Tag: Ireland

Who is Killing the Cheese Makers? Part Two


Formaggio-di-Malga-Stravecchio-36-mesi2-lowres
36-month old Malga Stravecchio

Producing cheese from raw milk and natural rennet, heat and fermentation is older than history. Archaeologists and historians have an idea when it started. That idea, or story if you prefer, is based on a presumption.

The story involved a merchant in an ancient caravanserai – a camel train – on a journey under the hot sun across ancient lands. When the merchant arrived at the destination, milk carried in a bag made from a sheep’s stomach was discovered to be lumpy, churned into curds by the constant jogging of the camel on uneven ground under the heat of that sun.

The same argument has been made for the discovery of yoghurt. Same principle.

Of course it is possible it might have been a deliberate experiment. Meat was tenderised under the saddles of the horsemen who travelled long distances, a tradition that continued until horses became sports stars and lost their natural status in society. Our ancestors never ceased to discover methods to preserve their food, using microbial fermentations and elaborate techniques that are still in use today and cannot be replicated fully by modern methods.

It is the old cliche, if it isn’t broken …

Reportáž z byndziarne vo Zvolenskej Slatine.© Dušan Kittler
The Making of Bryndza, the soft sheep’s cheese of Poland and Slovakia

Whether it was accidental or deliberate is no longer relevant. Somewhere, somehow, someone realised that the character of milk could be altered to produce a food with a longish life – cheese!

Whether this happened 5000 years ago or 3500 years ago is relevant for one reason. The pasteurisation of milk is modern – very modern, a speck in time.

This leaves us with a dilemma. In the countries where cheese has become an integral aspect of the character of farming – ancient and modern – there is a strong raw milk tradition in its preparation.

This includes many European countries, in fact mostly European. That should not be a shock to anyone who knows the history of food. It is also not a surprise that cheese making is a mountain and valley occupation, that goat’s milk rather than sheep’s milk and certainly not cow’s milk has been the driver through time.

The environment is the medium.

Goat’s milk makes fresh cheese, sheep’s milk makes cheese that is adaptable, and cow’s milk makes cheese that has a relatively long life, certainly in the maturation period. Each has a tradition that is unique in the countries where these animals graze the fields and meadows and upland slopes.

It is not a surprise that some of the best cheese in the world comes from countries with high country snow, where the flora is rich in the organoleptic qualities that are transferred to the cheese via the milk.

America does not appear to have a milk or a cheese tradition, yet it is the Americans who are driving the campaign, if it can be called that, to eradicate cheese made from raw milk. They would prefer to ban all products made with raw milk.

Deaths from food poisoning have generally come from mass-produced industrial food or from food that has been contaminated by industrial processes or food tainted by toxic waste. Deaths from eating cheese made with raw milk do not compare.

Adding-the-Rennet.lowres
Pouring the Rennet

Is there an agenda? People who know cheese believe there is.

It starts with the microbes that inhabit the world, the single cell organisms called bacteria. They are present in the milk and are present in the rennet, the enzymatic preparation that clots milk, changing it into curds. These microbes digest the lactose in milk and, in the process, produce lactic acid, which acts as a preservative.

The enzyme is called chymosin. It is found in the stomachs of ruminants – which is why the milk curdled on that famous journey.

When chymosin is introduced to the milk as rennet it converts the proteins from liquid into solid. This coagulation process is the result of a catalytic action. Casein makes up the majority of milk proteins. There are four casein molecules in milk – alpha-s1, alpha-s2, beta and kappa.

Tasting-the-Curds
The First Curds

Without kappa casein, milk would spontaneously coagulate. Milk proteins are soluble because of kappa casein. When chymosin interacts with kappa casein it converts it into a protein called macropeptide. The milk can no longer hold its liquid state. It clots and changes into curds.

Bacteria are maligned, yet not all bacteria are malignant, many are beneficial and without them our food web would disintegrate. We would have no fermented food, including the aromatic cheeses that allow you ‘to taste the animal’.

The secret of cheese making is the skilful management of microbes, and the management of moisture before and after the process. Therefore cheese should be made with milk that is as fresh as it comes, before any kind of harmful microbial activity can take place. It should be stored in conditions that are not receptive to microbial activity. And, ideally, cheese consumers should be knowledgable when they buy and store cheese.

