Bring me all the (Dairy Girl’s) cheese

Hello!

Blimey, hot enough for you, etc, how’ve you been, going anywhere nice on holidays? Yes I know, you haven’t seen me around here in ages. I’ve been blogging less partly because my life feels like it’s all about Sproggett, and I don’t talk about him that much on here (which ironically is a whole other post).

Anyway like with my last post about cold brew, at the moment we’re all about how to make food shopping and cooking easier. Since having a small human we’ve had to get out of the habit of ‘throwing something together’ (ahem, ordering a takeaway) for supper or thinking ‘oh I’ll just pope out and get those three esoteric ingredients that come from a specialist shop in favour of planning ahead. So that’s a big food shop on the weekend, prepping lunches in advance, planning what to eat a week at a time. It’s one of those things that a bit dull but rewarding.  That’s what I keep telling myself. 

I’ll be honest, we find it quite hard but it’s getting better. I’m now thinking that maybe a veg box scheme would be good – although not knowing what’s going to arrive in the box would kind of screw up planning, right, unless you plan the night that the box has been delivered?IMG_2453

We recently received a sample delivery from The Dairy Girl, which is a bit like a veg box scheme for cheese, with curated monthly deliveries. And no danger of an oversupply of kale. I’m kidding, but the service is actually a rather nice idea. If you’re the sort of person who likes visiting Neal’s Yard or La Fromagerie and picking what looks appealing then I think you’ll like this – you’re able to narrow down the selection by giving the your preferences and then you get the cheeses and recipe cards with tasting notes by courier.

We had the taster box of four, and that worked well for two (fairly cheese-greedy) people. I know that cheese isn’t long-lead so you don’t want it sitting around but one or two people would get through the taster box fairly easily.

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Our box contained Rachel, Pont L’Eveque, Badentoy Blue and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, and between following the suggested recipes, like Pont L’Eveque with pears and the Mrs Kirkham’s for cheese on toast, and just eating it in place of dessert, we were very happy bunnies. 

The branding is lovely and the tasting notes are a nice touch.

At £17.95 + delivery it’s positioned about the same as a chesemongers – no, this isn’t value cheddar and it’s not for making kids’ lunches unless they are very bloody lucky – it’s great food from small producers. It’s subscription-based but the site promises you can pause or change your preferences easily. 

You can also gift it easily which is a nice touch, I know that ripe-enough-to-drip-off-the-board unpasteurised cheese was one of things I was dying to eat again after being denied it when pregnant. Also good as a wedding gift for any couples you know, as you can do up to six months of deliveries as a present.

Good luck to Rachel, it’s a lovely idea and she seems uber-passionate about taste, the industry and working with small producers. It’s a lovely way to get introduced to some new cheeses you might have to work find to discover otherwise.

Oh and if you ever end up with any spare Gruyere from your cheese box, make Smitten Kitchen’s Rosemary, Gruyere and Sea Salt crackers, ideally as tiny bunnies

 

Disclosure: We received the box as a gift but the review is entirely my own opinion.

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The Enterprise, Holborn

You know how everyone thinks that their wedding* was the bestest party ever? Well, we’re no exception to that rule. Credit where it’s due, here are some of the people and suppliers who helped us along to that conclusion.

The Enterprise, Holborn.

It’s one of those places where people narrow their eyes and say ‘Oh – I think I know it’ – but often don’t as it’s a common name. The Enterprise is hidden away opposite Lamb’s Conduit St, at 38 Red Lion Street towards High Holborn.

We wanted a central London wedding and a pub venue for the reception. Ideally without any hire fee and somewhere that we could bring in our own food. A case of hen’s teeth, you might think.

Our fabulous baker friend remembered clients who’d had a strict budget which they spent on Waitrose canapés and wedding cupcakes in a pub that allowed you to bring your own food, and that’s how we found Diana and the Enterprise.

This woman is a saint. I’d like to think we were relatively chilled (because every bride does, even as others are queuing up to slap her silly) and that was largely down to Diana’s patience and organisational skills. Her default answer is “yes” and they literally could not have been more helpful. How many pubs would say

Why don’t we just put up the 75 metres of bunting? Much easier than your coming over. We’ll do it at midnight on Friday when we close, so it’s all ready for you on Saturday at 11:00am.

And the flowers too. We can do those. Would you like balloons? What about balloons? (no, no balloons)

Tea and coffee? Well either you can supply your own which we’ll use or we’ll get in whatever you want.

And yes, we can mix a cocktail on arrival with that specific ginger beer you want and the house Bloody Marys too.

