Say Cheese

As you may have noticed we’ve been focussed on local harvests recently and there has been no greater promoter of local produce and producers around Canberra than chef Janet Jeffs over at Old Parliament House.

Her latest Kitchen Cabinet lunch was focussed on local cheese producers. All three types of cheese, cow, goat and sheep, were represented at the lunch by three local producers – Small Cow Farm (cow, from Robertson in the Southern Highlands), Hobbit Farm (goat, from Jindabyne) and Thistledown Creamery (sheep, from Goulburn). It was clear from the outset that no matter how they came to cheese making that all the producers were passionate about what they were doing. As is the usual format at Kitchen Cabinet events there was a presentation by the producers as part of the proceedings, before we got down to the business of eating.

One thing that all the makers stressed was that like other foods milk is a seasonal product. Sure, large scale dairy farms rely on methods of staggering their production to get year round milk, but artisan cheese producers are relying on female animals having a a calf, kid or lamb at foot to produce the milk for their products. So don’t be surprised if your favourite artisanal cheese is in limited supply sometime during the year.

Cheese_talk

Lunch started off with a tasting plate of cheeses from all the producers and a piece of truly delicious paste made by Janet (the dark rectangle on the plate). I particularly liked being able to compare the salted and un-salted fresh goats cheese (one of which is on the RHS of the plate) with the mature goats cheese. We also spent a bit of time debating the content of the accompanying fruit paste, plum possibly or maybe a wine paste. Having asked, it turned out to be a combination of crab apple and apple which Janet and her staff had cooked up in the kitchen over several days.

Between entree and main, we had the chance to ask questions of the producers. There was quite a bit of debate about raw milk cheese production, a debate which clearly isn’t likely to be resolved in the near future. I think the most useful point that came from the discussion was that we shouldn’t be equating pasteurisation with ‘boiling the guts out’ of the milk. For artisanal cheese producers the process tends to be one of heating the milk to the lowest acceptable temperature over an extended period of time to achieve the result (sorry you’ll need to look up some cheese making recipes for the specific details) as opposed to the larger manufacturers which achieve pasteurisation by exposing the milk to a much higher temperature for a very quick time. The reason the small producers use the ‘low and slow’ approach is that it helps maintain the taste of the product.

We fell on our main course of twice-baked souffle, goat cheese roasted tomato and thyme and fetta, beetroot, walnut and blue cheese salad, tatziki and spiced labneh, so quickly that I forgot to take a photo (sorry). It was absolutely wonderful.

I did manage to get a shot of dessert which was Quark cheese cake with berrie compote.

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For the uninitiated, like me, Quark is a type of German fresh curd cheese. It didn’t last long either!

While I certainly enjoyed the the cheese we ate on the day I came away from the event with a lot of questions about artisanal cheese production in Australia. Firstly it’s hard to get a handle on the scale of the Australian small/artisanal cheesemaking industry. Clearly there are quite a number of small scale producers setting up all across the country (as we found travelling in Tasmania), but confusion reigns, statistically that is, because many of the larger commercial maufacturers also consider themselves to be ‘small’ producers (which they probably are compared to cheese producers overseas). Putting to one side the raw milk debate, the high level of regulation of the dairy industry adds a significant level of challenge to anyone thinking of producing cheese commercially. Even to get your dairy up and running is a major challenge, let alone being able to produce high-quality products.

Clearly increasing the public’s demand for quality artisanal cheese is a complex process that is not without its hazards for the producers themselves. Greater demand puts higher stresses on the makers. Small Cow Farm, for example, has moved from producing cheese from its own herd to buying in milk from nearby herds, as the time demands of milking and producing cheese became too great for their operation. Meeting safety regulations, including rigourous testing regimes, requires a significant amount of any cheesemakers time.

One of the more interesting articles I’ve turned up since attending the lunch is a report produced by Nick Haddow of the Bruny Island Cheese Company (arguably one of our highest profile artisan cheesemakers), on assessing the viability of Australian artisan cheeses being exported overseas. Now don’t get too fussed about the export angle because Haddow’s assessment touches on a range of issues for small-scale producers, including education and training for cheesemakers, issues of quality and presentation of cheese at the retail level. I found the following comment of particular interest:

“Having seen the quality of both locally made cheeses and the imported European cheeses in the USA market, it is difficult to see how the current product range from Australia could make inroads in the immediate future. More needs to be done to encourage our cheesemakers to be making the highest quality cheeses possible – artisan, but high quality.”

If you’d like to read Nick’s report in full you can find it here.

All I can say having just quickly looked at some of the complexities of producing good artisanal cheese it hat’s off to them all, they must be mad!

PS Thanks to R for providing the photo of the entree.

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Radical Radishes

In late December I planted three rows of radishes as a gap filler before our winter planting. We’d eaten the French Breakfast radishes pretty quickly, but I got put off the Winter Round Black radishes by their really pungent taste. I can’t even remember eating the China Rose radishes. After a few weeks I pretty much forgot about them.

Last weekend I decided that it was about time I dug the radishes up  and dealt with them. I wasn’t expecting much as my previous experience with old radishes was completely un-edible. However I certainly got a surprise with this lot.

Radishes

Not only was there was a decent harvest, but some of them were absolutely gi-normous!

Blackradish

The largest one in the photo weighed in at 685 grams.

OK I certainly wasn’t going to eat all of these in a hurry so I decided to try a recipe from my new book on canning – Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff (canning is what making preserves is called in the US). Liana’s blog can be found here. The recipe for Pickled Radishes was the one that caught my eye. I even had a hopefully willing target for the food as Variegated was visiting for lunch the next day.

