Results tagged “cheese”

Morocco part 2: muffins and cheddar

Smriverburst0001.jpgBy the time we'd got over the highest part of the High Atlas, it had started to rain.  As we came down through the plains towards Marrakesh, we noticed some of the little streams were starting to overflow, and fields starting to look really quite damp.  Then we came round a corner and realised we weren't going any further - rivers here can overrun bridges at a moment's notice.  Sadly, after turning round, we realised we weren't going back either: the little overflowing streams of ten minutes ago had now become rivers overrunning bridges too.  We could sit and wait, or take the advice of the strangely animated man standing out in the rain, and take the little unmarked road out into the middle of nowhere ...

Smtaliouinekasbahdetail0001.JPGWe were trying to get to Marrakesh to stay with a Moroccan family: Jean-jacques Gérard had arranged for us to stay with his in-laws, and we were excited to see what real Moroccan home cooking was like.  They say that the best food here is in people's homes, and we'd started to suspect that there was something in this.  We'd realised that lots of the interesting stuff is done by women: this means it's usually done at home - so you don't come across it on the standard tourist trail.

For example, finding the women who know how to make couscous the old-fashioned way, rolling it by hand, had taken us quite a while (although we managed it in the end).  Our new mission was to find the women who make warka ...

Bells de jour

Smabondancecows0001.jpgToday we went to the valley of Abondance, here in the Haute-Savoie, where they make the delicious gruyere-style Abondance cheese.  We walked up to one of the high alpine pastures where farmers graze their cows in summer, to let them eat the lush green grass that gets covered in snow in winter.  Finding a farmhouse, we sat down to tuck into their cheese, just as the cows came home after their day's grass-eating work in the fields, the bells round their necks ringing.

This is what they sounded like.

Click here to listen.

And as a special treat, we even have a couple of video clips of them walking home ringing their bells:

Video 1 (quite big, about 12Mb)

Video 2 (smaller, about 5Mb)

Click here for more audio samples.

We ate all the pies

For most British tourists, Greece is essentially a succession of islands and beaches.  For us, it was mostly a succession of pies.  We'd had börek in Turkey, heard talk of burek in Bulgaria; but it was in Greece that the bourek really came into its own.

Smsausagecheesepies0001.jpg For one thing, we generally avoided the islands (making an exception for Crete), and spent most of our time on the mainland, where most of the food (and wine) is - and discovering quite a different Greece from the one we'd seen before.  But for another, we quickly found that Greeks don't really go for big breakfasts.  After our twenty-three-jam feasts in Turkey, this left us with big breakfast-shaped holes, for which there was only one solution: pies.

OK, and cheese.  And spinach.  And quite a lot of weeds.  But if you try hard enough, you can get all those into pies too.  And we did ...

Barrelled alive: Feta with a capital F

Smgreeksalad0001.jpgDid you know that 2008 is the official year of Feta cheese?

Neither did we, until we read it in the in-flight magazine on our way from Thessaloniki to Crete for a conference on ‘the Eastern Mediterranean diet'.  This strengthened our resolve to find a Feta-maker and learn all about this crumbly white cheese, which most of us know from its prominent role in the ubiquitous ‘Greek salad’.  And why is it getting its own special year this year?

Roll out the barrels

Smbarnabyfeta.jpgToday Barnaby met Andonis Nikolopoulos, a feta cheese maker in Floka, a village near ancient Olympia in Greece. 

Having already learnt about Munster in France, sheep's and goat's cheeses in Poland, and bladdered cheeses in Romania, Barnaby thought he probably knew pretty much all there is to know about cheese.  This is not the first time that Barnaby has been completely wrong.

He was quite surprised when Andonis explained to him how real feta is made by adding live yoghurt (not just rennet) to the sheep's milk.  He was even more surprised when he heard that the cheese ferments in tightly sealed wooden barrels - apparently it gives off so much gas that the barrels nearly explode when you open them!

He also realised that he didn't really know what good traditional feta tastes like - rich, creamy, tangy and salty all at the same time.  He wondered about trying to make his own feta, in fact - but now that feta has protected appellation status, apparently it's not supposed to be made by bears.  He was quite disappointed, but we suspect he'll have forgotten about it in the morning.

Spinach and cheese pie

greece, turkey
We found ıspanaklı ve peynirli börek to be as common in Turkey as spanakotyropita is in Greece, and made a point of sampling as many as humanly possible, purely in the name of research of course.  They are essentially the same dish - a savoury pie made of multiple layers of ultra-thin pastry with a spinach and cheese filling.  Sometimes it’s just spinach, or just cheese, but I like it with both. 

Smborek0001.jpgThey come in various shapes and sizes, depending on which country, region, town, village, bakery or home you’re in, and with different fillings.  The form here is nice and simple and works with the packets of filo dough we can find in shops in the UK.  I have made the filling purposefully generous in quantity and moist in consistency as I don’t like my börek dry.  The recipe is loosely based on two very different versions I had the opportunity to make with chefs in Turkey and Greece - Engin Akin in Istanbul and Dimitris Mantsios in Naoussa.