Cutting-the-Curds-lowres
Cutting the Curds

The pasteurisation of milk will destroy harmful bacteria but it will also produce a different kind of cheese. In their book, Reinventing the Wheel – Milk, Microbes and the Fight for Real Cheese, Bronwen and Francis Percival are typically patronising in their approach to this issue. If the book was less about them and more about cheese, it would be educational. It is not the first book on cheese to patronise its potential readers and it won’t be the last. There is knowledge and wisdom in the Percival book, unfortunately it is hidden among the paragraphs that state ‘look at us, aren’t we clever when we write about cheese?’

Campaigners for real cheese, they are not!

This is the problem and sadly it is not confined to the likes of the Percivals. Ignorance of ‘real’ cheese among the general population has allowed supermarket chains to sell ‘cheap’ cheese, especially in the English speaking world. In their profit before people behaviour, supermarkets dictate what the people purchase. Cheese connoisseurs naturally go elsewhere and are not typically concerned about those who have no understanding of ‘slow food’ and no informed knowledge about artisanal products. That said, not everyone can afford to shop at Neal’s Yard Dairy, where Bronwen Percival is the cheese buyer.

Sadly we now live in a world where ‘real’ cheese is for those with purchasing power and ‘plastic’ cheese is for everyone else. If there is concern about the demise of ‘real’ cheese makers in the English language-speaking countries, it is not manifest among those who are used to hopping over to France, Italy or Switzerland to buy the cheeses that do not travel, like the best Abondance or Appenzeller or Fontina or Malga or Tomme or Sbrinz – all cheeses with strong local traditions, that become expensive when they are purchased at specialist outlets in Dublin or London or New York.BerneseCheeseShop-low-res

CheeseCounterSwiss.lowres
Front counter in Rene Ryser’s cheese shop in Gstaad, Switzerland

Cheese, as Bronwen Percival is not slow to demonstrate, is a continental European sensibility, where cheese can be bought from a dedicated artisanal shop – a fromagerie – or from a market stall, sometimes from the cheese maker themselves, or from a supermarket chain that is sensitive to the desires of its customers.

In Britain and Ireland it is difficult to find a supermarket that has on its shelves ‘real’ cheese. Abondance, the wonderful cheese of the Savoyard region of the French Alps, found its way into the Tesco chain in Ireland, interestingly at a price lower than at Auchan and Carrefour in France and Italy. Miracles do happen!

But we digress.

Reinventing-the-Wheel
Published by Bloomsbury

The most interesting chapter in Reinventing the Wheel is chapter seven. For those not as knowledgable about the cheese world as Bronwen Percival, this chapter is worth the price of the book.

When the Percivals state that the regulation of cheese – ‘deciding what is and what isn’t safe to eat’ – is ‘caught up in the fraught discussion of milk hygiene and safety,’ they make a very important point, which they are not slow to elucidate: ‘cheese is not liquid milk’.

As someone who is lactose intolerant and was forced to drink warm milk in school as a child, I find it difficult, 50 years later, to trust those who are entrusted to look after public health. Anyone with a brain, who was forced to drink raw milk as a child during the middle decades of the 1900s in certain countries, worked that out and were told to keep quiet. The pasteurisation of milk solved one problem, authority and morality remain.

Food safety has been an issue since the first nomads settled down in central Anatolia over 11 000 years ago, it came with civilisation and remained all the way into the modern era. Those with knowledge might argue that the French and the Swiss have better standards of food safety than the Americans, yet there is an argument that American-led laboratory science has been let loose on a world that is now scared of its own shadow – rightly so in many instances, but not with cheese made with raw milk and prepared in traditional ways. The Reblochon story in the Percival book is an example of the kind of ‘rational pragmatism’ that should be adopted toward raw milk cheese making.

ReblochonCheese-Ice-T.lowres
This is the Swiss reblochon

If the Americans want to impose a zero risk regulation to ensure food safety, that is their prerogative. For those of us who love raw milk cheeses, from the Camembert of Normandie to the Reblochon de Savoie – two cheeses singled out by the Percivals, we will continue to take our chances. Thankfully not everyone lives in the USA.

Unfortunately the future of raw milk cheeses in Britain and Ireland is bleak, because of the American influence. A tradition that is young and weak cannot compete with a tradition that is old and strong. Elizabeth Bradley makes a cheese just as good as any of the similar cheeses made in France and Italy. Her years do not compare with their years. America’s baleful influence on other countries is a worry to those who care about ‘real’ food, never mind ‘real’ cheese.

