Monday, 21 September 2009

The Stur Cheese Festival

We awoke to a gorgeous September Saturday last weekend and were all up and out of the house to get to the cheese festival before the majority of the crowd. We've made this annual pilgrimage to Sturminster Newton (locally known as Stur) with some very good, equally cheese-mad friends for a few years now although, sadly, last year's festival was cancelled because the ground was too wet to pitch tents. None of that this year thankfully and what a day we had in store.

The festival focuses on UK cheeses, predominantly from Southern England and a smattering of other stalls are thrown in with it - Dorset Coffee Co, Peppers by Post (who had some gorgeous, really colourful chilli plants on their stall), Hogs Bottom Garden Delights (chutney), Bridport Gourmet Pies (husband salivating at this one), Olives et al and the Somerset Cider Brandy Co to name just a few.

We arrived as the festival was opening and soon implemented our usual plan of attack - the morning was spent tasting cheese and some of the wares from the other food stalls, all the while eyeing up a bit of cheese, bread, chutney and pie (gin and rabbit this year) for lunch on a hay bail in front of the band. It has become traditional to wash lunch down with a pint of the local beer or cider and this year was no exception. In the afternoon we browsed the craft stalls and other goings-on which, this year, included fire-throwing and Punch and Judy which the children lapped up.

So, to my favourite cheese of which there were many: I particularly liked the unpasteurised cow's milk cheeses from Cranborne Chase Cheese ( - Eldren, a fresh lactic cheese which is incredibly lemony, was my absolute favourite. When I returned to their stand, mid-afternoon to collect my purchases, they were 'fresh' out of cheese so I was glad I'd had the forethought to buy as I tasted.

Another fresh, unpasteurised cow's milk cheese which very much appealed to me was from the Windswept Cow Cheese Company, based in Worth Matravers near Swanage (no website) - really fresh and creamy. Both this and the Eldren would be perfect for a light cheeseboard after a heavy dinner party.

Two old favourites were there at the festival - Westcombe Cheddar, with a very attractive-looking stall with huge truckles of cheese on display and the Exmoor Blue Cheese Company, with their fabulous blues and showing a new recipe, goat's cheese marinated in oil with herbs and garlic (there's some in my fridge waiting for an appropriate moment for it to be devoured on crusty bread or toast).

Two other cheese stands that I really enjoyed visiting were Wootton Organic Dairy - their soft, unpasteurised sheep's milk cheese, Little Ryding, is to die for and was definitely my husband's favourite, judging by the rate he's been getting through it this last week. And we came back to the first cheese we tasted as our choice for a lunch cheese - Old Winchester Extra Mature from Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers near Romsey. A bit like a matured Gouda, it is made from the milk of the farm's herd of 180 Holstein Fresians.

Once again, a fantastic day out which was greatly helped by the sunshine. We went home, very happy with our cheese selections, and made the most of the day with a barbecue followed by, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather large cheeseboard accompanied by the inevitable wine matching!

Friday, 11 September 2009

A simple aubergine lunch

For the first time this summer, I've grown aubergine plants (the baby variety) and have looked after them like a woman possessed, hoping for a great crop of one of my favourite vegetables. They've spent five months sitting on either the kitchen windowsill or in front of our French windows, both of which face due south, benefitting from what little sun we've seen in this part of the world. Imagine my excitement when an aubergine actually started to form and was then followed by not one, but two more. I thought I'd got this aubergine-growing thing cracked but three aubergines was where it stopped and today I picked my huge yield and devoured the lot for lunch.

First I sliced them in half and baked them in the oven with olive oil which left them juicy, soft and plump. In a small pan, I sautéed some finely sliced garlic with a little chopped green chilli and spring onions. This mixture was then sprinkled over the aubergine halves with some freshly squeezed lime juice and a small handful of oregano, freshly picked from the garden. The resulting dish was absolutely delicious as the aubergines were so full of flavour. I didn't have a glass of wine with lunch today as I was on my own and nothing was open. If I had partaken of a glass, however, I would have gone for an Italian Fiano (white) or perhaps an Albariño from Spain. If you wanted to add a bit more depth to the dish, some crumbled feta would be great with it and then I would go for something really cleansing to offset the saltiness of the cheese - a dry Riesling from South Australia or a Sauvignon Blanc would work well.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Pork Belly, Pommes Dauphinoise & a note about the Morteau Sausage

It's hard to believe that it's the end of the seven-week summer holidays. The children are back to school tomorrow and I'm back to work, although I haven't had anything like the whole seven weeks off that they've enjoyed, sadly. Getting back into the routine tomorrow morning could be something of a shock. Anyway, we made the most of our last day and cooked a great Sunday lunch of roast belly pork (the pork was bought at our local farmshop), cabbage and runner beans which I picked up at a country fair yesterday and pommes dauphinoise. To go with it, and very well it drank too, a 2001 Pinot Noir from Pommard, just south of Beaune in Burgundy. The lunch was a fitting and filling end to the holidays (great crackling!) and the next activity on our agenda was a very long walk.

If you remember the Morteau smoked sausage I picked up in Poligny on the way home from the Jura, just a short note about what I did with it: I cooked it a couple of weeks ago in white wine, garlic, carrots and herbs and served it on a bed of puy lentils. It was pretty tasty - I liked the smokiness of the sausage - but the earth didn't move. We drank another red Burgundy with it, an Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2006, which coped admirably.