Doha cheese guide
Mike Britton, Jones the Grocer's cheese guru, shares his cheese tips 1 Comments
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So, how did you become the Cheese Guy?
After coming from a really boring job in insurance, I had a friend who managed this delicatessen, and I used to do a lot of Saturdays there. I sort of adopted the cheese section, purely through love and indulgence of cheese! I just taught myself. I didn’t have a clue to be honest, apart from what tasted good in my opinion. And fortunately I pretty much liked everything.
Cheese 101: how many kinds are there?
There are four or five different varieties. There are soft cheeses, semi soft, semi hard, hard and blue. Most people will know some of those cheeses: most people will know stilton or a cheddar or a brie. Stilton is a blue cheese, cheddar is a hard cheese, and brie is a soft cheese. Some of the semi soft cheeses would be the rind washed cheeses, they’re just washed in a juice and that flavour filters through. They’re usually the really pongy cheeses.
What’s the appeal of that? We’ve never understood eating something that smells like feet (on a good day)
Once you get inside that cheese, you have actually a very very creamy, flavoured product. Just dig in! You just have to get over the smell.
If it already smells that way, how do we know when it’s been in our fridge too long?
You will get a very pink mold, a very black mold, if they’re over ripe soft cheeses for example they’ll go very hard on the outside, and that’s not how they should be. They should be very soft, very gooey. It’s not that you can’t eat them, but they just won’t be very nice. And some of them go particularly smelly. For instance, some of the bries will go, the camembert will go hard and sort of really ammonia smelling. You would just be a little bit repulsed by it. Some French man somewhere will probably want to eat that and be ok! I’ve seen cheese that’s so smelly, and they even have little worms inside, and that’s sold like that. For me, that’s a bit too far!
But you don’t draw the line at mold...
I don’t know whether it’s the sharpness [of blue cheeses],they also have a slight creaminess, the length that it lingers on your tongue, it tingles in the back of your nose like when you have wasabi or chili, it’s an addiction. Something like truffles or caviar, these sort of exquisite almost not perfect and beautiful flavours, it’s something that’s almost exclusive. I really don’t know how else to describe it. It’s a bit more advanced I think. It’s almost a culinary status that you’ve gone to the extreme. I think that’s it. It’s like ‘I’m going to have my really smelly cheese’.
So mold is good?
If it’s a mold that’s similar to the colour of the natural mold that’s forming, it’s fine. If you’ve cut your cheese, a brie for instance, and it’s starting to grow the white mold that you see on the front facing, it’s not a problem. On the blues, if you start to get a fluffy blue around, it’s the same. Even if it’s fluffy, you just wipe it off. If you look inside a cross section of a blue cheese, you’ll see that kind of intense blue, green that if you saw it on top of yogurt in your fridge you’d just be repulsed and throw it away. But on these types of cheeses it’s meant to be there—it’s what gives them that lovely flavour.
You’ve now just confirmed that my mom was right all those years she insisted you could just lop the moldy bit off. Drat.
It just depends on the colour. So don’t tell your mother, give it a go and you’ll be fine! Don’t’ waste that lovely cheese!
What about that rind? Are you meant to eat it? Leave it on the plate?
It depends. Certainly with your cloth wrapped cheeses you need to take it off before you serve it. With your mild or slightly less ripe soft cheeses, you can eat the rind. I’ve seen people who are eating the rind of the manchego, which is coated in wax but they’re still popping it in their mouths. Until your rind is getting a very florescent pink or a very black mould, it’s probably ok. Some people just prefer not to.
So break this down: what are some good ‘starter’ cheeses?
If somebody didn’t have a clue, I would just give them some of the milder flavours to begin with. I wouldn’t want to put a really smelly blue or roquefort on their plate and them not enjoy it. The truffle brie we have at the moment is excellent—it’s very very creamy, it’s very ripe the one we have now, and it’s a good way of sort of introducing people to quite a full flavour but it’s creamy so they’re not going to be completely taken aback by it. The cantal which is a really old French cheese, I think it’s about an eight or nine hundred year old recipe, this is a nice mild agreeable cheese, but a bit more depth of flavour. It’s like a mild cheddar, but with more depth. Another place to start is the really creamy cheeses that mix well with a sharp fruit paste. And maybe we’d put a cheddar in there as well, especially if they’re from the UK or America, they’re comfortable with that. Manchego is another sheep’s milk cheese. People always get a bit ‘ew goats cheese, sheep’s cheese’ but sheep’s cheese is actually creamier and milder with just a slight farmyard-y taste. Something like a goat’s cheese which can be quite full on, much more sour. They’re always good places to start.
Right so take the training wheels off: what’s next if we’re learning about cheese?
Then you go with cheeses that have depth of flavour. You certainly work into your vintage cheddars. Vintage cheddar is something that’s been aged in cloth. For instance we have an 18 month old extra mature, and we have a two and a half year old vintage. The cave aged is also about two years old. You find that it wouldn’t be as strong as the extra mature, which you would expect it to be, it just has a great depth of flavour and will last longer on you palate. If you keep eating and eating and eating it you’ll find that it will linger. And it’s much drier as well, while a mature cheese is a little moister. Certainly brie would come next. Everybody loves a brie, but maybe you’d give them something that’s a bit riper. As soon as you cut it it will start oozing off, and it will be a bit pongy. Some of the rind washed cheeses, the milder ones, like saint nectaire, maybe a morbier, a mont comte is a fantastic 18 month old French cheese that has tiny little salt crystals on it, a little bit tangy, a little bit sharp. Also in that range probably at the far end of that is beufort, which is a raw milk cheese that has quite a stinky rind, but when you eat it it has a really nice mild flavour, with a tang of the smell.
Once we’ve mastered those, how do we prove our foody worth? What are the full on cheeses?
Roquefort. Always roqueforts. It’s almost the king of blue cheeses. Some of the stiltons, shropshire blue we have at the moment, that’s a very very nice strong lovely cheese. You could move on to the slightly smellier rind washed cheeses. The stinking bishop for example, raquette is a nice melty cheese but very smelly.
How do you eat this stuff? Does it involve a cracker (everything is, after all, better on a ritz)
We offer a bread and a really simple plain cracker. I prefer mine to be just simple, on a plain cracker. I think keep it simple, and that’s what we serve on the table here. Baguette and simple crackers. I think when it comes to cheese, people think they know, from the scientific facts, they go ‘oh you must do this’ or ‘oh you must do that’, or they try to flavour cheese with really weird things. Just keep it pure, keep it simple, that’s the best way to enjoy cheese. We have fruit paste, we have walnuts, we little dried figs we call figlets [miniature dried figs], which is a very cute name and seriously addicting, sour cherries, and the crackers. And mix and match, or just keep it very very simple depending on what your taste is.
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