Archives for category: Cheese

It seems incredible for someone who loves food as much as I do that I have not really discovered France in the way a true gourmet should have. But this weekend all that changed.

M & I decided to do a road trip. Just the two of us, the car roof down and the open road ahead. Admittedly the run to Calais was a very different experience, but once we escaped the tourist track, we could relax and the weather made it even more enjoyable with the sun shining down on us.

Entrance to the tearoom

Entrance to the tearoom

Our first stop was to see the wonderful Judy of Tea Together and her jams. What an incredible couple she makes with her husband. They have created a life that is like something out of a film. In the tiny village of St Remy au Bois stands their home and kitchen supporting what looks to be an idyllic lifestyle. All the jams are made traditionally in copper pans and the fruit is brought back over from the orchards of Kent. Somewhere amongst the horses, the chickens, the maran eggs, the hydrangeas, the dogs and the stunningly eclectic house of theirs we enjoyed tea together and came away with the energy and vibrancy that this team instil. Their new tearooms are a destination that you must look up. Just fabulous.

Honfleur harbour

Honfleur harbour

Judy gave us lots of recommendations and we made our way around the coastline to explore a few but knew that we needed to get to our first pit stop in Honfleur so prioritised that which was a good decision as it was twinkling away in the sunset. This port and harbour have managed to retain their originality and charm despite the tourist trade and we enjoyed a simple fish supper before retiring to bed. The next morning we discovered the shops of the local produce including colourful designer tins of local sardines and shops dedicated to caramels – what’s wrong with that? It is the apples/pears and the dairy in this part of the world that is well known and the butter along with the local salt make the most perfect caramels. It all seemed to make sense.

After that we went on the hunt for cheese. We trundled through Pont L’Eveque and Livarot (neither really worth the trip) towards Camembert where we discovered a museum dedicated to the cheese. In a very basic way this museum brought the history of the cheese to our attention. Created in the 18th century by one woman, Marie Harel, the cheese developed with the onset of penicillin and also the unique wooden box it is transported in. It became the most popular in the country after it was given to all the soldiers in the war and now holds AOC and PDO status for all the obvious reasons. A small cheese tasting seemed in order before we carried on our way.

Home for a few days

Home for a few days

I had discovered an article on a gem of a place to stay in the lesser known region of Le Perche. We were thankful that it was less known to tourists and made our way to D’Une Ile, or The Island as it translates and an idyllic island it certainly is. An old farm estate has been resurrected by a young Dutch couple who have a design and a chef background each. A set of 9 cottages are each uniquely decorated with pared back simplicity and an eye for detail making it the most perfect place to just stop. The estate is so pretty and the rooms so cool and calm it is easy to forget the world for a few days and embrace the countryside in all its natural glory.

Dinner was served in the courtyard that night – one plate, lots of flavours and regional wines to suit. We fell into bed with a smile in our hearts and slept like babies.

VM the French way

VM the French way

The next few days we made a point of discovering the area. Saturday was obviously market day and here we were able to see how the locals shop. No supermarkets here (give or take the odd BonMarche). Just market stall holders selling wares: cheese, meat, roast chicken, fruit, veg, tomatoes, nougat – you name it they have it. In the UK we talk the talk of seasonal local and here it is their way of life. It always has been. Simple. Unpretentious. Often abrupt. But the shoppers, mostly women, know their stuff. They buy their weekly shop here, armed with a basket and a clarity of thought about what is right to buy now, in July.

Our picnic - the before pic

Our picnic – the before pic

We returned that day with Le Pique Nique which we installed overlooking the view across the estate. Simple local cheeses, baguette, a knarly tomato, bottle of Rose…and glorious sunshine. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Does it?

...and after!

…and after!

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I sometimes wonder if it is ever possible to come up with something genuinely new in the food world. Of course, there are unusual flavour combinations defined as fusion food, or a merging of two things into one, like the cronut. We are now so engaged with food that all we can do is merge ideas into something which gives added value or a quirky marketing message, rather than create new news.

I know that my mind works on the combinations, connecting the dots in an unusual way. I like to open myself up to seeing what is out there and some time after, whether it’s in the bath or in a subconscious dream, I come up with something that I think will make a difference in my little food retail world. The hardest thing is to figure out whether it is madness or something that would actually catch on.

So when I proposed a new way to do picnics to the team at Melrose and Morgan, it was with trepidation. Over the past few months, we have honed and developed that initial thought into something that we launch on Monday and that is really exciting for me.

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The Cheese Board including M’s baby buffalo brie

 

The idea came from a wide variety of thoughts and experiences. It was a nod to the fact that we all like to bespoke our food these days, that a picnic can feed a lot of people and you need to offer choice, and something that is flexible for my team to talk about in the shops. We pulled the concept together under a ‘PicMix and Match’ banner, creating a range of boards: cheese, meat, fish, vegetarian, sweet, including products from new suppliers to us including a baby buffalo brie from my friend M and wonderful cured meats from Cobble Lane Cured. They all come parcelled up so ideal for one or two, or you can stack them up together to build a really great picnic for lots to share.

