Tuesday, 25 September 2012

British Cheese

Get the poster and support British Cheese Week

Oh my word, without even realising it I am in the middle of British Cheese Week and I have not mentioned anything about Britain or cheese! As I tuck into my Cheddar and Red Leicester sandwich I shall rectify this immediately.

From the moment I started eating cheese I was hooked. I began as I imagine most British children do with the hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Red Leicester, Gloucestershire etc. before progressing to the more grown up cheeses (after I got over the 'I don't eat anything with mould or bits in it' phase) of Stilton, Stinking Bishop, Yarg and Y Fenni amongst others.

I was a little unpatriotic in my cheese eating at one point, preferring French Brie and Camembert, Italian Gorgonzola and DolceLatte and the Dutch waxed cheeses of Edam and Gouda to anything British. I was rescued from this sorry state of affairs by the cheese man in High Wycombe market. He had such an array of British cheeses, of which I would taste and take away a couple each week (whilst the cheeseman made sure that 'Wallace and Gromit' as he called them, my erstwhile husband and dog, had a little nibble as as well) that I took a far more balanced approach to my cheese consumption. I now mix my intake between British and continental cheeses but as this is BRITISH CHEESE WEEK I shall share some of my favourite British cheeses with you.


Versatile and the staple of many a sandwich you cannot say anything bad about Cheddar. I like the strong, crumbly versions to be eaten on their own or snuggled up next to a pickled onion but the less crumbly, milder types are good for the cheese and pickle sandwich unwrapped from its clingfilm or foil on a windswept beach on England's south coast.

Y Fenni

This was one that the High Wycombe cheeseman can take credit for introducing me to. The mustard seeds and ale add a lovely zing to the cheddar base. I have this with a sweet cracker or biscuit and a glass of red wine. Perfect.
Author: Dave Crosby
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


When I moved to North Devon just a few miles from the Cornish border I found in my village shop a cheese called Yarg wrapped in nettle leaves. I think I ate the whole shop stock in a couple of weeks. This cheese gives me several cheeses in one - the edible mouldy rind; the soft creamy cheese just under the rind, and the crumbly texture in the centre. It's only made in one place, Lynher Dairies in Cornwall. There is also a Wild Garlic Yarg which I have yet to try but have just made a mental note to order.
Wild Garlic Yarg
Author: Tristen Ferne
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Lanark Blue

A blue sheep's cheese and every time I have eaten it, it has tasted slightly different. This I am told is because the ewe's milk is affected by seasonal changes to their diet. I like the idea that the taste is so closely related to its source. Lanark Blue is made in Scotland at Braehead of Walston Farm.

These are just a few of my favourite British cheeses and I haven't even touched on Irish cheeses or goats cheeses. There is so much variety in flavour, texture and technique available in the British Isles that I fear I may not have time enough to taste them all...but I am going to have a bloody good go!

For all things cheese related  and to find out more about British Cheese Week go to www.thecheeseweb.com

P.S. On the theme of Britain my next four posts will be about dishes from the British Isles and Ireland with some rather tasty recipes.

Durban, South Africa - Biltong

Durban's Golden Mile

On South Africa’s east coast sits Durban, the largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. A busy port it is one of the most ethincally and culturally diverse cities of South Africa. Zulus are the largest ethnic group, with large numbers of Indians and white English and Afrikaans speakers also making Durban their home. This diversity of heritage is shown in the food that is available in this vibrant city.
Durban City Hall

With friends living in Durban I have been lucky enough to visit the city on several occasions, at one time sitting my accountancy exams at the University (when my plans had gone awry, not for the first time!). Driving through the city food markets could be seen filling open spaces, with spices galore as the Indians brought their food heritage to bear. Durban Curry and Bunny Chow are two curry recipes that bring together the elements of the Indian/South African heritage and make for a very tasty meal.

I used to like to visit the Biltong man with his stall in one of the shopping centres. For centuries man had been trying to find ways to preserve meat.  Pickling, salting and curing were the best ways to keep meat edible for long periods. During the seventeenth century as Africa fell under colonial rule, Dutch settlers brought recipes with them for dried meat. The raw meat is sliced, spiced and dried in the sun to create thick chewy slices of meat. The word biltong was created from the Dutch for rump – bil – and strip – tong.

As the Dutch settlers, Voortrekkers, moved north-eastward away from the British rule into the interior of South Africa the need for preserved meat was pressing and biltong was the answer. There may well have been other ways of preserving meat in Africa but biltong is the one that has stood the test of time. It is not just beef that is the preserve of biltong (forgive the pun) but any game meat or ostrich will do. I could have put the biltong man out of business with my penchant for tasting all the different varieties on offer but without fail I would walk away from his stall with a bag load of it to chew on.

Quiet beach in KwaZulu-Natal
As the settlers on their Great Trek knew, biltong is a portable meal that does not go off (not for a couple of years at any rate) and it was very handy to have in the backpack when we set off on trips along the coast. On one such trip we stayed at the house of a friend just to the north of Durban. We would all wake early, bathe in the sea which was also a good way to shake off the hangover and after breakfast everyone but me would return to their bunks for another snooze. It was therefore solely my pleasure, as I sat on the verenda reading, to be witness to the dolphins and whales playing in the surf as they made their way along the coast every day. As the dolphins jumped and surfed through the waves, the whales would rise in the deeper water blowing spouts of water before diving back under. It is an abiding memory.

Biltong remains a firm favourite of mine and whilst I have not been back to South Africa for a few years I cannot walk past a South Africa shop without dipping in and coming back out with arms full of biltong. I could, of course, make my own if I so chose. 


The recipe below is an adaptation of a High Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe but the taste, particularly if fully cured, is very reminiscent of the snacks I enjoyed in Durban.


500g rump beef cut into strips along the grain of the meat – the thinner the strip, the drier the biltong

The curing rub

2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seed, toasted and ground
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 tbsp malt vinegar


Mix the spices together and sprinkle then coat the meat in them.  Rub the spices in so that the meat absorbs the flavours. Put into a dish, sprinkle the vinegar over the meat, and then refrigerate for 6 hours or so.  

Shake off any loose seasoning and pat the meat dry with kitchen roll. Hang each strip of biltong in a warm, dry place for at least four days. If you want the biltong to be harder then leave it for longer. Make sure the area in which you are hanging the meat is free from flies.

The biltong will now be semi-dried and will keep for a couple of weeks. To completely dry it either place it in the sun with a good flow of air or if the weather. If the weather is not suitable put it in a very low oven with the meat hanging from the top shelf until fully dried.

Enjoy whenever the urge takes you!


To store the biltong keep it in waxed paper or a sealed food bag in a cool place.


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