Cheese. Who doesn’t love it? (Well, of course there are those who don’t … including my younger son who can smell it at a hundred yards. As a child he’d enter a room and stop as if hitting an invisible screen. Making one of those noises of disgust that only a small boy can, he’d boom: “somebody’s been eating cheese!”. He’d cover his face dramatically and run from the room). But by and large, people do like cheese and I know from the discussions we have at Slimming World that, for many people, it can cause a rather weighty problem. Can you believe that in the UK we eat something in the region of 600,000 tons each year plus an additional 100,000 of cottage cheese and fromage frais? So from whence did cheese originate? According to the American National Historic Cheese Centre we can’t be certain but it’s certainly been around for a long time. Evidence of cheese making has been found in the drawings of ancient Egyptian tombs and is mentioned in Greek mythology. But how was it discovered that milk could become cheese?
“According to an ancient legend, [cheese] was made accidentally by an Arabian merchant who put his supply of milk into a pouch made from a sheep’s stomach, as he set out on a day’s journey across the desert. The rennet in the lining of the pouch, combined with the heat of the sun, caused the milk to separate into curd and whey. That night he found that the whey satisfied his thirst, and the cheese (curd) had a delightful flavor which satisfied his hunger.” (International Dairy Foods Association)
I buy (and unfortunately consume – though not as much as I’d like to) a fair proportion of that 100,000 tons! With more than 700 British made cheeses* to choose from including our own British versions of Mozzarella, Brie and Camembert, there’s always a difficult choice to be made.
Quiches and flans including Slimming World crustless quiche which is made with cottage cheese or quark are always popular in my house. I prefer quark as the cottage cheese version can sometimes be a touch watery. I first came across quark many years ago when my mother-in-law made cheesecakes with it. In those days it had to be bought from the health food shop as no supermarket, it seemed, had heard of it. Essentially a cooking cheese (it can be eaten as it is but it’s pretty revolting) it’s a useful, very low calorie/low fat substitute for cream cheese in almost any recipe. Talking of cooking cheeses, I love a salty halloumi. My local pub offers battered halloumi and it’s delicious.
Cheese with crackers and a tasty chutney makes a great supper – I do like a good strong cheddar. Tesco Finest Vintage is great, though on a visit to a specialist cheese shop (we don’t have one locally) I’ll come away with several interesting local varieties. Pilgrim’s choice extra mature is a good choice for making a sauce or using in a cheese & potato pie. Babybel lights are great for a low calorie snack (40 calories or 3 for a HE-A choice if you’re a Slimming World member).A mature Stilton or Shropshire Blue with a few walnuts and sticks of celery – oh YUM! And although I’ve only eaten a few times, I love the slight sweetness of an Italian Provelone, and also enjoy Jarlsberg (Norwegian) which is milder, but has a similar sweetness. Gruyere is a must for French Onion Soup.
My favourite cheese is Parmesan, a mere infant in the cheese family having been around for only(!) 500 years. Used to top roasted garlic & chilli cherry tomatoes on crusty bread (a Mediterranean one with olives or a jalapeno pepper one compliments the other flavours well) it tastes wonderful. I should own up here – I never make this – it’s Husband’s speciality and one of my favourite (if not the favourite) things to eat. It’s an expensive product so if I’m following a recipe that calls for it as an ingredient rather than an accompaniment I’ll use the Tesco version of Italian hard cheese. Nothing beats the original though if you want to eat it as it comes.
Today it’s possible to buy ‘cheese’ in vegetarian and vegan versions and I recently ventured out to buy a vegan version for a guest but the plastic-looking, bright yellow lump did not entice me so I left it on the shelf. I’m assured by said guest that it’s actually ok. Maybe next time.
Cheese is not, of course, only for eating but also for rolling down hills. I’ve no doubt that some of my non-English readers think they’ve misread that. But it’s true – at an annual event which takes place on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, a Double Gloucester cheese weighing around 9lbs, is given a one second start and is rolled from the top and locals chase after it! The cheese has reached speeds of up to 70 miles an hour, and people have been injured trying to keep up with it. The winner wins the cheese which has fortunately been protected in a wooden casing.
Quite why anyone ever thought this a good idea isn’t completely clear. Two theories exist; the first that it evolved from a requirement regarding grazing rights on common land, and the second that it reflects the pagan fertility custom of hill rolling food items to encourage the fruits of the harvest. The first recorded reference dates from 1826, though the document makes clear that it was already an ancient tradition.
* British Cheese Board