Of course we here in Fricot are biased. We have absolute faith in traditional methods. All the preserved foods come from an ancient lineage of expertise that resulted in techniques that have been passed down the generations and work as well today as they did thousands of years and countless generations ago.

Mechanisation does not produce good food, that is obvious to anyone who understands the lack of an organoleptic characteristic in anything that is mass produced. It certainly does not produce food as good as cheese made from raw milk.

So what is the real issue?

It might be obvious to say it is about food corporations and their desire to make profits from the mass production of cheese made with ‘safe’ milk. Certainly making money is a strong criteria for those who need to make money.

That would be the easy explanation, the truth this time is hard and complicated.

For now we should celebrate those who want to make cheese because they have a strong desire to produce a product that has organoleptic qualities, that has a unique taste and a depth of flavour, that is the consequence of its environment and their skill.

Fromage "TÍte de Moine"
Tète de Moine (Photo: Ezequiel Scagnetti)

… continued in part three.


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Legendary Dishes | Colcannon (kale and potato mash)

IRELAND

The combination of green cabbage, buttermilk or cream, potatoes and spring onions or leeks is believed to be one of the oldest dishes in northern Europe. In Ireland it is known as colcannon and is made with kale, not cabbage, because kale survived the harsh winter, especially in coastal areas. Kale has made a comeback in recent years, largely because it continues to survive the inclement and unpredictable weather. In some areas it thrives, improving its flavour.

1 kg potatoes, whole
500 g kale
10 scallions / spring onions, chopped
150 ml cream
100 g buttermilk
30 g butter
Pepper
Salt
Nutmeg (optional)

Soak the kale in cold then warm water to remove dirt and chase away the small spiders that love to weave their webs among its leaves. Leave to drain for half an hour. Remove stems, cut into leaves into strips. Bring to the boil in a little water, reduce heat and cook until al dente. Drain and retain water. Boil the potatoes in their skins in the kale liquid. Cook the spring onions in the cream over a low heat. In a heavy based saucepan mash potatoes with the spring onion mixture over a low heat. Add kale, seasonings and the buttermilk, blend with a wooden spoon until the mash assumes the colour of the greens. Serve heaped with a large knob of butter.


INDIGENOUS INGREDIENTS =  Buttermilk | Kale | Potatoes | Scallions (Spring Onions)

LEGENDARY DISHES


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Legendary Dishes | Mackerel and Potatoes

IRELAND

Pan-fried fresh mackerel and whole, boiled potatoes – the old favourite, when you can get it.

Mackerel are capricious. Fishers have always known this. From Dinish to Cape Clear and around to Garinish, mackerel have defined the lives of coastal communities for countless centuries.

Stephen Crane, an American writer who visited Cape Clear in the last years of the 19th century, described the life. “The mackerel, beautiful as fire-etched salvers, were passed to a long table. Each woman could clean a fish with two motions of the knife. Then the washers, men who stood over the troughs filled with running water from the brook, soused the fish …

” … the fish were carried to a group of girls with knives, who made the cuts that enabled each fish to flatten out in the manner known of the breakfast table. “After the girls came the men and boys, who rubbed each fish thoroughly with great handfuls of coarse salt, whiter than snow, which shone in the daylight, diamond-like.

“Last came the packers, drilled in the art of getting neither too few nor too many mackerel into a barrel, sprinkling constantly prodigal layers of brilliant salt.”

In the early 1930s the mackerel disappeared completely. When they returned, the knowledge that had been passed down led the fishers to the fish. “The old fishermen always knew the best geographical points to go to to get the mackerel,” says Mitey McNally, a Garinish fisher, recalling the days when they were plenty. “If they weren’t there you’d see the fowls in the water and you’d chase over towards them.”

The fishers used fixed nets anchored to stalls on the seabed at specific points up to 30 feet deep. When the mackerel moved they ran straight into these nets, the force of the fish lifting the nets out of the water. “It was a great sight in the morning at dawn when the fish would start to move,” says Mitey. “We caught the fish with netting with a three inch mesh, which ensured all the small mackerel went though it so we caught only the prime fish, the big fine fat mackerel.”

An increasing demand for mackerel was soon met by people who wanted to make big money. Unlike the Garinish fishers whose livelihoods depended on the mackerel, entrepreneurs launched large factory ships and sent them in search of the mackerel in the open sea. “Two of these super trawlers would catch in one night what would keep a community as large as this whole parish going for the year,” says Mitey.

