Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mushrooms and M de Malle

Nick picked our first mushrooms this morning whilst walking the dogs and sautéed them in butter for breakfast. They were lovely! Mushrooms are one of the most difficult foods to match with wine. I don’t mean cooking them in it – I mean pairing a mushroom dish with a wine to accompany it.

It is not as if there is just one mushroom to choose from, although our British grown Field Mushrooms that you spot nestling in the grass like an unexpected dollop of snow are my favourite. The many varieties of wild fungi and tame shop bought ones have lots of different flavours to confuse us wine enthusiasts.

France was the leader in the formal cultivation of mushrooms. Some accounts say that Louis XIV was the first mushroom grower. Around this time mushrooms were grown in special caves near Paris set aside for this unique form of agriculture. Originally, cultivation was unreliable as mushroom growers would watch for good flushes of mushrooms in fields and then dig up the mycelium, replanting in beds of composted manure or inoculating 'bricks' of compressed litter, loam and manure.

The general rule when it comes to matching a wine with your mushroom is based on how they are cooked i.e. what the sauces and spices are. French cuisine advocates that “less is more” so in other words keep it simple and you will be able to taste the flavour of the mushrooms.

You can't get much simpler than a pan of freshly picked sautéed mushrooms and Nick recommends a dry white Graves - M de Malle. This wine has quite a woody, buttery flavour which is similar to a white Burgundy from Meursault or Montrachet and would be great with your mushrooms.

M de Malle is a medium bodied white and is the dry white wine of the Sauternes Second Growth Château de Malle, owned by the Comtes de Bournazel. Château de Malle was built at the beginning of the 17th century and has remained in the same family without ever changing hands. De Malle is one of the oldest estates in Sauternes - early records suggest that the grapes were grown there are already in the 1400's, and that the wine at this time was dry and white rather than the sweet style that Sauternes later evolved into.

M de Malle is difficult to find because only 7,000 bottles are produced and we are lucky to have the 2005 vintage at Bordeaux-Undiscovered. This really is a beautiful wine: bold, brilliant green tinted gold with waxy hints of white blossoms, passion fruit, quince, spice and a good burst of lemon acidity.

Oddly enough Bordeaux has a link to cultivating mushrooms. Saint Emilion is riddled with 173 acres of catacombs that run underground. They are carved out of the soft, pale ochre limestone that was used to build Saint Emilion. Chateau Ausone sits upon 3 troglodytic caves, the smallest of which is used as an ancient wine cellar which ages the wines in a perfectly stable atmosphere. Legend has it that a Parisian mushroom grower, fleeing from the capital during the dramatic events of the Commune in 1871, set up production there. The darkness, constant temperature, aeration and high humidity of the quarries provided optimum growing conditions for mushrooms. How strange that a century later they should also be the optimum conditions for ageing wine!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sloe Gin Liqueur Chocolates

If you have been making Sloe Gin and are wondering what to do with the sloes that are left after you have strained them from the gin you can make Liqueur Chocolates with them! Sloes that are removed from the gin after 2 to 3 months are best and the stones can be removed by pressing a knife over the fruits so that they pop out.

Melt 250g of milk chocolate
Add 4oz sloes
Mix well and pour into ice cube trays
Leave to cool

I have added Almond essence to my Bullace Gin this year and will add crushed almonds to the mix when making my chocolates.

You can buy chocolate moulds and make individually filled Liqueur Chocolates each containing a plump gin infused sloe but this is quite time consuming (the best recipe I have found is here).

I was wondering who invented Liqueur Chocolates and it seems that in 1913 Swiss chocolate maker Jules Sechaud of Montreux introduced a machine process for manufacturing filled chocolates. The Swiss Master Chocolatiers Villars invented the first chocolate bar filled with liqueur in 1935, Larmes de Kirsch. Villars still make these and the fillings are Kirsch, Poire William, Cognac, Coing (Quince Liqueur), Damson Liqueur, Walnut Liqueur, Absinthe and Apricot Liqueur. They also make Larmes d'Edelweiss which is a milk chocolate bar filled with Edelweiss Liqueur!

Edelweiss Liqueur is said to have a light herbal taste with hints of honey and chestnuts. This Liqueur, distilled from Switzerland's national flower, is manufactured in small quantities in cantons Neuchtel and Valais by Christian Borel-Jaquet and Stphane Keller.

There is a tradition of making alcoholic drinks from flowers in France, Italy and Germany but the only traditional one I can think of here in the UK is Elderflower, Rose and Hawthorn which are used to make both wine and liqueur. Does anyone know of more?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Sloe Jelly, Elderberries and Blackberry Chiffon

Despite the windy weather this week I managed to venture out to collect the plump sloes I spotted earlier. In the past I have made Sloe Gin but as I am trying Bullace instead this year my sloes are destined for Sloe Jelly. Sloe Jelly is great with roast venison and even better with pigeon. To make the jelly you need to collect some apples – I use whatever comes to hand be it crab apples, cooking apples or the cider apples from the orchard. A tip to keep your jelly from going cloudy is not to squeeze the jelly bag (or muslin) at the end!

Sloe Jelly

1½ lb sloes
1½ lb apples, chopped
Sugar (for every pint of strained juice use 1½ lb sugar)

Place the apples and sloes in a large jam pan (or a big heavy bottomed saucepan). Add enough water so that half the fruit is covered. Bring to the boil and then simmer until all the fruit is soft and has broken down. Pour into a jelly bag (or muslin) and leave to drip into a clean jam pan or bucket. I use muslin and stretch the piece round the top of the jam pan (not too tightly stretched) and secure it by tying with kitchen string. It can take ages to drip so I leave it over night. Measure the juice and pour into a jam pan – add 1½ lb of sugar for each pint of juice. Boil for about 10 minutes and then test for setting. When the jelly is at setting point pour into sterilised jam jars and cover. Store in a cool dark place.

