black garlic tastes like liquorice crossed with raisins with a back flavour of cooked garlic. It has a consistency that reminds me of chestnuts or even fruit pastilles. It’s reputed to have none of that fierce, pungent aftertaste that lingers. My daughter ate a whole clove and pronounced it to be like ‘eating a candy’. And it turns out the manufacturers are telling the truth – there’s absolutely no lingering.

But is black garlic just a military cape in disguise, or is it pure Chanel – elegant, timeless and exquisite?

This was my fashion experiment…..

The Recipe: Beetroot and Black Garlic Bruschetta With Goat’s Cheese and Walnuts

Enough for 4

1 beetroot

4 slices sourdough bread, toasted

8 cloves black garlic

150g goat’s cheese – the soft, creamy kind

Balsamic vinegar – the syrupy kind

Handful of chives

Handful of walnuts broken up with your hands

Cut the stalk off the beetroot and place in a pan of simmering water. Boil for half an hour or until tender. Remove from the water and once cool enough to handle, peel the outer skin off. Slice the beetroot and put to one side while you toast the sourdough bread.

Rub one clove of black garlic onto each slice of toasted bread. It will disintegrate as you rub it in. Spread each toast with the goat’s cheese followed by the beetroot. Slice the remaining four cloves of black garlic and heap onto the beetroot. Add the walnuts, a trickle of balsamic and a drift of chopped chives.

The Verdict

I would definitely buy black garlic again and I would certainly prepare it like this again. It’s still not quite Chanel, but Chanel wasn’t Chanel in the beginning.