Music? Live band? Great! Just bring an iPod or use or Spotify account for when they finish. What about the disco ball? (yes, definitely disco ball)

You can drop in stuff any time you like or get it delivered directly here.

Of course, your caterer can use anything in the kitchen and we’ll get the chef to come in on Saturday morning to make sure everything is ok.

If you want to pop back on Sunday we’ll have everything packed and ready for you to take away. Or we can keep it until after your honeymoon?

How about an extension until 1:00am? That’s free of charge, we’ll sort it out.

You want striped straws and Fentimans? Just send them over.

And on, and on. We didn’t have to pay anything for hire, just meet a bar spend which was rather lower than anywhere else that we looked at. We had the pub to ourselves for the day (and when one person did wander in off the streets opportunistically, it took the staff about seventeen seconds to clock him and move him on). The pub’s Victorian glory meant we had to do very little to dress it up – in fact we did nothing as it was all handled by the pub.

The Eating.

We were in the lucky position of being able to work with people we knew well for the food.

Sylvain from Undercover Kitchen toiled away in the kitchen for about twelve hours and pretty much used every cooking method available to him. I’ve known him for a while and knew that the presentation would be great but above all the flavours would be perfect. I hear that the quail scotch eggs and the fish and chips went down well (also did that classic thing of not actually managing to eat much at our own wedding, dammit). He made piles and piles of Ginger Pig bacon butties and London Rich sausage sandwiches. He was also game for doing two complete sets of food and even supplied the sugar syrup for the bride’s cocktail. Nothing was too much trouble.

Some issues ahead of the day meant we changed the plans from a small family lunch and evening party, to brunch and afternoon tea and late night shouty singing. Baked greats – not just goods, greats – came courtesy of Scott from Kooky Bakes with American Breakfast Whoopie pies amongst other dazzlingly pretty cupcakery and also including the infamous Kooky Slice; and the amazing Arianna Halshaw of Bittersweet Bakers made all manner of treats. Particularly our favourite Rice Krispie Marshmallow ones, and flourless chocolate cookies, and cinnamon rolls…. the best damn cake ever.

It was three tiers of Guinness and Ginger with vanilla cream cheese icing and it was devastatingly tasty. To the point where I know she’s been bribed for the recipe and she very generously gave it to me too – it’s going to be our Christmas cake this year. It’s gloriously unctuous and moreish, a melting, rich gingerbready concoction. Available to order from her website…

My lovely mum brought us a great pressie, hand carried all the way from Ireland. A wheel of mature Mossfield cheese, made by my cousins from organic milk, fifteen minutes away from where I was brought up. “The Irish Cheese” is like a Gouda and also comes in other flavours like garlic and basil or herb and sundried tomato. I say: the mature wins every time. It’s available from Paxton & Whitfield here.

Steven at Union Hand Roasted Coffee dashed to get a kilo of Revelation into the post to me at 5:00pm on Thursday night after I totally forgot to order any in advance. By 4:00pm on the day of the wedding, given that the ceremony had started at 10:00, people really needed coffee.

We had a ball at our own wedding, not only because we were surrounded by a ton of people we love, but also because we had brilliant people helping us. If you’re considering a London wedding, or even further afield, can’t recommend them all highly enough. Oh, and our photographer Chris was awesome too.

Photos by Chris Osburn, Scott Ball and MiMi Aye.

*Blogging got a bit neglected with wedding planning then getting married and moving house twice, all in the same month. Normal service to resume…


Vive La Cheese: La Fromagerie

At a recent Vive Le Cheese event we tasted both French cheeses and the concepts of bien vivre – or how to live well.  For me, as for many of the people who’d call themselves “foodie”, I suspect, quality of living and food are inextricably linked. Yeah, I pretty much live for food, it seems. That’s why we not only look for interesting dining experiences, but we are willing to hunt for obscure ingredients (or get friends to track them down abroad), make space for any number of unusual kitchen gadgets at the risk of skewering ourselves every time we open a cupboard, and plan holidays around restaurants bookings. Having spent time in France as a teenager I was always entranced by the amount of ceremony around mealtimes and eating there, even for everyday dining.

Bien Vivre is Vive Le Cheese’s way of convincing us of how a little effort can be disproportionately rewarding: if you must eat at your desk, then clear a space and put down a proper cloth napkin and have a china plate to eat your Pain Poilâne with some perfectly ripened Brie de Meaux, with a dressed salad.  It’s an admirable concept.  I’m not saying I always manage to do that – of course I don’t – but I do make an effort to cook meals from fresh ingredients.  Is that enough?

