Monday, August 27, 2012

Potted Cheese

The only thing I liked about Christmas as a child was the cheese. I could do without the family gatherings (that always ended in screaming, door slamming, and other hostilities), the rationed sweets, and presents that were typically very expensive dolls that you put on a shelf rather than play with-but the cheese was mine and mine alone.

So yeah, this is going to turn into one of those Proustian, "Oh I ate something years ago and it keeps triggering memories of childhood, isn't that interesting" sort of posts, so if that annoys you, this would be a good time to click over to Pet Shaming or something.

My dad had a customer that made a sort of potted cheese with port wine and really excellent mature cheddar. I know what you're thinking-particularly if you are American-but it wasn't that stuff. That stuff is vile. The brown crockery jar filled with potted cheese that my dad toted home from Wisconsin each Christmas was special beyond words. I've tried reproducing it at home, but never came close-how do you reproduce 1974 in the American Midwest and present it in a brown glazed crock that looked like it had been tossed on a potting wheel by some commune living hippie in Madison. No amount of cheddar, wine, and Grateful Dead records could possibly capture the magic that was contained within that deceptively simple looking jar.

No one in my family would touch the stuff. They'd eat Salisbury steak from a frozen metal tray, pickled cockles, and Jordan almonds so old they'd gone soft like taffy-but oh no, not some strange potted cheese. Ahem, I think we all know who ate the cheese.

Each year, Dad would show up a few days before Christmas bearing the crock of cheese, and I'd forgo the niceties of crackers (because all we ever had was saltines or melba toast that could break your teeth) and tuck in with the largest spoon I could lay hands on. Sometimes, I'd cut up an apple if I was feeling middle class. There was so much booze in that cheese you could catch a buzz. I loved how the cheese could be pulled out in uneven hunks rather than being a soft spread. In a few days it would be gone, and no Christmas cake or pudding could make me forget it would be another year until the cheese appeared again.

So forty years later, I think I have a really good potted cheese recipe, but it still can't approach the cheese of Christmas past. The Old Foodie had been talking about potted cheese, and then Neil Cooks Grigson made potted cheese, and before long I was digging through the kitchen cabinets looking for a crockery jar (why did I never save those crocks? What was I thinking? Any Deadheads out there know how to throw pots that want to make me a cheese jar?). I ended up using a rice bowl with bunnies on it, which seems a bit of an indignity, given how wonderful this cheese is.

I combined a mature cheddar, a very mild sheep's milk cheese (a Gouda style) port wine, mace, butter, and pepper. I then potted it, covered it with a layer of clarified butter, and forgot about it for a few days. What I dug out of the bowl and slathered across a Vinta cracker (I purchase better crackers than my parents, though I'm not too grown up to eat this with a spoon) was the sort of cheese that makes you stop, look at the cheese and wonder if you really made that, or if the cheese fairies broke into your kitchen and started throwing together cheese and magical cheese fairy seasonings. It was that good. Really. Now I need some Cheshire, though I'm the only one that will eat it ("eeewww, I don't like it, that cheese is sour and gone off, eeewww."). Fools, though that does leave me free to indulge without social pressure to share.

So now I have potted cheese, a black bun, and my mind is clearly in the winter months, odd given the temperature being in the 90's at present. Someone had better stop me before I bake parkin (I made stem ginger in syrup today as well).

No comments: