Posh Cheese on Toast — aka Parmesan Cream on Tomato and Olive Toast with Edible Flower Salad

Cheese on toast was a won­der­ful ally when I worked nights as a break­fast tele­vi­sion reporter. The shift star­ted at 9pm and ended at 9am… and it was bru­tal. Com­plex­ion, fash­ion sense, good tem­per and appet­ite all dis­ap­peared through the metal-framed win­dows of BBC Tele­vi­sion Centre by about 3.25 each morn­ing. Cheese on toast became the only sus­tain­ing, com­fort­ing thing to eat. 

I still love cheese on toast, des­pite its asso­ci­ations with cold, grey dawns wait­ing with a cam­era crew to ask huffy politi­cians why they weren’t tow­ing the party line on a single cur­rency. I like it so much that I’ve just made a posh ver­sion for old friends, includ­ing one of my fel­low night shift report­ers from all those years ago. 

At the end of our gruelling shifts we would decamp to the BBC canteen, so tired that we didn’t know if our cheese on toast and mugs of tea coun­ted as break­fast or din­ner. This time around we ate our posh ver­sion at 9.30 in the even­ing, drink­ing Sauvignon from smart glasses. 

Parmesan Cream with Tomato and Olive Toast with Edible Flower Salad

Serves 4

185 ml double or heavy cream 

160 ml full cream milk

150g Parmesan cheese cut into very small pieces

2 eggs

1 extra egg yolk

100g mini­ature plum tomatoes

50g black olives

Pinch of sugar

Hand­ful of salad leaves and edible flowers

4 slices bread, either whole­meal or good qual­ity white

Olive oil

A little fine lemon zest

Season­ing 

4 small ramekin dishes, buttered well. 

Com­bine the milk and cream in a small pan and bring vir­tu­ally to the boil. Take off the heat, stir in the cheese, cover and let infuse for 2 hours.

Finely chop the toma­toes and olives, add a little salt and black pep­per, a pinch of sugar and put aside.

After two hours, pre­heat the oven to 180 degrees C — don’t be temp­ted to increase the tem­per­at­ure unless you want scrambled eggs. Place the pan con­tain­ing the milk, cream and cheese back on the heat and bring it almost back to the boil again. Strain the mix­ture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Whisk the eggs and yolk into a second bowl and then mix gradu­ally into the cream and cheese. Season. 

Pour the cream and egg mix­ture into the buttered ramekin dishes and cover each with a disc of sil­ver foil. Place the dishes in an oven-proof tin, pour in enough hot water to reach half-way up the sides of the dishes and then bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove when the cus­tard is firm-ish but still a little wobbly. Care­fully take the dishes out of the pan of water and allow them to cool. 

Toast the bread and cut into circles about the same dia­meter as the parmesan creams. Pour off any liquid from the tomato and olive mix­ture and divide it evenly between the four circles of toast. Run the point of a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekin dishes, turn the dishes upside down and tip the parmesan creams care­fully on top of the tomato toasts.

Dress the salad leaves in a little oil and grated lemon zest and pile a heap of leaves on top of each cream. 

Parmesan cream sounds more com­plic­ated than it really is. It’s infin­itely more demand­ing to make than its rugged cousin, but eas­ily worth the effort. Think of it as Chris­tian Louboutin heels com­pared to Wel­ling­ton boots. There’s a place for both.

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.