Years ago sloes were used to make fake Port wine and were also added as an adulterant to impart colour and acidity to genuine port. This doesn't surprise me as Peter May of The Pinotage Club recently told Nick that he had read that it was common practice for London merchants to add colour to wine by blending in a little elderberry juice (see Nick's Blog on The Pontac Family of Haut Brion – Their Legacy: Pontac Chateaux, a London tavern, an Old English Sauce and Perhaps a Grape).

Mrs M Grieve, writing in 1931, tells us that in Kent, there were entire orchards of Elder trees cultivated solely for the sake of their fruit, which is brought regularly to market and sold for the purpose of making wine:

“The berries are not only used legitimately for making Elderberry Wine, but largely in the manufacture of so-called British wines - they give a red colour to raisin wine - and in the adulteration of foreign wines. Judiciously flavoured with vinegar and sugar and small quantities of port wine, Elder is often the basis of spurious 'clarets' and Bordeaux. 'Men of nice palates,' says Berkeley (Querist, 1735), 'have been imposed on by Elder Wine for French Claret.' Cheap port is often faked to resemble tawny port by the addition of Elderberry juice, which forms one of the least injurious ingredients of factitious port wines. Doctoring port wine with Elderberry juice seems to have assumed such dimensions that in 1747 this practice was forbidden in Portugal, even the cultivation of the Elder tree was forbidden on this account.”

I have a good recipe for Roast Duck with Elderberries here.

I also have an unusual recipe for blackberries that I spotted in our Parish Magazine. It is for Blackberry Chiffon. I had not come across the word Chiffon being used in a culinary manner before and was intrigued. Apparently Chiffon is a word used to describe a food with a light fluffy texture, usually created by the addition of whipped egg white or gelatine. It is derived from the old French word chiffe meaning ‘flimsy stuff’.

Blackberry Chiffon

1 packet of trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits
a little sherry to moisten
1 lb blackberries
1packet of blackcurrant jelly
2 large eggs
3 oz caster sugar

Gently stew the blackberries with the sugar, drain and keep the juice (about 1/4 pint). Make the blackcurrant jelly up to 3/4 pint with the blackberry juice. (Alternatively, use gelatine, sugar and blackberry juice). Use a little of the jelly with the sherry to moisten the sponges. Leave on one side to cool but not set.

Whisk the egg yolks with sugar until thick. Separately, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Combine the yolks and jelly, then whisk into the whites. Pour over the fruit and chill. When set and cold, decorate with whipped cream.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Fruits of the Field Hedgerows: Wild Plums (Bullace), Lamb and Red Wine

Whilst walking the dogs the other day I noticed some plump sloes growing on a Blackthorn tree in the hedgerow – you are supposed to pick them after the first frost but we have an early fruit harvest this year so I think I will return in a week or so and gather them up to make Sloe Jelly. I was quite surprised at how fat and round they were to neighbouring Blackthorns which were withered with the drought.

Further down the hedge was a fruit that made me stop in my tracks: wild damsons! Our damsons in the orchard ripened weeks ago but these little fruits were still clinging to the tree. I tasted one of the wild ones and got quite a shock, the inky purple skin was quite tart with a mouth puckering dryness that is similar to a sloe . . . but the flesh inside gave a burst of sweetness. I think they are purple bullaces instead!

Bullaces are wild plums (which are related to sloes) – in fact the damson is a the cultivated form of the bullace (probably developed during Roman times) and this is why they are so hard to tell apart – until you taste one! If you'd like to learn more about damsons and recipes using them see my blog: Damsons, Mirabelles and Les Eymeries. Damsons are much sweeter than bullaces.

Bullaces can be used in pies, jams, game sauces, jellies and chutneys. They can also be used to make Bullace Gin (in the same way as sloes) and Bullace Wine. Mine will be used in Bullace Gin! This year I am going to add some almond essence to give it a lift (you can also use orange zest, cloves and cinnamon) – I'll let you know how it turns out.
If there are any left over there is a recipe which uses them with Sautéed Lamb:

Sautéed Lamb with Wild Plum (Bullace) and Fig

1.5 kg lamb shoulder, boned and cut in pieces
800 g wild plums (bullace), stoned
800 g figs
2 onions
1 garlic clove
4 blades of parsley
30 g butter
1 tbsp peanut oil
200 ml dry white wine
salt and pepper

In the mixture of butter and oil fry the lamb on all sides with onions to a nice golden colour for approximately 10 minutes. Add white wine, salt , pepper, garlic and parsley, stir, cover and cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Add the bullace and figs and mix gently. Add some hot water if necessary. Check the taste and continue to cook for about 20 minutes.

Nick recommends a medium bodied red wine with this dish and Chateau Chevalier d'Albran would be ideal. It has a high percentage of Merlot in the blend (70%) and is smooth and elegant with notes of blackberry, vanilla, strawberry and ripe plum. You'll find its full, fruity flavours really enhance the meal. It is made by Chateau Mondain in the tiny hamlet of Juillac, close to Castillon La Bataille, on the left bank of the River Dordogne.

The Ciroli family have been making wine here since the second world war and the third generation are now in charge. No one knows when vines were first planted here but Juillac is named after the Roman Julius, who owned the land and Aqua (ac) meaning “Julius' villa on the river.” The Ciroli's named Chevalier d'Albran in homage to the legendary Knight who defended Juillac during the Aquitaine Conquests in the late 1350s against The Black Prince. It's said the Black Prince, son of King Edward III, acquired his name from the ornate black armour his father gave him when he was 16 after his victory at Crecy. Darker tales say he got his nick name due to his marauding through the lands of Juillac, Armagnac and Asterac!