The market for mackerel collapsed in the early 1980s.

These days the mackerel come and go and then when arrive a few intrepid souls around the coast smoke them for local consumption. The days of salting mackerel are long gone. Canned mackerel was never an Irish thing, despite an attempt to get the people to buy it.

During the summer of 2015 Irish Fish Canners of Dungloe in western Donegal launched their smoked mackerel Irish Atlantic range and one of these days we will tell you their story.

In the meantime, if you can find some fresh mackerel and some good floury potatoes, this is the dish!

2 kg potatoes, whole
1.2 kg (8) mackerel, whole, gutted, filleted
80 g butter, for potatoes
80 g butter, for mackerel
Seasonings
Water, for potatoes

Boil potatoes in their skins. Coat the mackerel with butter and grill (on foil), about five minutes each side or pan-fry in butter with a splash of vegetable oil. Serve on warm plates, with a knob of butter on each potato.

Alternatively get hold of some of the Irish Atlantic peppered smoked mackerel in oil, and serve several cans with mashed  potatoes.


INDIGENOUS INGREDIENTS =  Mackerel | Potatoes | Salted Mackerel | Smoked Mackerel

LEGENDARY DISHES


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Legendary Dishes | Irish Stew (lamb, onions, potatoes)

IRELAND

Another dish of the fields, traditionally made with cheaper cuts, usually the neck (scrag-end) of mutton. When the recipe made its way into the big house it was transformed into a generic stock pot with other root vegetables, herb and spice flavourings, and meat from the better cuts of the animal. Irish stew changed dramatically during the 1800s when the blackface breed were brought from Scotland to graze hill habitats. A smaller animal than its lowland cousin, the blackface produced a sweeter tasting meat, prominent in the neck bones and meat. Connemara hill lambs, which are slaughtered between 10 and 14 weeks, now give Irish stew a distinctive taste, especially if the better cuts of meat are combined with the neck bones. This is the original traditional recipe tweaked to include more meat than bone.

3 kg waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered
2 kg onions, chopped
1.5 litres water
1 kg hill lamb neck bones
1 kg hill lamb shoulder meat
30 g black pepper, freshly ground
25 g salt

Arrange neck bones in a large pot, turn heat to medium and allow fat to run out of the bones. Stack potatoes on top of the bones, then the onions and seasoning, more pepper than salt. Fill the pot with water three-quarters up to the level of the onions, bring to the boil. Cover, turn heat to lowest setting and cook for three hours. The result should be a thick potato stew containing pieces of meat and bones, with the onions completely melted.

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European Comfort Food | Potato Pies

MeatandPotatoPie-lowres

Potatoes epitomise the rural relationship with food throughout northern and central Europe, but rarely are they combined with anything more than cheese, eggs, fish, meat and milk, especially in pies, which tend to be a marriage with meat and their juices or with the mountain cheese. So why wouldn’t you make a potato pie with the fruits of the forest or the fruits of the orchard?

In Terchová in Slovakia the potato pie is a cake that combines the savoury with the sweet, with berries and nuts. In the Wallis in Switzerland the potato pie contains apples and pears as well as cheese. In Lancashire in England the potato pie is a variation of the traditional Irish mutton stew encased in pastry.

 

Terchovej Zemiakový Koláč
SLOVAKIA
potato cake of Terchová

The Terchová region in Slovakia is reknown for its local produce. This potato cake makes use of indigenous ingredients, and the choice is personal. We have adapted a recipe from the 2003 book of old recipes by Cabadaj and Cross.

 

550 g flour 
400 g potatoes, boiled in skins
250 g blueberry / raspberry jamSlovakPotatoCake-lowres
150 g sugar
100 g almonds / walnuts, ground
100 g pork fat / sunflower oil
1 egg
30 g vanilla sugar
15 g yeast
Salt, large pinch
Butter, for greasing
Sugar, for finish
Water, for finish

 

Rub the potato and fat or oil into the flour. Beat the yeast into the egg, leave for 15 minutes, add to the mixture followed by the sugar and salt. Knead the dough, leave for an hour, degas, divide into two equal pieces. On a floured board roll each piece out to the size of a large round baking tin. Grease tin, place first piece of dough in the bottom, even out, and spread with jam. Sprinkle choice of ground nuts and vanilla sugar on top of jam, cover with the second piece of dough. Pierce surface of cake. Bake in a 180ºC oven for 45 minutes, until the cake is brown. Finish with water and a sprinkling of sugar. Leave to cool.