I guess the idea is, as I said in my introduction, not a new one. But the really interesting thing for me was to see the concept in my head evolve, whilst working with the team, into a new design that I am so excited about. The trays themselves were difficult to source, as I find most packaging is. You really have to wade through a lot of samples to get both the sizes, quality, spec and price just right. But that was nothing compared to the outer wrap which hung the whole concept together.

There is no doubt if you trawl the internet and review Pinterest for packaging that cardboard engineered wrappers have evolved over the years. You can see some of the products that inspired me on my board here. But there is a very long journey to be taken from having something in your mind to figuring out how to deliver hundreds of them into your shop within a couple of months.

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Clever local map idea from N

 

Our in house designer really did embrace the brief and brought it to life quickly. My marketing colleague spent many an hour folding bits of A4 paper into strange origami shapes that looked like mini handbags to see how we could design the mechanic. N had a brainwave for the inside print and the Chairman figured out how to seal the boxes properly. What none of us had fully appreciated was the role of the engineer in all this. Sadly my A level Physics allowed me to see where the fault was, but not how to solve it. We were able to stack up the boxes with the right weight inside, but as we ‘travel tested’ (read swinging stacks of cardboard trays in an outer around the office) the handle was not holding the weight. It was my sheer pig headedness that forced us not to drop the idea. We could easily have resorted to what we did last year, but one of the things I love about Melrose and Morgan is the fact that they have been leaders in their field from the very first shop which opened over ten years ago. So I kept on pushing.

Three weeks ago we had our final meeting. We had the contents sorted, the margins calculated, the inner trays sourced and the supplier on board to deliver the outers. Samples were sent. Cardboard mock ups were coated, different thicknesses and finishes on hand and we stacked up the boxes ready to fling around the office. I have to admit I was barely peeking out of the corner of my eye fearing that the handle would once again give and my concept would be thwarted. But wait. One small swing and all looked fine – two, three….in fact we gave that outer the time of it’s life and yes. It was fine!

One week later we were sending a sample to the Evening Standard which resulted in this. And at the end of last week, we had all our staff trained and excited about selling this new picnic selection.

So please, pop in or call us at Melrose and Morgan and enjoy a new PicMix and Match. It is something I am very proud of and I hope you will be too.

The back of the outer with our favourite London picnic spots

The back of the outer with our favourite London picnic spots

 

When I worked at M&S we had recurrent campaigns which were based around celebrating the producers of our product. Sometimes it was ‘Meet the Farmer’ and others ‘For the love of food…’ but always a connection to what makes food great. Nowadays, knowing the producer has become almost more important than the variety or product itself with food media clamouring to find the heroes of the food world, so that they can build a story that excites you, the public. I guess that’s why just such a campaign appears in most supermarkets these days.

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I am a big advocate of story telling and I am normally pretty inspired when I see the people who are involved in my industry. It’s not an easy industry to work in and generally is not one to drive great wealth or indeed fame. Working with food is hard graft. It is a 24/7 thing and often has to be addressed at pace as a food product is either growing, or charging head first towards its expiry date.

I was having an interesting conversation the other week about the people the food industry attracts with Orlando Murrin, who used to be the Editor of BBC Good Food magazine, founded Olive magazine and is now a respected trainer & consultant in the field. We were discussing the different characters working in various industries. Without being too cliched about it, the Devil Wears Prada-esque fashionistas are all too familiar to us and inevitably the beauty industry attracts its own unique people by default as you are selling beauty. Menswear are apparently unique in other ways and home…well I won’t go on. But we both agreed that the food industry was different and that those working here are generally good honest folk just trying to do good.

So when my path crosses with someone that I know as a hero in my food world, I am normally a little in awe. They are generally a little bit arrogant, incredibly obsessive, single minded, opinionated and went into their field for something oh so much more than the money. They genuinely wanted to do a good thing by food. It might be rearing animals, producing yummy things or creating a fabby food experience, but it always has a reason and cause which is compelling to me.

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Thus it was fascinating to spend time this weekend with Charles Martell, he of Stinking Bishop fame. Mr. M was once a livestock driver who encountered the Gloucester cow in 1972 and was hooked. He discovered that there were literally only 68 of these cows left in the world and knew that someone had to do something. Here lies the first lesson of our food hero. Most of us wouldn’t even give it a second thought and even if we did, would not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. But thank God for people like Mr. M. He made it his life’s work to save the cows indigenous to his British home county of Gloucestershire, starting with a small herd that he nurtured on his farm in Dymock.

