“Some like it hot”

29 September 2017, 04:44 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

Stand by to be swept away by a tide of melted stuff – cooked cheese is coming to town

The market leader, (and currently the must-have on food wagons throughout the country) is called Halloumi fries. A fledgling cousin of cheesy chips, Halloumi fries are made by cutting Halloumi into chip-shaped pieces, flouring them and then giving them a turn around the deep fryer. Someone has developed chips that are potato-free and doubtless they are very proud of their cutting-edge indulgence. Despite the hideous squeaking of the cheese on your teeth, and the knowledge that a portion’s worth of Halloumi contains a testing amount of salt, hungry people are queuing for this. Chefs and short-order cooks everywhere have reason to be pleased, their customers love the combination of double-fried anything with batter and salt. Just watch the chap salting your next portion of fish and chips. Not much restraint there, and that is before the vinegar is sploshed over your dinner.

Cheese has always been one of the trump cards in the kitchen. There is something very appealing about the richness and tang of a good cheese when you meet it on an otherwise plain dish. The only ingredient that challenges for the crown is bacon (greedy people will tell you that there is no dish that is not improved by adding bacon). But think back to all those occasions when a dollop of melted cheese has been the grace note. The 1970s was the decade of deep fried Camembert – rubbery, stinky and oozing across the plate – but it still appeals and occasionally you will find it lurking on a gastropub starters menu. Retro dishes must deliver otherwise they are swept away by progress. Or there is Raclette, which works on the principle that we are seduced by the machinery devised to cut a helping of molten cheese. Or fondue. Eat a half pound of melted cheese sauce with a few bits of bread and then add a glass of chilled white wine. The result is shocking – your innards will solidify as their contents bind up and set firm.

Fondue at lunch time is a trial, in the evening it is terminal. Another hot cheese that is trending is mac and cheese. What’s an American comfort food doing on menus this side of the Atlantic? Macaroni Cheese is one of those traditional dishes that is easier made in theory than in practice - the problem lies in getting the cheese sauce wet enough for the pasta to swell and soften. So far so good, but what about the current fad for “deep fried mac and cheese”? Nasty, chewy, dried out balls of pasta with a cheesedusted coat. It’ll never catch on… but it has.

One of the most abused cheeses in the hot and melted category is Stilton, the king of cheeses. Setting aside perverse ideas like Stilton sauce on a steak (a sure way to ruin both the steak and cheese) there is one circumstance when cooked Stilton delights. The welsh rarebit. In the Savoy Hotel before the war, it was best practice to spoon the Stilton, and the grill room would get through several Stilton cheeses each day. Spooning is very wasteful but it did provide the kitchen with a valuable ingredient. The rind and the remains of every Stilton played a key role in the welsh rarebit. Try it – a stilton rarebit, made with beer and mustard, white bread, very pungent. You have to wonder whether Halloumi fries will have the same kind of longevity.

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