I was brought up on Stilton, and my grandmother would religiously leave me a chunk on the kitchen table with a tin of Dorset knobs and some chutney when I’d been out with the boys. She would very occasionally get her hands on a bit of Blue Vinney, which was a rare treat then, as it almost disappeared out of production. Blue Vinney is now being successfully made again by Mike Davies near Sturminster Newton (01963 23133). I was slightly oblivious to all the other great cheeses in the West Country, but now the South-West is one of the most prolific areas for cheese production, from Charles Martell’s Stinking Bishop to great Cheddar.
When it comes to cheese-making, the British can claim to be up there with the best producers in the world. The French used to be the kings, but now we have cheeses that would stand firmly up against those from over the Channel.
I’m a judge at the World Cheese Awards and am always pleasantly surprised how well ours perform. Whatever part of the country you’re in, there’s always a locally produced cheese to snack on. Even Scotland now boasts some great cheeses, and my favourite from last year is Blue Monday, assigned by queen of cheese Juliet Harbutt and Alex James. It’s made up in Tain, which is an hour north of Inverness, by Rory Stone, and is my personal favourite British blue, with resemblances to the best gorgonzola picante.
This normally confuses the hell out of people when I put it on the menu in my restaurants, until it just clicks that it’s actually a Welsh rabbit with a twist from the addition of smoked haddock. It makes a great teatime snack or a brunch dish, or you can try two bite-sized ones for little snacks with drinks, or put the mix into mini tart cases.
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 egg yolks
2tsp Worcester sauce
1tsp English mustard
80ml double cream
4 slices bread a small bloomer style loaf is ideal
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g–160g smoked haddock
Place the haddock in a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain, leave to cool a little, remove any skin and bones and flake into large pieces. Simmer the Guinness until it’s reduced by half, add the cream, and then reduce this by half again until it’s really thick. Leave to cool. Mix this together with the haddock and all the other ingredients, except the bread, and season to taste. Toast the bread on both sides, spread the cheese mixture on top, about 1cm thick to the edges to avoid burning and grill on a medium heat until it’s nicely browned.
Purple-sprouting broccoli with goat’s cheese, pickled walnuts and rapeseed oil
It’s odd, the sprouting-broccoli season it’s a bit erratic throughout the year, but great as it’s
a nice surprise when it does turn up to brighten up the menu. What I did discover by talking to a couple of sprouting-broccoli growers is that it’s not so much about the weather and season it’s down to the meticulous trimming and cutting of it. Common sense I suppose the more you cut and harvest it, the more it sprouts. Why don’t more growers do that rather than just lobbing it off and bunging it in a box?
For me, sprouting broccoli has the luxuriousness of asparagus and should be treated in exactly the same way for a starter, with hollandaise, vinaigrette, and so on. It’s not just a good-looking bit of veg.
300g–400g purple-sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any wooden stalks
120g–150g soft goat’s cheese
4 pickled walnuts, plus a little of the liquid from the jar
4–5tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the sprouting broccoli in boiling salted water for 4–5 minutes or until the stalks are tender. Drain and leave to cool a little. Slice the pickled walnuts and break the goat’s cheese into smallish pieces. Mix about a tablespoon of the pickled-walnut liquid with the rapeseed oil and season. Arrange the ingredients on one large or individual serving plates.
Mark Hix’s ‘Seasonal Food’ is available from Quadrille at £25 (www.restaurantsetcltd.co.uk)