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Issue 20 - A matter of common scents

Scotland Magazine Issue 20
April 2005


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A matter of common scents

Scotland has some excellent cheeses and some excellent cheese dishes. Sue Lawrence suggests some options

There is something incredibly alluring about molten gooey cheese – the sight, smell, taste, texture – all somehow make us want to smile in anticipation, which is perhaps why photographers use the word so much. And whereas in the past our taste-buds were accustomed only to melted Cheddar on toast, nowadays we have mozzarella on pizza, emmenthal in fondue, gorgonzola in pasta and even deep-fried camembert. One of the most comforting of all melting cheese in French cuisine is Aligot, a peasant dish of mashed potatoes with garlic and cheese, made in the Auvergne region of France.

Mashed potatoes are softened with cream and plenty of garlic, then mixed with a local mountain cheese – either Laguiole or Cantal, the latter one the of oldest French cheeses, having been made in the mountainous Auvergne region of France for more than 2,000 years.

There is also Croque Monsieur, France’s answer to our cheese and ham toastie. And deepfried camembert can in fact be a pleasing dish, when made into small elegant cubes and served with a fresh cranberry or gooseberry sauce. Scotland’s answer to gooey cheese dishes is that classic dish, rumbledethumps. This is a Borders dish of potatoes and cabbage, topped with cheese and browned in the oven.

I like to combine potatoes and turnip (swede) – both boiled then mashed – with cabbage which I stir-fry to retain its crunch and colour. My mother used to use turnip, potato and cabbage, though the classic recipe is only potatoes and cabbage.

The lovely word ‘rumbledethumps’ comes from ‘rumbled’ (mashed or stirred together) and ‘thumped’ (pounded together). Chopped chives or spring onions can also be added. The molten cheese combines exquisitely with the vegetables.

I would recommend a good Scottish cheddarstyle cheese for this, such as Locharthur or Isle of Mull, both of which are up there with the great territorial cheeses, fully matured and hand-made in the old-fashioned way.

Crowdie cheese (a hand-skimmed cottage cheese made by crofters) is a traditional Scottish soft cheese that is used in Cranachan with toasted oatmeal, raspberries or brambles and heather honey. It is also excellent in cheesecakes.

Goats’ cheese is something else that we can be proud of in Scotland. Because of the very nature of the beast, there are many nuances of flavour in any one goat’s cheese. For, as those of us whose coat hem or shoe lace has been nibbled on by a frisky goat down on the farm know, they will eat almost anything.

They forage about for their food more than cows, which is why some cheeses have pronounced herby or floral overtones. According to Scottish cheese guru Iain Mellis, goats forage less these days, kept in a more controlled environment, as the flavour of the cheese can become too pungent, depending on what they eat. At a tasting session with Iain Mellis, I was fascinated to discover that the fullness of flavour of all goats’ cheeses, whether three weeks or three months old, comes primarily not from age but from pasteurisation. Or rather, lack of it: unpasteurised cheese has far more character and a flavour that lingers on and on.

My favourite Scottish goats’ cheese is Bonnet (a hard cheese, sweet and floral) from Ayrshire. Since kids are born in the United Kingdom in January and February, the traditional goats’ cheese season runs from April to December, although most producers use frozen milk to ensure supplies all year.

Because fat globules are smaller in goats’ milk than cows’ milk, most people with lactose intolerance can eat goats’ cheese. But whichever cheese you chose, I would always recommend it is traditionally made and eaten at room temperature, never straight from the fridge. Only then can you appreciate the nuances of flavour and subtly of texture.

Use it for cooking or eat as it is, with good bread and some local apples o pears . Simplicity on a plate.

1 thin french stick or sfilatino olive oil
Soft fresh goats’ cheese

1. Slice the bread, place on a baking sheet and drizzle with a tiny amount of oil then bake for about 10 minutes (180°C / 350°F / Gas mark 4) for 10 minutes or until pale golden – but not too crisp.

2. Spread each one with cheese, drizzle with a little oil and place under a hot grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese is hot. Serve warm.

2 balls of mozzarella (about 125-150g / 41/2-51/2 oz each)
4-6 rashers of Ayrshire middle bacon olive oil
rocket salad
good Italian bread, to serve

1. Pat the cheeses really well, dry with kitchen paper then season all over. Wrap each in bacon (use 2-21/2 rashers per ball: you want as much of the cheese as possible covered).

2. Heat a little oil in a frying pan (enough to just cover the surface once swirled around) and once it is hot, add the mozzarella parcels. Leave for at least one minute before carefully turning over. After three to four minutes they should be nicely crisp all over.

3. To serve, pile some rocket salad onto plates and top with a hot bacon-wrapped mozzarella. Drizzle over pan juices and serve at once with plenty warm bread.

75g / 21/2 oz butter
250g / 9 oz shortbread biscuits, crushed
400g / 14 oz cream cheese
397g can of Carnation condensed milk finely grated zest and juice of 4 limes
75g / 21/2 oz dark chocolate, melted

1. Melt the butter, stir in the crushed biscuits. Press into the base and sides of a 23cm / 9 in loose-bottomed cake tin. Chill.
2. Whisk the cheese, condensed milk, lime zest and juice for five minutes till thick and glossy. Spoon the mixture over the biscuit base and chill.
3. Remove from tin and place on serving plate. Drizzle with melted chocolate.

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