He knew that these cows produced great cheese making milk so started a business making cheese with absolutely no experience whatsoever, creating a Double Gloucester from the Gloucester cow that naturally caught the imagination of the aforementioned food media. From such humble beginnings grew a dairy that now creates both single and double Gloucester, but also the now famous  Stinking Bishop cheese – officially the UK’s smelliest cheese. Charles was instinctively creating his story every single day simply because he was making great decisions about his business. The Stinking Bishop process was created through trial and error harking back to the history of the Cistercian monks who used to make cheese that way. And now it is a multi award winning cheese.

“If you make something that you are proud of, … something with a story and a purpose, people will travel to get their hands on it.”

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He chose to use local perry to wash the rind and that not only gives the unique smell but also adds to the flavour of the cheese. Latterly a similar process was used for his ewe’s milk Nuns of Caen, washing this with their own vintage pear spirit. I can vouch for the fact that this is a little milder than the original but just as soft and absolutely addictive. No wonder it won the award for best modern British cheese in the British Cheese Awards this year.

After saving the local cows, Charles went on to further the legacy of the local apple, plum and pear trees which are so integral to his business. He discovered that many native Gloucestershire varieties were dying out so set about resurrecting them. His orchards now grow over 100 different apple varieties, and over 70 varieties of local perry pear, which obviously come in handy in the cheese production.

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As he researched more and more about them, he discovered that one of the historic outbuildings on his beautiful farm was originally a distillery dating back to the 1600’s. As you would expect, that is a discovery that has to be celebrated in Charles’ world. And so began a new arm of his business: the county’s oldest spirit-making site producing fermented perry pears, cider and perry in the most exquisite still I have seen. Always keen to follow history, Charles’ still house is apparently the oldest one still operating today and appealing to his sense of story, he employs the youngest distiller in the country to make his product. You can read more about the production of his newest venture into spirits here.

The beautiful historic building on the farm

The beautiful historic building on the farm taking in yesterdays glorious sunshine

Yesterday I felt very lucky to be sitting at Charles’ kitchen table having a try of the newly awarded Nuns of Caen as we supped coffee – not the best pairing one could ask for but wow! that cheese really is something. And so is the man himself. We just took in the beautiful setting, the flurry of nature that wandered in front of his window and the words of experience that came forth.

Today I leave my last words to the handsome, wise and inspirational Charles Martell:

“Do what you love doing and do it well – reward will follow”

 

After a few NYE celebratory disasters, I opted to host dinner last night. It was a great excuse to dust down the cookery books and make some of those dishes that really are meant for a special occasion. I actually love the ritual of preparing for just such an evening especially when your friends are so receptive and last night was no exception.

After much planning, shopping, prepping and fussing, the menu was:

roasted beetroot and ricotta salad with caramelised pecans

coulibiac with saffron rice, baked fennel & green beans

butterscotch budino with caramel sauce and rosemary pine nut cookies

The starter was conceived around M’s wonderful fresh buffalo milk ricotta cheese which she brought with her direct from the dairy. What better way to celebrate something so special that to match with earthy freshly baked beetroot and the crunch of sweet pecan nuts? I added peppery rocket and a simple sherry vinegar and olive oil dressing. I also found some wonderful fresh red wine and fig sourdough bread at Gail’s bakery which was a perfect match.

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The Coulibiac is one of those dishes that I wheel out when I have time to make it. I have to admit that my first thought was to do my roast duck dish with quince sauce (a stalwart Moro recipe that is always a hit), but when I rang Richard Waller to order one of his fabulous Aylesbury ducks, his wife told me they had sold out after a manic build up to Christmas so they were taking a break and next ducks would only be available in February. Who knew duck was getting to be so popular as an alternative Christmas centrepiece?

My Coulibiac recipe is one of those paper copies that sit in the back of my recipe scrapbook from years gone by. I can’t for the life of me remember how I got it, but it is a Michel Roux version that has many elements and is 4 pages long, so I am not going to replicate it here. I have to admit that I immediately bypass the brioche dough element and buy all butter puff pastry, but after that I am true to the recipe, preparing the rice, onion, mushroom, pancake, egg and fish elements the day before so that it is a simple compilation job on the day.

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As for dessert, well this one was inspired by Nancy Silverton and her wonderful LA restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza. Ever since I tasted this dessert in LA some 5 years ago, I have wanted to try it out at home. Once again, it is a recipe of many parts most of which can be made up in advance but with two layers on the biscuit and three layers in the dessert, the preparation takes time… but it’s worth it!

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The evening closed with a New Year tip from my wonderful Spanish friend. She told me it was tradition as the clock strikes twelve to eat a grape for each strike, so you have to gobble twelve grapes in time to Big Ben and then make a wish. After a not so fun 2013, I hope she is right and that all our wishes will come true.

Merry 2014 everyone.