The big cheese

As I enter the fifth week of my diet, I look back and chortle smugly to myself at how simple it has been and how I haven’t had a single craving since I started dieting.  But true to form, my brain springs into action with a gentle reminder of the many occasions I have gazed longingly at the cheese sections of various supermarkets, reading and re-reading the labels to see which one has the least fat.  Alas, I have come to the conclusion that there are no low-fat cheeses, it’s actually a contradiction in terms.  And before I am inundated with comments from people telling me about any type of half-fat, low-fat or fat-free variety, I would like to just say “THAT IS NOT CHEESE!”  Cheese is lip-smackingly salty, more-ish, velvety, creamy and delicious… Just as it should be!

There is no substitute for the densely rich, creamy or crumbly textures that cheeses elude.  With simply thousands of varieties produced globally, it is near enough impossible to accurately estimate how many different varieties are produced worldwide.  With different types of cheeses produced from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goats milk and buffalo milk…There is something for everyone!  I must admit my 4 favourite cheeses are Feta, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano & Goats cheese… Funnily enough that’s one cheese from each of the different animals that produce milk for cheese.  But, I am no snob, and love all kinds of cheeses from Italy’s finest Gorgonzola to the wonderfully English “Stinking Bishop” variety.  We truly are spoilt when it comes to cheese as there is something to suit all tastes and preferences.

This weekend I was cooking for my Grandmother, which is a tough one, as she is very elderly (she will kill me if I repeat her age) and extremely stubborn about what she does and doesn’t like.  But one thing I do know is that she just loves blue cheese.  The stinkier the better… and so I made a very simple sauce using an Irish cheese called “Cashel Blue” (which is a wonderfully creamy Farmhouse cheese) and I crumbled the cheese into some single cream and melted it over a hot stove and poured it over some Italian Gnocchi for her.  Simple, delicious and despite having all her own teeth, easy to chew.  She loved it.

Cooking with cheese is so easy and even better, it’s so good!  

I always keep a huge block of Parmesan in my fridge, diet or no diet, when you have unexpected company, Parmesan can save the day for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I once partied with a girlfriend and we came back to mine and she was starving.  I had toast and I had a few cans of baked beans, not exactly a feast fit for a king.  But generously grate a little Parmesan over your beans on toast, or even your jacket potato and beans and the dish is completely transformed to something all together more sophisticated!  Sometimes some of the most simple ingredients can become something much more special with just a little something extra added to it.

So what are my favourite cheese recipes?  Well, macaroni cheese to begin with, and not that orange crap from Kraft that exists over the pond, but the chewy, gooey, oven-crisped variety with 2 and sometimes 3 different cheeses incorporated.  Then there is cauliflower cheese, grilled mushrooms with gruyere cheese and basically anything and everything ‘Au Gratin’.  God bless the French for that!  One of my favourite things to do is take a whole round of Camembert (the ones in the little round wooden case) and remove any plastic wrapping from it, so it’s just cheese and the case.  Then place it in the oven at 200C (400F) and baked for about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and using a knife make a cross incision and then peel the 4 quarters of skin aside.  Have an ample supply of crusty bread ready to dip into the molten pool of Camembert.  Definitely heart attack territory, but once in a blue moon, I don’t think you should have cause to worry too much.

Purists would argue that cheese is a refined article and should only be served in its natural state.  Not to be tampered with, instead placed simply on a wooden board and served, perhaps, with a few crackers, some nuts and perhaps some fruit.  Whilst I agree that this is a simple and pleasurable way to enjoy cheese, arguably there would be a few raised eyebrows if I agreed that this is the ONLY way to enjoy cheese.  Ask yourself what type of cheese do you like?  Soft and creamy or hard and crumbly?  How about origin?  Do you like French, English or Italian cheese?  Young, mature or vintage cheese?  The choices are endless.  I don’t profess to know everything about cheese, but I do have a pretty open mind when trying cheese and I think this is helpful when you are trying to learn about the different types of wonderful cheeses widely available to us these days.

We use cheese in starters and main course dishes, but cheeses also play a huge part in sweet foods and not just savoury.  The American favourite, Cheesecake is the obvious starting point, followed by the French contribution of Fromage Frais and the Italian use of Mascarpone in desserts such as Tiramisu and of course the Sicilian classic Cannoli. All delicious and all loaded with wonderful cheese native to the region.  Speaking of Italian cheeses, did you know that a ‘wheel’ of Parmesan was once be used as currency and collateral in Italy?  It’s hard to say when this strange trend began, but it’s rumoured that some small businesses in Italy, still accept it as a deposit of sorts!

For those who wish to discover new cheeses and want to try some previously unfamiliar varieties, I would make a trip to your local deli or cheese shop and don’t be afraid to ask to try different cheeses.  Be honest, tell them about yourself…whether you are a cheese novice or aficionado or just a general appreciator.  Regardless of which category you fall under, they are most likely to be more than happy to talk about cheese and encourage you to taste different varieties from all over the world.  Your typical cheese counter employee is usually a gourmand and a trained professional with a deep knowledge of all things cheese and not just some random teenagers who moonlights behind the counter on the weekend, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!  It’s the only way you will learn something new!   

My favourite cheese shop in London is “La Fromagerie” near Marylebone High Street, closely followed by the ‘Cheese room’ at our new “Whole Foods” mega store nearby my home.  Harrods also has a wonderful cheese selection, as do Fortnum & Mason.  Yes, you are right…. we are very lucky in London as not every city houses a whole host of cheese emporiums.  Sometimes you have to find specialty stores or delis to get what you want, but why not go one better and head straight to the source?  Find a local farm that produces cheese!  It could all be on your doorstep and you may not even know about it!  
Some of my favourite cheese pairings are as follows;

Italian – Creamy Buffalo Mozzarella wrapped in slice of salty Prosciutto (Parma Ham)

Spain –   Manchego cheese with crusty bread, Serrano ham and Membrillo (Quince paste)

France – St Maure goat’s cheese, melted in the oven onto red peppers with a rocket salad

Greek – Feta cheese and Kalamata olives tossed into a salad or Feta with honey & bread

Cheese has also famously been the long-term partner of many a wine.  Paired together for centuries on the dining tables of Princes and Paupers alike, they often signal the end of a meal and with so many varieties of cheese and so many different wines to choose from, it can be the most coveted course of a meal for most people.   

So whether you are bonkers for Brie or frantic for Fontina, find a quiet spot… one where no one is around and settle down with a knife, your favourite bread and perhaps a nice glass of red wine… and remind yourself of life’s simplest pleasures.   Sometimes it may be all the escape you need!!!

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

Recipient Of The Serena Shim Award

Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!