Now one day is not long for a pickle that I’m pretty sure will develop a more mellow flavour over time. TB had the great idea of cutting its currently sharp vinegary taste with some of our freshly-picked feral apples. Not only did the sweet crisp fruit balance the vinegar to perfection, but the pickles also helped cut through the luscious flavour of TB’s terrine of pork and veal liver.

Terrinepickle

The main dish was an autumn risotto of garden veggies. The flavouring was our own saffron which this year has been producing a steady, if small, crop of stamens.

Saffron

The colour of the saffron is rich and the aroma of the infusing stamens is even better.

Here is the finished dish.

Autumnrisotto

We all enjoyed eating this meal out in the back garden, experiencing one of those wonderful Autumn days which we have been so blessed with over the past few weeks.

 

Happy New Year 2012

Happynewyear

Wow into the new year already!

Radish3jan

First crop out of the ground at Chez Fork is radishes – always a good choice for a fast start. I planted three varieties of radish, China Rose (The Lost Seed), French Breakfast (The Lost Seed) and d’inverno nero tondo (translates as ’round black winter’ and is said to be good for winter storage, The Italian Gardener).

All three varieties were planted on 29 December and they were up on 1 January – a good choice for the most impatient gardener! and they will be quick to grow into a tasty component for your salad bowl. Don’t forget that if you can’t wait for the radish bulb to grow the leaves on their own – just don’t pick them all – also make a spicy addition to a salad.

Speaking of other young things, we had one of our corn stems blow over in the gusty winds the other day. TB quickly realised that he was not going to be able to save it, so instead we harvested the immature corn cobs and had them with a stir fry that included our young wrinkled squash and two asparagus spears.

Babycorn

It was one of those duh! moments when I finally realised why anyone bothered with baby corn – the real stuff is so tender and sweet – nothing like the tinned stuff (oh well, some of us are just slow!).

Everything Green Soup

You may recall in my recent diatribe against radishes that I mentioned Radish Leaf Soup, well I actually made some last week (see the picture). The recipe I had was a dead ringer for my favourite sorrel soup recipe. Dice some potatoes and cook them in stock until tender slice up the sorrel [leave it raw] and stick in the blender, pour over the cooked potatoes and stock and give it a whiz. Reheat to bring eating temperature. Well I can’t say that it was a revelation. It was a good soup, but to my mind lacked the zing I expected from the leaves of radishes. It had none of that peppery bite I anticipated, although a bit came through when we re-heated the left-overs the next day.
Yesterday we decided on even more green soup (as an aid to remedy New Year’s indulgences), but this time we added as many green things we could find in the garden into the mix. Several small zucchinis, sorrel, radish leaves, radishes, komatsu, parsley, basil and a few milk thistle leaves made up the green base along with an onion. The only difference was that in our everything green soup we sauteed an onion and the sliced radish leaves together, before doing the blender move. The mix had a few strings (don’t forget to cut the ribs out of the sorrel) so it was sieved before some milk was added to thin it out. Then TB had a great idea – he served the soup and then added a dob of wasabi. We used purewasabi from New Zealand, not the lurid green paste you generally get, www.coppersfolly.co.nz [possibly bought at Edelweiss Woden but can’t be sure]. The company offers direct mail order, including shipping than is cheaper than the local purchase price. That hit the spot. Of course you can add a little wasabi, or none at all depending on how much heat you like.
Speaking of green things I’ve included a photo I took this morning of the leaves of our Trombone Marrow, a freebie from the seed company along with part of our order that couldn’t be filled earlier in the year. Just check out the string of water beads around the edge of the leaf.

RadsoupEverygreenTrom

Radishes require ruthless treatment

Radishes – it’s no more Mr Niceguy for you! They were all so sweet and tasty a few weeks ago but now the radish has turned. At first I ruthlessly ripped of the flowers and then I got soft and let them go their own way. Boy was that a mistake. I only have myself to blame, for now the radishes are inedible (unless you like chewing on chipboard).

It turns out that as soon as the radishes start flowering all the tender juciness that was in the root/tuber goes stright back into the plant’s leaves and flowers. No more growth and what remains can’t even be cut by TB’s big knife. The only thing for it is to pull them all out and use them for mulch. The only other possible use appears to be to pick the tenderest smallest leaves and use them in a soup or quiche or even a risotto. The leaves retain the same pungent pepperiness of the radish root.

I’ll be the first to admit that there is a limit to just how many radishes you can eat in salads when they are producing. I decided to check out some recipes. My first thought was pickling and I found some interesting recipes in Tsukemono Japanese Pickled Vegetables by Kay Shimuzu (Shufunotomo Co. Ltd 1993).Shimuzu’s recipe for Radish Pickles (Chinese) p 90 of our edition, only takes a half an hours preparation (most of which is chilling in the fridge) before it is served. Unlike European style pickles lots of Japanese recipes provide a pickled product in a relatively short time.

I then looked on the internet and found a group of interesting recipes on the grouprecipes page (www.grouprecipes.com). I tried the Roasted Radishes, substituting potatoes for the turnips called for in the original. The dish was very straight forward and I’d recommend using it just for baked potatoes. For those two radishes that remained edible the roasting turned out to be a good way to cook them (see the picture) while it all looked great most of the radishes were too tough to eat. I’ve singled out two other recipes from this site to try – French Radish Leaves Soup and Radish leaves and Avocado Quiche (I may yet skip the avocado). I’ll let you know the outcomes once I’ve given them a go.

Just remember there is no redemption for the radish once it has flowered!

Radishrost