From the people who brought you yoghurt

Smyoghurtwithsesameseeds0001.JPGYou might not associate Turkey with dairy products in the way that you might France or Italy.  But dairy is big business in Turkey, the country which invented yoghurt and exported it to the world.  There are also numerous cheeses and some very special butters and creams, and an ice cream you eat with a knife and fork.

Hemşin fondue

Mehmet Demirci kindly made ‘mulhama’ for us when we stayed at his eco-lodge.  Mehmet and his wife Kadar are Hemşin, that is to say mountain people of the Kaçkar mountains in northeast Turkey, originally of Armenian descent. There are several traditional dishes typical of the Hemşin, of which mulhama, a hearty cheese fondue, is perhaps the most well known. 

Smmulhama0001.jpgWe’d spent the afternoon walking in the foothills getting soaked by the perpetual mist and rain (this is the wettest part of Turkey), so the warm, gooey fondue could not have been more perfect for our meal that night.  Mehmet cooked it for us on a wood-burning stove in his little patch of paradise on the mountainside.  So the power cut didn’t deter us - we just needed to walk back through the wood to the car to retrieve our torch.  We felt very self-sufficient.

Through the kitchens of Romania

Smmattsteu0001.JPG Coming to Romania from Hungary was a huge change, primarily because we know lots of people in Romania and speak a bit of the language.   Both of these bonuses, plus the Romanian people's unrivalled hospitality, meant we could spend far more time inside people's kitchens learning about the cuisine - either by being invited in or by inviting ourselves in.  And seeing so many old friends really made it feel like a home from home.

We got straight down to business by heading up into the Apuseni Mountains to sample two stalwarts of Romanian cuisine: ţuică (plum firewater) and slănină (bacon without the meaty bits).  Here we were reminded that it is the grannies who do everything and know everything, from curing your own bacon and making your own cheese to preserving your pig's stomach in a bucket

Getting bladdered in Bran

Smbarnabybrancheese0001b.jpgToday Barnaby went to visit the famous Bran castle in the Carpathian Mountains.  The castle was closed, so instead he found a nice local cheese farmer to talk to.

Nicu Solovastru has 300 sheep and 10 cows, which spend their summers grazing in the meadows high above the castle.  He is proud of the fact he uses 100% natural products and traditional methods.

Even the cheese moulds are natural: the smoked sheep's cheeses (caşcaval fumat), which Barnaby thought tasted not unlike Polish oscypek, are shaped in wooden moulds Nicu carves himself, and the cow's cheeses (brȃnza de burduf) are aged in either large sheepskin sacks or perfectly round calves' bladders.

Smbladderedcheese0001.JPGBarnaby wanted to buy a bladdered cheese but Anna and Matt prefered the smoked cheese so he had to settle for that.  Domnul Solovastru has kindly invited Barnaby to come back next summer to make cheese with him in the mountains, so that will be his chance to get properly bladdered.

Granny knows

Thumbnail image for SmAnawood0001.jpg“Bunică ştie” is something you might find yourself observing on numerous occasions while spending time in the villages of Transylvania.  For every grandmother you would have the good fortune to meet would know an awful lot, about everything.  And everybody knows that granny knows (best).

She knows about looking after animals, and bringing up the grandchildren.  She knows how to milk the cows and turn the milk into butter and cheese.  She knows how to butcher the pig and turn it into bacon, ham, salami and more.  She can make ...

Feeling sheepish

Smbarnabyoscypek0001.jpgA day without vodka has done Barnaby the power of good and he is now back on solid food.  To nurse himself back to health he has been nibbling on his favourite of all Polish cheeses - oscypek ('os-tsi-pek'), smoked mountain sheep's cheese.

Oscypek is a speciality of the Tatras mountains around Zakopane.  The sheep's milk curds are packed into carved wooden moulds, most traditionally a spindle shape, to harden, and then hung in woodsmoke to acquire their classic colour and flavour. 

Apparently unscrupulous market traders paint their cheeses with coffee to imitate the authentic oscypek appearance.   But this one came from an impeccable source via Richard and Marzena's cheese lady.

A good oscypek should squeak when you bite into it and have a rich buttery taste.  Barnaby likes his sliced and fried until crispy golden-brown on the outside and gooey on the inside.

Refusing to be cowed

Smbarnabycow0001.jpgToday Barnaby challenged Malina to a staring contest.  They both claim to have won but we couldn't really tell.

Malina (Polish for 'Raspberry') was enjoying some free time between morning and evening milkings.  She provides the entire Łatka family, and us today, with organic milk. 

Mrs Łatka cleverly transforms the milk into sour cream, butter and cottage cheese, using not much other than a warm room and a food processor.  The whey and buttermilk don't go to waste - not only do they make delicious drinks on their own, but they also go into a number of Mrs Łatka's homemade treats, including her żurek soup and linseed bread.  Go and stay with them in Barcice Dolne and you'll see what I mean. 

A Pole apart? Thinking outside the goat-shed

smkoziesery0001.JPGLuckily, by the time we'd reached the remote Bieszczady Mountains we'd learnt enough Polish to recognize that 'kozie sery' meant 'goat's cheeses'.  (It's great being married to a linguist.)  So when the hand-painted wooden sign appeared by the side of the road we slammed on the brakes - and then tentatively approached the farm gate, while two enormous barking dogs approached us from the other side, a lot less tentatively.

