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Autumn is a beautiful season for cheese. As the leaves gently drop and carpet the ground with gold and brown, we start looking forward to warming dishes. When I walk with my Labradors Cheddar and Blue, I often think about what meal to prepare for the family when I get home.
Seasonality is key when it comes to eating in the Grant household and we are careful to stick to the British food calendar. Cheese, of course, is available all year round, however if you want it at its best you will often find certain cheeses that are prime for picking as the nights begin to draw in.
One such fabulous cheese is a proper farmhouse Cheddar, such as Montgomery or Pitchfork. Cheddars often reach their peak between nine and 12 months. This is a great time to ask your local cheesemonger to recommend one that is showing particularly well.
Cheddar is a versatile cheese and can be used as an ingredient or celebrated on its own. I enjoy grating a handsome pile on top of a well-cooked jacket potato. The potato has to have crispy and slightly arred skin, whilst maintaining a moist centre.
The children absolutely love a chunk of good butter, let’s say Keens Whey Butter placed in the cut open potato. Then I grate a pile of Keen’s Cheddar on top. The heat easily melts the butter which oozes down the sides of the potato and the cheese melts perfectly on top.
A simple cheese toastie done well with good bread in a pan is always a winner. I pour a little rapeseed oil plus a chunk of butter into the pan. Then I add the sourdough sandwich, that I have crammed full of good Cheddar and let one side cook over a medium heat. On top of the sandwich I place a steak weight.
Once satisfied that the bread is browning and cheese melting I turn it over and add a little more butter with oil. Whilst this is cooking I season the sandwich with cracked black pepper. I serve this on a warmed plate along with a homemade vegetable soup. The children love dunking their toasties into the soup and literally wolf it down.
Obviously as a cheesemonger and retailer I want to encourage my customers to buy more cheese. The addition of a recipe card thrown in with the purchased cheese is a great way to encourage customers to use the cheese, in different and nutritious ways. Cheese can easily become the star attraction when it comes to dinner time. Cheese is nutritious and forms part of a controlled diet.
Many customers only buy artisan cheese to place on their cheeseboards. I agree that a cheeseboard is the only way to appreciate the cheese’s characteristics without distraction from other ingredients. However good cheese should and must also to be appreciated as a primary ingredient for the main meal at home.
Try making a simple cheese and potato pie. It can be served with some lovely veggies. This will be a filling and nourishing family meal without breaking the bank.
My column for this month is aimed to encourage cheese retailers to talk to customers and find out how they intend to use their cheese. I actively encourage cheesemongers to engage in conversation about favourite cheese recipes and making cheese the primary ingredient.
We are at a challenging time as I write and we need our customers to embrace artisan cheese over industrial. Already large creameries are beginning to produce more artisan styled cheese – shockingly, they are beginning to look like the real thing but lack any depth of flavour.
Industrial cheese is cheap and encourages people that have a tight budget to buy supermarket brands. We need to talk to our customers about why artisan is better, more nutritious and can also be super versatile when it comes to cooking. Use autumn as an opportunity to promote warming cheesy main meals with great British cheese.
Now let me get that toastie on!