Even among those of us who claim a real interest in food, I suspect meaningful engagement is still patchy. We cook when we have time, we like good restaurants, but we also buy ready meals, takeaways and, often, choose restaurants on price rather than quality. The genuine ‘foodie’ hardcore: those people who cook every day, using local, seasonal non-supermarket ingredients; and who always eat at similarly conscientious independent restaurants, is how many? A few hundred thousand people nationally? That isn’t a criticism, incidentally. Britain’s food infrastructure is against us. Who, here, realistically, could completely boycott the supermarkets or Pizza Express, even if they wanted to?

The Kitchen Counter Revolution, Guardian Word of Mouth

I guess I don’t qualify as foodie by the definition above –  I don’t buy ready meals but I mix local retailers along with basic supermarket shopping for a variety of reasons including time and cost. (I’d be Waitrose and Ginger Pig all the way if I could but sometimes the pennies just don’t stretch.) Sometimes organic and Fairtrade are crucial, other times you dash to Tesco. But when you find those shops and retailers who specialise and enthuse about ingredients, and who are willing to share that knowledge, that’s when the true value of a relationship with a retailer comes into its own.

We spent a great evening at La Fromagerie, or Cheese Heaven as it should probably be known.  Vive Le Cheese and Patricia Michelson came together to introduce us to the best of French cheeses along with wine matching and a visit to the Affineur Room to find out more about exactly what happens to cheeses to make them perfect for consumption.  One of Patricia’s firm rules is not allowing people to buy too much cheese.  Yes, really.  Not that there are quotas in operation, but as she explained, sometimes it’s just not the best way to experience food. Cheese is not long-lead. Rather than shifting kilos, she advises people to buy smaller amounts and return to replenish. That way they’re getting the freshest cheese in best possible condition – and unlike many shops, Patricia’s staff spent a lot of time getting the products to the optimum conditions for eating, and promptly.

We tasted a quartet of recipes, made up in La Fromagerie’s kitchen.  You can find all of them here. I was lucky to have snuck into a group with Katrina Alloway and Lucy Bridgers, both wine experts. The William Fevre 2008 Chablis AOC – 100% Chardonnay, was my choice for most of the dishes and Lucy remarked on how neutral and therefore versatile Chardonnay can be, and it complemented the eggs in the divine souffle, the pastry of the tart and the quiche, and the Reblochon fritters.

:: Roquefort PDO and Walnut Soufflé with Spiced Pear Chutney ::

The Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac AOC 2004 was deemed ‘syrupy but in a good way’ when paired with the French Camembert and Fig Tart with Hazelnut Parsley Vinagrette which would make a fantastic dessert for those without a sweet tooth, if that makes sense.

We spent a chilly but entertaining half hour in the Affineur room, where JP talked us through how they prepare and essentially temper the cheeses. Most of the conditioning work is done in the Highbury shop, where they’re brought to temperature and moisture is added, washes are applied as necessary and so on. Affinage is essentially ‘putting your own stamp’ on it.  JP described it as having ‘a little bit of common sense, and a lot of love, for the product’.  Remember the concept of ‘terroir’ or territory when combining food and wine – items from the same region normally do well together as they come from the same ground, like serving Epoisses Affiné with a strong red Burgundy.

When storing cheese at home, double wrap in wax paper or put into Tupperware, and keep it in the fridge drawers or door.  La Fromagerie supply 89% of the London Michelin-starred restaurants and train the employees on how to maintain and maximise the cheese – trim them at the end of the evening, and store on a marble slab that’s cooled from underneath.  Again, they advise that they buy smaller amounts more often.  But don’t forget to use common sense when deciding how long you can keep cheese for – trust your nose, ultimately.  And you can always throw those parmesan rinds into soups or risottos.

The final part of the evening (sadly a little hurried) was tasting 10 different cheeses with Patricia.  I will be going back for the last ones we tasted, the Saint Nectaire, the Epoisses, Fourme D’Ambert and Vache Porte D’Aspe.  Absolutely sublime, particularly the blue. Patricia said that everything in the shop revolves around cheese (I should have asked her what to do with these) and it’s clear how passionate she is about it. This is where the benefit of local or specialist knowledge gets you excited about food again and you start planning dishes, dinners, ingredients sprees.  Her shop was one of the first of its kind and it’s enticing and inspiring. It also made me think about a French cheese tour this summer…

We left with dairy-fuelled glowing faces, and clutching recipe cards to remake the souffles and the rest at home. Next dinner party is definitely going to involve a cheese course. If I let the stuff leave the kitchen.

La Fromagerie, 2-6 Moxon Street, Marylebone, London W1U 4EW 020 7935 0341

Thanks to Patricia and all at La Fromagerie, Vive Le Cheese, and Katrina Alloway