Monday, 30 November 2009

Emmental Cheese

Emmental is one of the largest cheeses in physical size in the world. More than 264 gallons of milk is required for one cheese. During the whole of the ripening process the cheeses have to be turned regularly. In the past this had to be done by hand and the strong muscles of the cheese makers were much feared in the wrestling ring. The flexible paste is a lovely deep yellow colour with holes the size of cherries, walnuts, or even golf balls. The trademark holes, produced by release of carbon dioxide during fermentation, also provide problems for the cheese makers – the holes are growing so big that wheels of Emmental cheese in many Swiss dairies are expanding, and some even burst.

The cheese originally comes from the Emme valley in the canton of Bern in Switzerland but France also makes Emmental de Savoie, from Savoy and Emmental Français est-Central from Franche-Comté, France and also has PGI status.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Gruyère Cheese

Before Gruyère cheese gained its own Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status in 2001 there was heated debate as to whether it was of French or Swiss origin. Gruyère is named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland but the style of cheese was made on both sides of the border between Switzerland and France which cuts straight across the top of the Jura mountain range. On the French side is the province of Franche-Comté and for centuries they have called the cheese that they make there Gruyère.

The Swiss claim that the French usurped the name from the region of Gruyère. Not so, say the French. In the Middle Ages, an officer of the French government called a “gruyer” presided over forest lands and collected taxes — in the form of cheese. It is this gruyer that their cheese is named after, claim the French, and they can show tax records that date back to the 1100s to prove it.

However in Roman times the Jura region was the homeland of an ethnic group called the Sequanes and Roman texts dated from 40 B.C. describe the cheese process used in Sequany — which is the same as that used in the making of Gruyère. So if you want to be pedantic Gruyère was acttually invented by the Romans.

After decades of fighting over the name, cheese makers in the Franche-Comté region decided that protecting the name “Gruyère” was h
opeless and applied for an appellation under the name “Comté.” Savoy, too, renamed their cheese “Beaufort”. If you have a Gruyère style cheese and do not know its origins then there is one general rule of thumb - French Gruyère-style cheeses must have holes according to French agricultural law, whereas holes are usually not present in Swiss Gruyère.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Winter Warmers – Fondue

Fondues are in fashion once more and given that they are a winter dish I thought they would make a great comfort food for this time of year. In the past food became scarce in the winter and the cheeses that had been made in the summer were hard and dry so melting them in a Fondue was a way of stretching out the winter rations. The cheese was melted in a earthenware pot called the caquelon. Local wines and seasonings were added and even the stale bread tasted delicious after it was swirled in the creamy cheese sauce.

The word fondue is a derivative of the French word, fondre, which means "to melt" – and there is some debate as to whether fondue originated as a Swiss or a French dish. Most people credit the Swiss for inventing the fondue but in the medieval vineyards of Burgundy meat fondues were cooked when workers had to harvest grapes quickly with no time for a noon meal. They heated oil right there in the countryside and dunked pieces of meat into it for a quick bite.

In Switzerland, fondue emerged as a cooking method in the early 1800s and the French gastronome Brillat-Savarin mentioned fondue in his 19th century writings. Savarin is credited with introducing the dish to America when he left France just ahead of the French Revolution. He wrote three cookbooks that included fondue au fromage, which was slightly different from the Swiss peasant food because it included butter and cream.

Traditional fondue is made with a mixture of Emmenthal and/or Gruyére cheese and wine, melted in a communal pot. Cherry brandy is sometimes added to the melted mixture, which becomes a dip for pieces of stale bread and crusts. Today's Meat fondues have extended to encompass beef, boneless skinless breast of chicken, prawns, scallops, and even salmon. The diner sits at a pot of either oil or broth as the meats are brought out raw, with an assortment of sauces for dipping. Dessert fondues emerged in the 1960s and 70s and involve dipping pieces of cake and fruit into warmed chocolate or caramel sauces.

Fondue Savoyarde

12 oz shredded Emmental cheese
12 oz shredded Gruyére
12 oz Tomme or Beaufort cheese, shredded
6 glasses dry white wine
½ glass of Kirsch liqueur
1 clove garlic peeled and crushed
White pepper
One egg
3 baguettes

Cube the bread the day before you wish to make the fondue and leave to dry.

Rub the sides of a heavy saucepan with the clove of garlic, pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the cheese and stir slowly with a wooden spoon. Before the cheese is all melted, remove the pan from the stove and place on a lighted fondue burner. Season with pepper and add the kirsch whilst stirring. Once the cheese has entirely melted, serve with bread and fondue forks. If the cheese bubbles reduce the heat immediately. When the cheese is almost gone (less than a cupful left), break the raw egg into the pot and stir rapidly with cheese. After one minute add the remaining bread into the pot and stir together. Turn off the burner and enjoy what is left!

Fondue Bourguignonne

2 lb beef steak
4 cups of cooking oil
salt and pepper
sauces of your choice

Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and arrange in individual serving dishes. Heat oil in the fondue pot, then spear beef cubes using your fondue fork, and cook until done.