The farmer came to our rescue, and proceeded to introduce us to his goats and cheeses with great generosity of spirit.  You'd be forgiven for thinking that in this far-flung corner of southeastern Poland he was making cheese the way his great-grandfather had, according to time-honoured Polish tradition, isolated from the world.  But you'd be wrong (as we were).  In fact, Zbigniew Wantula's cheeses have truly international dimensions, but with traditional cores. We were to discover how Germany, France, Greece and the UK were all playing their part...

Billy goat's gruff

Smbarnabygoat0001.jpgBarnaby made a hasty exit when the big boss goat at Zbigniew Wantula's dairy farm caught him messing around in the barn with his 22 wives.

Barnaby was just being curious - he wanted to know where the delicious goat's cheese he had just tried came from.

In this far flung corner of southeast Poland Zbigniew makes fresh goat's cheeses and feta-style aged ones. You can buy it direct from the farm, or if like Barnaby you're too traumatised to go that close, you can get it in the pub up the road.

Across to Alsace

Smriquewihr0001.JPGWe've spent the last few days driving across northern France from Paris to Alsace, staying in various lovely farmhouses with friendly people on the way. We'll write more about each one when we get a moment, but we've seen (and eaten or drunk) home-made products from black pudding to Munster cheese to eau de vie.

Plus (in the week that the US ordered the largest-ever recall of commercial beef) met some of the happiest small-farm veal calves there can be. And discovered that Alsace makes some of the nicest white wines we've ever had, and one or two truly rank vinegary reds.

You can see some of our photos from France here.

Munster in the mountains

Smbarnabytome0001.JPG Today Barnaby met Dany Roess at his farm in Soultzeren in Alsace and learnt how to make proper Munster cheese. As bears don't eat Munster he ended up buying a whole Tomme des Vosges instead. Yum.

Anna and Matt preferred the Munster, which is the local AOC washed-rind cheese and is fantastic on its own or in lots of local recipes. Tomme isn't as old and traditional around here as Munster (Dany says they started making it 15-20 years ago), and isn't regulated to the same extent (you can put any herbs you want in it, including delicious wild garlic). But Barnaby liked it all the same.

Traditionally cheesy

Smvosges0001.JPGIt's not easy being an Alsatian cheesemaker.  Yes, you get to live in a beautiful valley in the foothills of the Vosges mountains.  And yes, you get to produce the traditional Munster Fermier, one of France's tastiest (and smelliest) cheeses.

But tradition brings rules, regulations and responsibilities as well as tastiness (and smell) - not to mention expense.  And it's not easy to make a living from cheese alone anyway.

We stayed with Chantal and Dany Roess at their farm in Soultzeren, where they make Munster (amongst other things), and they told us all about what they do, how they do it, and how they see their role as upholders of the traditions of cheese.

Goat's cheese and rhubarb chutney crostini

Thank you so much for all the votes.  The rhubarb was the clear winner, with the broad bean tagliatelle and chive butter chops in joint second place, so you might get them another day.  These canapes look much too pretty and taste much too good to only take half an hour to make.  I hope you like them too.
Smcheeseandrhubarbchutney0008.JPGThe recipe is adapted from one I learnt while assisting a class at the Tante Marie Cooking School.  It’s originally from Bon Appétit magazine.  I’ve tried it with all sorts of dried and fresh fruits, and each way works well.  If you want it to taste predominantly of rhubarb, just make sure there is much more of this than any other fruit.  Using a combination of cherries or cranberries (dried or fresh) and rhubarb produces a bright red chutney which looks great on the white cheese.  You can also try different liqueurs and spirits, eg brandy.  I think it works well with a creamy cheese with enough flavour not to be totally dominated by the intensely flavoured chutney.  A stinking, oozing washed rind cheese makes a fantastic pairing, but I realise that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

So... my news this week goes roughly like this:

1) I have just resigned from my job as UK programme director for LCD (an international education development agency), where I worked for 10 years, which feels very odd but is a fantastic opportunity to drink lots of champagne.

2) I shall now be pursuing a rather dramatic career change, in the direction of food, cooking, education and the like, which feels a bit odd, but is a great opportunity to drink lots of champagne.

I will miss working with my old colleagues immensely, but insist that they all come round for dinner once I'm back in London.  They can rest assured nobody will have to take minutes.


Ricotta is an Italian cheese made from the whey resulting from the production of mozzarella, provolone and other cheeses.  The name means 're-cooked', because the whey is processed for a second time when it is used to make the ricotta.

Ricotta is a good source of calcium.  This is because most of the calcium in milk is contained in the watery whey ('buttermilk') part, rather than the creamy 'butterfat' component.

Ricotta can be preserved through salting, baking or smoking.  For the Amarone-poached figs recipe it is essential to use fresh ricotta, which should be soft, bright white and mild in flavour.  It goes off easily so eat within a week of purchasing.

You can make ricotta yourself using nothing but whole milk, white distilled vinegar and salt...


Culinary Anthropologist