 

Zemiakový Koláč
SLOVAKIA
potato pie

This traditional cheese and potato pie has gone through so many variations it now resembles the quiche of eastern France and western Germany or the borek of the Balkans, made with the relevant cheeses. Traditionally this pie was filled with bryndza, the mountain cheese, encased in a milkly yeast dough. For a softer filling cream was used instead of butter.

 

Dough
550 g flour
300 ml milk, warmed
45 g pork fat
20 g yeast
5 g salt
5 g sugar
Pork fat / lard, for dressing
Filling
600 g potatoes, cooked, skinned, mashed
400 g bryndza, crumbled
30-60 g sour cream (45 g butter)
Black pepper, large pinch
Salt, pinch

 

Dissolve yeast in the warm milk and a teaspoon of sugar, whisk. Add salt to the flour and rub in the pork fat (or lard). Pour in the milk and yeast mixture. Knead into a smooth dough, leave to rise for an hour. Combine the cheee and potatoes with the cream or butter and seasonings. Divide dough into two equal pieces, roll out on a floured surface into thin sheet to fit choice of baking tray. Greased tray, fold in the first sheet, cover with filling, top with remaining dough sheet. Melt a tablespoon of fat or lard and brush surface of dough. Pierce surface with fork. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes.

 

Cholera
SWITZERLAND
apple, cheese, pear, potato pie

The 1830s were difficult for the people of the hidden Swiss valleys. Cholera swept across the land, confining people to their homes, where they relied on the stable foods of the land. Out of adversity a traditional dish emerged and survives today.

 

500 g puff pastry
400 g potatoes, boiled whole, peeled, sliced 
400 g raclette cheese, sliced
250 g Gala apples, sliced
250 g Bosc pears, sliced
150 g leeks, halved, sliced, braised in butter 
Egg for glaze
Seasonings
Nutmeg, grated

 

Preheat oven to 215°C.

Cover the base and sides of a cake tin with pastry.

Prick the base lightly with a fork. Layer evenly with apple followed by the potato, leeks and onions.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Lay cheese on top, then a pastry lid, press edges of pastry together, prick lightly with a fork in several places.

Brush with egg and bake for an hour.

The traditional Gommer Cholera contained equal amounts of apple, cabbage and potato, half the amount of cheese, and was baked using a plain pastry dough.

 

Meat and Potato Pie with Peppered Hot Pastry Crust
ENGLAND

Meat and potato pies are a traditional dish of northern England, especially the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, where the combination has always formed the basis for a hearty meal. Packed in a pastry it becomes portable.

These pies have never been a home-baked product, largely because they have always been ubiquitous in the cafe and chip shop culture of north-west England, Holland’s version being the most popular of the mass-produced brands.

Made with beef, potato and yeast extract in a shortcrust pastry, Holland’s meat and potato pies are also synonymous with sporting events.

Meat and potato pies, as they are known today, began as a workhouse product, are probably related to Irish mutton pies, and were hardly known as a recipe in cookbooks.

 

Filling
1 kg potatoes, peeled, quartered
750 g lamb, cut into 2 cubes
750 g onions, chopped
30 g black pepper, freshly ground
25 g salt
Water

 

This is essentially an Irish stew recipe. The quantity is much more than you will need for the filling.

Arrange lamb in the bottom of a large pot, turn heat to medium and allow fat to run out of the bones.

Stack potatoes on top of the lamb, then the onions and seasoning, more pepper than salt.

Fill the pot with water, three-quarters up to the level of the onions, bring to the boil.

Cover, turn heat to lowest setting and cook for three hours.

The result should be a thick meat and potato stew, with the onions completely melted.

 

Dough
450 g strong white flour
150 ml water
125 g lard
10 g pepper
10 g salt
5 g icing sugar

 

Bring the lard and water to the boil.

Sieve flour and salt into a large bowl, add pepper and sugar.

Pour the hot liquid into a well in the centre of the flour, and using a sturdy wooden spoon quickly form into a soft dough.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces (approximately 90 g each), cut again – two thirds for the base, one third for the lid.

Push the dough into the bottom and sides of small deep pie tins, diameter 8 cms.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Pack the tins with the filling, roll the remaining dough out, place over the top of the filling, crimping the edges. Pierce a hole in the centre of the lid.

Reduce oven temperature to 180°C, bake for 90 minutes.