Serve with different kinds of dipping sauces on the side. For the sauces, you can use curry, bearnaise, tartar, or cocktail sauces. To make curry sauce, simply mix together some mayonnaise and curry powder. To make Sauce Andalouse, mix together a cup of mayonnaise with a teaspoon of paprika and a tablespoon of tomato paste.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Advent Calendars

We know that Advent Calendars filled with Chocolate was already available in 1958 but their origins go back much further than that and stem from Germany.
In the 1800s German Lutherans would mark the 24 days of Advent by drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1st Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day. The 24 candles might also be placed on a structure, which was known as an "Advent clock".

The first known Advent calendar was handmade in 1851 but Gerhard Lang, was responsible for what we know as an Advent Calendar today. When he was a child his mother made him an Advent Calendar with 24 little sweets which were stuck onto cardboard. He used this idea to create an Advent calendar when he was a printer in the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich in 1908 and created 24 little coloured pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with 24 little doors.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Christmas Crackers

Did you know that Christmas Crackers were inspired by the French bon-bon sweets? Crackers were invented by Thomas J. Smith of London in 1847 after he had discovered the French bon-bon (a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of waxed paper) whilst on holiday in Paris, where Bonbonniers were all the rage. British sweets were still being sold loose on trays at the time and Smith saw that the French sweets would be popular at home.

Smith marketed the bon-bons in time for Christmas, and they were an instant success but he noticed that sales slumped after the festive season. His first tactic to increase sales was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (like those in fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.

However the story goes that he was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. A small strip of saltpetre, still familiar in today's crackers, was pasted to two strips of thin card. As each side was pulled, the friction created a crack and a spark. With too much, they burst into flames, too little and the crack was inaudible. So in 1860 Tom Smith's 'Bangs of Expectation' were launched containing a sweet which was later dropped in favour of a small gift.

In those early days, the crackers were still quite small, about 6 inches long, and fairly plain. They were known as 'Cosaques' because the noise they made reminded people of the cracking of the Cossack's whips as they rode through Paris during the Franco-Prussian wars.

If you want to make your own crackers visit and you can use the recipes for Christmas Sweets and Treats in the Wine and Christmas category of my blog (you will find a recipe for sugared almonds there too).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats - Peppermint Creams

Peppermint is sometimes regarded as 'the world's oldest medicine', with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago. Its the oldest and most popular flavour of mint-flavoured contectionery and the English were the first country to manufacture peppermint creams as a product – the French still call Peppermint Menthe Anglaise.

Peppermint is actually a cross between the Watermint and Spearmint and grows throughout Europe. The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend - "Minthe" was originally a nymph, and beloved by Pluto. Persephone, Pluto's wife, in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Minthe a sweet scent which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on - the aromatic herb Mint.

Peppermint Creams

White from one large egg
8 oz icing sugar
Peppermint essence or peppermint oil

Beat the egg white in a bowl with a fork and sieve in 6 oz of icing sugar. Mix well with a wooden spoon and slowly sieve in more icing sugar, half a tablespoon at a time until you have made a stiff paste. Shake a little icing sugar on the work surface and empty the paste onto this. Add 3-4 drops of peppermint essence or oil and gently knead it together with your fingers until you have a smooth paste. Have a taste of a small piece and if the flavour is not strong enough, add a few more drops of the peppermint.

Rub icing sugar on a rolling pin and roll the paste to quarter of an inch (0.5cm) thick. Cut out individual peppermint creams with a cutter - a round one or any other shape you have handy. Cover a plate with greaseproof paper and place the peppermint shapes on the paper. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight in a cool place (but not the fridge). Store in small paper cases in an airtight tin.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats - Marzipan Fruits

In Victorian times Marzipan or Marchpane as it was called then was made into a variety of sweets for festive occasions such as Christmas. In high society Marzipan was used to construct ornate sweetmeats sometimes piled high on 3 or 4-tiered stands. Marzipan gets its charcteristic flavour from bitter almonds and there are several trains of thought as to where it originated. One is that it originated in Persia (present day Iran) and that the Crusaders carried it back to their homeland during the Dark Ages where it was made by nuns in France. It became well known as march pane in Europe by the 13th century. During the Renaissance, the kings of France cherished Marzipan and had it baked into small biscuits called masepains.

Marzipan is mentioned in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and became a specialty of the Baltic Sea region of Germany. In particular, the city of Lübeck has a proud tradition of Marzipan manufacture.

