My Life in Cheese

Hello, dear readers! Had you given up on me? I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been starting a food writing course at the University of Adelaide, and also starting a new job! Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to post very often over the next few months as I have so much study to do, but I will put up here the pieces I’m writing for my course. So, here goes with the first one…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“There’s just bread and cheese for lunch,” my mother would say apologetically every Saturday when I was growing up. Often there was, in fact, something else too: a few slices of ham or salami, a pork pie, or a pot of fresh crab meat. But ‘bread and cheese’ was short-hand for a picnic at the kitchen table, and those two items were central.

I can tell you the story of my life through cheese, from early childhood around that table to adulthood far from my parents’ home. As I grew and matured and moved on, so did my taste in cheese.

It all started with foil-covered Kraft Dairylea triangles. They were impossible to unwrap; the only solution was to squeeze the glossy, cream-coloured gunk out of a tiny hole in one corner. Soon after, I ‘progressed’ to another great insult to the honour of cheese: square, shiny, bright-yellow Kraft Singles, best enjoyed in a floury white roll smeared with margarine. My father referred to them contemptuously as “plastic cheese”, but I wasn’t perturbed.

In my ‘tweens, my Aunt would collect me after Saturday ballet class and take me back to her lovely neat flat for wholemeal toast, a cut-up apple and Jarlsberg, or ‘holey cheese’ as I called it. It was reassuringly always the same balanced lunch and I am very fond of Jarlsberg to this day. Gruyère was first encountered molten and bubbling on top of scalding hot onion soup at L’Experience, a favourite French restaurant for special occasions.

There was always a brick of tangy, bitey Cheddar (known as ‘mousetrap’) in the fridge. It was equally satisfying with my mother’s apple chutney or in a sauce blanketing cauliflower florets and browned under the grill. Powdered parmesan on top of our spaghetti bolognaise was replaced, once we were old enough to appreciate it, by real Parmigiano Reggiano that we grated ourselves.

Through my mother I learned to enjoy pungent washed-rind cheeses like Port Salut and Chaumes, and to glimpse the travelling and life abroad I, too, hoped to undertake one day. A flirtation with the mild, sweet soft blue Dolce Latte lead to a love of the more daring Gorgonzola and eventually, when I worked in France for three months post-school, a full-blown affair with the king of the blues, Roquefort.

It wasn’t until I moved to London, after university, that I properly discovered goats cheese. I still remember those musky, tart discs perched on top of a perfectly dressed salad, at an elegant West End lunch with colleagues from my first real job. And despite growing up in Europe I didn’t have my eyes truly opened to the joys of Italian buffalo mozzarella until recently in Sydney. The newly-opened mozzarella bar my husband and I discovered in Darlinghurst air-freights these magical, milky pillows from Naples three times a week.

Despite all these years of cheese adventures, I feel I’m only really beginning to get the hang of what’s out there. With so much yet to learn and love, I can only hope it continues to be a case of life imitating cheese imitating life.

Advertisements

Bruschetta: satisfaction in a slice

Question: What do you do with a handful of broad beans and a loaf of bread when you haven’t much else in the house? (This is what I was contemplating at around 3pm today, lunchless and lazy.) Answer: Bruschetta! I know, I was sceptical too as I had only half the ingredients listed in the Thomasina Miers recipe. But not to be defeated, I ploughed on.

Broad beans

Broad beans

I eased the broad beans from ten furry pods, like precious jewels inside velvet-lined cases, and boiled them in salted water for about ten minutes. In a small mixing bowl, I tossed the drained beans with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of white wine vinegar (in the absence of a lemon), torn basil leaves from the pot outside my front door, and salt and pepper. Once toasted, I rubbed a thick slice of sourdough bread vigorously with the cut surface of a garlic clove and drizzled it with olive oil. Spreading generously first with Meredith Dairy goats cheese from a jar in the fridge, I then spooned my beans and their juices over the top.

Goats cheese and broad bean bruschetta

Goats cheese and broad bean bruschetta

So simple, so quick, so OMG there’s a party happening in my mouth! First the earthy tang of goats cheese, the hum of garlic, the crunch of toast. Then the beans, bursting forth rudely, shiny and bright green, from their puckered greyish jackets. And all enveloped in luscious olive oil offset by the sharp vinegar and aniseedy basil.

Goats cheese and broad bean bruschetta

Goats cheese and broad bean bruschetta

As luck would have it I also had at my disposal a couple of lovely tomatoes, half a red onion and some pine nuts, so come dinner time I was able to try out another of Thomasina’s bruschetta toppings.

Tomatoes and red onion

Tomatoes and red onion

I chopped my two tomatoes into chunky cubes and about an eighth of a red onion into fine dice, tossing them in a bowl with a scattering of toasted pine nuts, a small handful of shredded basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil and a slosh of sherry vinegar. (The recipe called for balsamic vinegar but I’m in love with the sherry variety at the moment.) I seasoned with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and left the mixture to stand for ten minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared my bread as before – toasting, rubbing and drizzling – then piled on the marinated tomato mixture. Barring the addition of pine nuts, this is probably the best known version of bruschetta. The simple combination of ripe tomatoes, a little onion, basil leaves and a vinaigrette dressing is nothing short of magical. However, I found the pine nuts added a welcome richness and textural contrast.

Tomato and pine nut bruschetta

Tomato and pine nut bruschetta

It may interest you to know that bruschetta, an Italian antipasto, dates back to the 15th century. In Tuscany it is called ‘fettunta’ and is usually served without any topping, especially in November when it acts as a vehicle for tasting the very first olive oil of the season. Now that’s simplicity!