 

Fish and Potato Pie
ENGLAND SCOTLAND

Always thought of as a fish pie rather than a potato pie, this traditional dish combined ingredients that have always come together. Baking the fish in a cheese sauce topped with mashed potato and grated cheese made this dish a meal instead of a snack.

 

1 kg assorted smoked and unsmoked fish fillets, 
fresh or frozen, cut into bite sized pieces
1 kg potatoes, cooked, riced
600 ml milk
200 g mature melting cheese, grated
40 g butter
40 g flour
25 g parsley, chopped
15 g black pepper, freshly ground

 

Make a light roux. Remove pan from heat, whisk milk a little at a time into the mixture. Back on the heat bring to the boil stirring constantly. Turn heat to low, stir in half the cheese.

Add parsley and pepper, allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Arrange fish in ovenproof dish, pour sauce over fish and finish with potato and remaining cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes until crisp and golden, and piping hot in the middle.

[Ingredient] Spelt

AndrewWorkman&SpeltField
Andrew Workman surveys one of his spelt fields in Dunany, county Louth, Ireland

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was the most distinguished of the Spanish writers of the Roman imperial age.

Born in Corduba in Andalucia to a Roman equestrian family, Seneca was brought to Rome as a child and seemed destined for a political career. Instead, he became a stoic philosopher, producing wise words that carry moral echoes down the ages to us.

Seneca grew up in a Rome that distributed welfare in the form of free grain, spelt among barley and emmer, an expedient consequence of the food riots, 60 years before he was born, in 59 BC.

An ancient hardy grass thought to be native to both Persia 8,000 years ago and south-eastern Europe 4,000 years ago, spelt was cultivated throughout the continent from the Caucasus to Scandinavia.

Three thousand years ago, river valley communities in the south of Ireland were cooking with spelt berries.

The ancient Greeks and Romans expanded its use. Roman armies lived on spelt (along with barley), making an early version of polenta.

Nearly one thousand years ago, Abbess Hildegard von Bingen of Rupertsberg wrote enthusiastically about spelt. ‘It makes people cheerful with a friendly disposition,’ she said. ‘Those who eat it have healthy flesh and good blood.’

Spelt has been making a comeback in recent decades, largely in southern Germany and in nothern Switzerland, where older varieties have been cultivated.

Known as urdinkel (old spelt), the range of flours milled from spelt are going into every type of bread and pastry, replacing wheat in many recipes.

It is also becoming increasingly popular in Ireland, where Andrew and Leonie Workman grow, mill and package spelt berries and flour from their farm in Dunany, on the coast below the ancient land of Oriel above the Boyne Valley.

Spelt, with barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, remained a staple in Europe until the 20th century, when it fell out of favour for numerous reasons, not least the problems associated with harvesting, separating and milling it into flour.

The Workmans have got round these problems with modern machinery. Now spelt is one of their biggest sellers and they have high hopes for the berries, which can be used in salads and stews, to make risotto and soaked whole to be baked in bread.

SpeltBerries
Spelt Berries

Dominick Gryson, a Louth man who has experimented with ancient grains to find strong shafts for thatching, believes the Workmans have found a great artisan product.

‘Spelt does not give the same yield as modern wheats, which do not grow well here in our climate,’ he says. ‘Spelt, on the other hand, is suited to the soil and the climate and can be sold as a high-value organic product.’

Dermot Seberry, who champions the Workmans’ produce in his book, A Culinary Journey in the North-East (of Ireland), agrees. ‘They fit in with the super food group and are a substitute for risotto rice and barley in the likes of stews and black pudding,’ he says.

‘For me, it is personal. They are low-gluten and have high nutritional content, particularly for the over-thirties, who have become hyper aware of inner health. Not a trending product but very much the next big little food!’

Spelt contains beneficial minerals, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins (B and E), and has six of the eight essential amino acids that stimulate the production of happiness hormones, just as the abbess said.

But it is the low GI (glycaemic index of carbohydrates) that makes spelt a primary health product. With 35 compared to 40 for wheat and 70 for rice, spelt releases glucose more slowly into the bloodstream, balancing out blood sugar levels.

Spelt saved the early Roman Empire but it also sustained the tribes of barbarians who brought about the fall of Rome and allowed their descendants to supplant Roman power throughout Europe.

Something that powerful is worth promoting, especially now that modern wheat has lost its allure and the wisdom of the ancients, Seneca and von Bingen among them, is finally being listened to.


