17 ≥Man does not live by bread alone, says Jay Rayner
Of all the tiny, imponderable miracles that go to make our dinner times so special, none is as glorious as the souring of milk to make cheese…
The knotty interplay between liquid dairy, microbe and enzyme,
all that serious, heavy-duty biology, results in something so sublime it’s enough to make even the least godly among us think of mother nature as the ultimate head chef. The truth is I’m not sure I could ever really love someone who didn’t love cheese.
It’s not always been this way. As a child I had a blunt palate. Cheese was a utilitarian thing that tasted of, well, cheese. It was for sandwiches and
toasting, for pizzas and to bury caulifl ower under. But then, as I lurched into adulthood, something marvellous happened. I discovered Brie, the real stuff from Meaux, that makes a bid for freedom if you leave it for long enough
in a warm room. It was at a student party and a friend, trying to ape adult sophistication, had fi lled a table with a full, creamy round of the stuff . But everyone else was ignoring it. I stood there, back to the room,
dribbling this rich, pungent, gooey mess on to hunks of crusty bread. I had rarely been so happy.
My education had begun. I went in pursuit of cheeses like the wonderful
Epoisses from Burgundy with its rust-coloured rind, that must be served with a spoon when ready, the stench of which makes even me blink. I learnt to love salty, bullying blues like the slightly damp Roquefort, which soſt ens the
fl avour of even the most tannic red wines. I met real Camembert, to be baked until liquid in its wooden box, the better to be dipped into, and marvellous
earthy long-aged Gouda from the Netherlands. In Florence, I was taught that Parmesan wasn’t something dusty that tasted lightly of bile, but a glorious crumbly thing to be eaten in hunks by itself at the end of dinner. And then I met my wife, whose mother was Swiss, and who had therefore been eating fondues unironically for years. I was welcomed into the world
of those sleek princes of the cheese world, the nutty and rich Gruyères and Comtés and Beauforts, to be melted into three times their own weight of
Emmental, the heavy liſt er of the dairy world. At home I became obsessed with our two world beaters, Stilton and West Country Cheddar, the latter perched on a knife edge between creaminess and a sharp acidity. That,
for me, is what the miracle of soured milk is all about: the way one simply described process can lead to such staggering variety. Famously, Charles de Gaulle questioned the possibility of ruling a country like France which
has ‘246 varieties of cheese’, each one representative of a diff erent regional identity and way of life. I too wouldn’t want to try bringing that lot to heel. But I’d love a crack at eating my way through the cheeses.
What makes Jay smile? ‘My kids saying terribly sage and grown-up things without quite realising it.’ CURDS AND WHY
Ocado off ers fi ve fabulous reasons why you should be loving the wonders of cheese:
1. Daylesford Organic Single Gloucester, £5.75 for 250g. This is a heritage cheese you don’t see very often – Double Gloucester is more common. Single Gloucester is crumblier, lighter in texture and lower in fat. Cheese connoisseurs will love it.
2. Chaource, Refl ets de France, £3.99 for 250g. This cheese has a fl avour with depth but no bitterness and looks a bit like fatter Camembert. As it ripens, the texture changes from chalky to gooey in the centre.
3. Cancoillotte, Refl ets de France, £2.99 for 250g. This has a mild fl avour and a very unusual, almost stretchy texture. You can spread it on potatoes or bread and it’s used a lot in cooking because it doesn’t split.
4. Istara Ossau Iraty, £3.18 for 180g. This is made from ewe’s milk, which gives it a pale, glossy appearance. It has a very distinctive, nutty taste and would be a good talking point for a cheeseboard – people usually love it, but have rarely come across it before.
5. Cropwell Bishop Blue Stilton, £4.65 for 300g. This is one of the best Stiltons on the market. It is creamy but not too salty – another classic British cheese.
>Catch Jay Rayner discussing cheese and other food-related matters on BBC’s The One Show on Foodie Fridays <
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