Marzipan fruits are easy to make and you can use the leftover trimmings from the Christmas cake. I thought that making Marzipan Grapes would be rather suitable this year and this is how you go about it:

Marzipan Grapes

Roll the Marzipan into small balls for each cluster. Brush the balls with food colouring and let them dry. Make vine leaves from rolled out Marzipan (use a wooden toothpick to mark out the leaf indentations. Coat the balls with beaten egg white – this helps them stick together - and shape balls into clusters. For each cluster, brush egg white on the end of 2 leaves; attach to back of each cluster, pressing gently to make grapes and leaves adhere to each other. Allow to dry. You can brush your finished grapes with glaze made from a sugar syrup if you want a shiney effect.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats – Marrons Glacés and Crémant d'Alsace

Marrons Glacés are chestnuts candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Candied chestnuts appeared in the chestnut growing areas North of Italy and South of France shortly after the crusaders brought sugar back with them from the Middle East. The earliest recorded recipes for them were written by the French and Marrons Glacés were a favourite of Louis XIV's Versailles court. The oldest recipe was written in 1667, by Le Sieur François Pierre La Varenne, Chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, Marquis of Uxelles (not very far from Lyon and a chestnut producing area) in his book Le Parfaict Confiturier.

The difference between a chestnut and a marron has been a subject of discussion - especially at commercial level. Often marron is used to define very large chestnuts or, as in the case of the French, used to classify chestnuts which do not have signs of the pellicle (membrane) which covers the seed in the kernel or which have a low division percentage. After thousands of years of breeding many varieties are also sweeter. These are the material for Marrons Glacés which are three or four times more expensive than the chestnut (châtaigne in French) because they also have a lower yield. In Italy marron means a particular Castanea sativa cultivar of excellent quality. Of oblong shape, with a reddish coloured epicarp (skin) that is shiny with dense, often with raised stripes.

Marrons Glacés

2 lbs chestnuts, shells removed
2 lbs sugar
2 ½ cups water
1 vanilla bean

In a large saucepan, cover chestnuts with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 8 minutes. Discard liquid. Drain. Using a kitchen towel, rub off the brown inner skins. In a large saucepan, cook sugar, water and vanilla bean over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes. Add chestnuts. Increase heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. Pour syrup and nuts into a large bowl. Let stand 12 hours. Return to pan. Boil for 1 minute. Return to bowl. Let stand 24 hours. Repeat process 3 times until syrup has been absorbed.Preheat oven to 150ºF. Place chestnuts on wire rack. Bake in preheated oven with oven door open 2 hours or until firm. Remove from oven. Cool. Store in a container lined with waxed paper. Will keep for up to 2 weeks.

The sparkling wines of Alsace are a great choice when looking for something special to pair with sweetmeats. The Adam Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut (£12.49) is a dazzling wine with a fine mousse of creamy bubbles. It has notes of melon, lemon, ripe pear and toast and is crisp and effervescent. It is a medium weighted sparkling wine with a dry, robust finish and although excellent as an aperitif it can accompany rich and sweet dishes. This Crémant d'Alsace comes from the House of Jean-Baptiste Adam, founded in 1614, in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr. There are few families that can take advantage of 4 centuries of passion for wine and this has been carried through to recent times with bio dynamic policies being practised in the vineyards since 2003.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats – Turkish Delight and Champagne

Christmas is approaching and I thought it would be useful to unearth some recipes for traditional sweets and treats. Turkish Delight is made from starch and sugar and is often flavoured with rosewater, mastic (an evergreen shrub of the Pistacio family which is cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios), cinnamon, mint or lemon; rosewater gives it a characteristic pale pink colour. Some types contain small nut pieces, usually pistachio, hazelnut or walnuts.

The story behind the origins of Turkish Delight claims that it was invented in the late 1700s, when Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, confectioner to the imperial court in Istanbul, was commanded to create a soft sweet by the Sultan. It was named Rahat Lokum which means "comfortable morsel" and is nowadays called simply Lokum. You can still buy Lokum at Ali Muhiddin's shop in Eminönü today, almost 250 years since the intrepid confectioner created his masterpiece for the Sultan.

Lokum originally had honey and molasses as sweeteners, with water and flour as binding agents. The recipe as we know it today, using the new ingredients of sugar and starch, was invented and popularized by the Haci Bekir company during the 19th century.

Turkish Delight

9 cups icing sugar
3 pints water
6 tbsp corn flour

¾ pint cold water
rose water (you can find this in the Health food shop)
lemon juice
almond oil
Make a syrup of the icing sugar and 3 pints of water by boiling together in a heavy pan. Mix the corn flour with the ¾ pint of cold water, making sure that the corn flour is completely dissolved. Add the corn flour mix very carefully to the boiling syrup and continue boiling until reduced by about two thirds. The mixture will become very thick and stringy.

Remove from heat. Pour half into another saucepan. Flavour one half with lemon and the other with rose water. Pour into two dishes greased with almond oil. When set turn both onto a board dredged with icing sugar. Use kitchen paper to absorb any excess almond oil which was used to grease the two dishes. Cut Turkish Delight into cubes and roll in icing sugar. Store in a dry place.

Champagne is a great pairing with sweet dishes (think how well it goes down with a slice of wedding cake for example). However it pays to choose what type of Champagne to drink with a sweet as sugary as Turkish Delight. I'd recommend Seconde Collard Blanc de Noirs (£16.13) which is made purely from red grapes as opposed to Blanc de Blanc which is made from white grapes. It is a fruity Champagne with the scents of spices, wheat, fresh flowers, plums, peaches and pears.