Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sauternes and Christmas

Snow is forecast and I am starting to tick items off my Christmas shopping list. This time of year I always think of the old poem: “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, Please to put a penny in the old man's hat; If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do, If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!” We are not having goose this year and I have had an odd request for Kangaroo Steaks on Christmas Eve which I am not sure about! What I am sure about though is my cheese board and what we are having with it. Stilton is a “must” and so is Sauternes.

Before the First World War it was traditional to accompany roasts and other banquet dishes with Sauternes - the rage for dry whites dates from the 1920's. Traditionally Sauternes are paired with desserts, crystallised fruits and chocolate but Sauternes can accompany rich dishes such as Confit de Canard very well indeed. Sauternes can also be paired with fish such as monk fish, prawns, scallops and sea bass as well as cheese. Chicken is very often served with Sauternes and creamy sauces made with ginger, honey and spices bring out the fragrance of the wine.


Stilton is smooth and creamy with an acidic flavour. It is the perfect cheese to drink with Sauternes - if you are eating Stilton with biscuits and you are looking for a wine, then Stilton needs one with a depth of flavour. Château de Sainte Hélène (£15.49) is a great match for Stilton - it's the second wine of the Second Growth (2ème Cru) Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel who have 400 years of wine making experience. Sainte Hélène has the creamy sweet taste of honeysuckle, orange peel, apricots, cinnamon and honey.

Did you know that there are over a million Stilton cheeses sold a year and that a third of Stilton’s annual sales are made in run up to Christmas totalling up to 2,500 tons in the UK alone. Last year the Stilton Cheese Makers Association was searching for a broker to insure their cheese graders (of which there are only 21 in the world) against damage to their acutely trained senses of smell and taste as the traditional winter colds kicked in. The graders, highly trained cheese specialists who determine that every Blue Stilton produced meets exact prescribed standards of taste and texture, will have combined noses worth a potential £1,000,000 - that’s a whopping £25,000 per nostril!

The Comtes de Bournazel have been making wine for a century longer than the cheese makers have been making Stilton. Stilton is relatively young compared to some British cheeses having first been made in the 18th century. Stilton is still made in much the same way as it was when Daniel Defoe, writing in his “Tour through England & Wales” in 1727, remarked that he “. . . passed through Stilton, a town famous for cheese." And yet, Stilton was never made in the town of Stilton!


Stilton is situated about 80 miles north of London on the old Great North Road. In the 18th century, the town was a staging post for coaches travelling from London to York. Horses would be changed and travellers served light refreshments at one of the hostelries in the town. Cooper Thornhill, an East Midlands entrepreneur, was landlord at the famous Bell Inn and it was he who introduced these travellers to a soft, creamy, blue veined cheese which subsequently took its name from the town.

Whilst thinking of food pairings for Stilton I came across this fabulous recipe in the Daily Mail for Olive Oil and Sauternes Cake with Lavender Icing. It looks delicious and I love the idea of lavender flowers with Sauternes so this is one recipe I will definitely be making!

5 eggs separated plus 2 extra whites
150g golden caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
125g plain flour sifted
½ tsp sea salt
125ml Sauternes
125ml olive oil
150g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp lavender flowers
purple food colouring

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/375F/gas 5. Butter a 20cm x 9cm-deep loose-bottom cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff using a hand-held electric whisk, then whisk in half the sugar a tbsp at a time, whisking well with each addition.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar together for about 3 minutes until almost white and moussey, then fold in the zest. Fold in the flour in about three goes, and the salt, then blend in the Sauternes in several goes, and finally the oil.

Now fold the whisked egg whites into the mixture in three goes. Pour into the prepared tin, bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 170C/150C fan/325F/gas 3 and bake for 20 minutes longer. Turn the oven off, cover the surface of the cake with a circle of buttered baking paper and leave to rest in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven, run a knife around the collar and turn it out on to the cling film.

Leave to cool completely, when the cake will shrink (it's meant to be quite rustic-looking) then turn it back up the right way. The cake will keep well for a couple of days, wrapped in foil or cling film.

To make the Lavender Icing juice a lemon and infuse the juice with 1 tsp lavender flowers. Make an icing with 150g icing sugar and about 3 tbsp of the strained lemon juice. Using food colouring, tint the icing pale lavender and drizzle over the cake, letting it trickle down the sides

4 comments:

Susan said...

Sue, we love an occasional Sauterne. Have not had Stilton in some years, so perhaps, this is the Christmas to indulge. Thanks for wonderful information.

lostpastremembered said...

This time I knew about sauterne with fish.... having just read about it. At the moment, all I have is a very pricey bottle that I just couldn't make into cake but will try it with a scallop course at dinner... and maybe get a lesser bottle to make this cake... lavender and sauterne sound breathtaking together!

Great post about stilton too... although I've always had mine with port (one of my favorite wines)

Sue said...

Thanks Susan, the other cheese I can't stop eating at Christmas is Single White Gloucester . . . delicious!

I have just bought some White Port Deana . . . it is great with salted almonds and sharp cheeses like Caerphilly or Crumbly Lancashire :-)

Steve Webb said...

Excellent article - many thanks for highlighting the versatility of Sauternes as a food wine. Truth is it can be drunk with almost anything because of its intense flavours that readily merge with anything else on the palate/planet - it's fantastic stuff. The only excuse for not drinking it is if you don't have a 'sweet' palate but in my experience most of us do.