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A VISIT TO HAZEL MOUNTAIN

 

HazelMountainChocolateLogo
Hazel Mountain Chocolate of the Burren, Clare, Ireland

The chocolatiers of hazel mountain on the edge of the Burren in north Clare in the west of Ireland have every reason to celebrate their first year in business. They are heading a trend that is seeing the art of chocolate-making move out of its traditional centres in Belgium and Switzerland, and setting a trend that has been the preserve of large-scale factories for far too long – cocoa bean roasting!

DaraConboy
Head Roaster Dara Conboy

Dara Conboy, a 25-year-old from county Sligo with a background in coffee bean roasting, is the head roaster on hazel mountain. Recruited by John and Kasia Connolly to get the flavour out of the beans they import from Madagascar and other tropical cocoa growing regions, Conboy is an Irish chocolate expert. He can talk chocolate all day long.

Accompanied by Anna Murphy, a young pastry chef employed to make confections with their chocolate, the Connollys and Conboy are a unique team in rural Ireland.

But they are not alone in Europe. The idea that artisan chocolatiers can roast their own cocoa beans and make their own distinctive chocolate has been seeping into the creative consciousness among European food artisans for several years.

This is not about the mass production of an homogenised product, it is about the flavour and taste that can be coaxed out of cocoa beans with their own delicate aromas, then transferred into artisanal chocolate of quality.

… more to follow …

HazelMountainChocolateBar
The  chocolate of the hazel mountain reflects the wild landscape of the Burren, combining local ingredients like elderberries, hazelnuts and juniper berries with the exotic cocoa beans of the tropics

 

Chocolate Whiskey Coffee

 

1 square Hazel Mountain chocolate, chopped small
1 shot blended Irish whiskey, eg Tullamore Dew
Double espresso
Sugar, pinch

 

Melt chocolate in hot coffee, stir add whiskey and a pinch of sugar, stir again.

 


The chocolatiers of hazel mountain will be featured in a forthcoming television series on the food artisans of Ireland (and Europe).


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Legendary Dishes | Irish Breakfast

IRELAND

In rural Ireland during the construction boom of the 1990s food counters in convenience stores (many in fuel stations) started to offer baguettes, buns, flatbreads and rolls filled with a combination of bacon, black and white puddings, fried egg, mushrooms, sausages and sliced tomatoes.

It caught on and is now seen as a traditional habit. There was an earlier tradition.

The traditional Ulster fry is still a favourite with tourists and travellers but in the early and mid mornings the worker’s breakfast is a filled farl.

Generally made with commercial white soda farls, this is fried bacon, fried egg and fried sausage (usually beef) in an easy-to-eat package, in or out of the café.

It tastes better with freshly made soda bread, grilled bacon and sausage and poached egg.

 

Soda Bread

Traditionally soda bread was made on a griddle over a smouldering turf fire or on the far side of the fire box on a slow burner.

This allowed the dough to heat gently, rising and forming a crust.

Some homes continued this tradition by baking the bread in an iron frying pan over the lowest possible heat on an electric or gas cooker.

These days it is just as easy baking the soda bread in a low oven, or, if you can find one, an electric griddle.

750 g pastry flour
350 ml buttermilk/kefir, approximately
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

Sieve flour into a large bowl with the salt and soda, add buttermilk, stir with a wooden spoon to form a slack sticky dough.

Fold onto a floured surface and with floured hands press and shape the dough into a large round.

Place on a greased baking tray, cut a cross in the dough.

Bake at 160°C for 50 minutes.

LEGENDARY DISHES

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Culinary Connections | France Switzerland England Ireland Italy

Hot Sandwiches

Croque-Monsieur

This Parisien snack has travelled to the four corners of Europe since it appeared in 1910.

The buffet car on the TGVs between Paris and Geneva serve grilled croque-monsieur as good as any Parisien café, proving the maxim that quality ingredients make the dish!

These being artisan bread, Gruyère cheese and cured ham.

The deluxe version contains a Gruyère béchamel topping.

A baked or poached egg on top turns monsieur into madame!

16 slices (8cm x 8cm) Gruyère
8 slices (10cm x 10cm) white bread, 
crusts removed
8 slices (8cm x 8cm) ham
4 baked/poached eggs (optional)
60g béchamel (optional - see Spain)
Butter, for spreading

Place a slice of ham between two slices of Gruyère, then between slices of buttered bread, grill for five minutes each side until the bread takes on a light toast.

For a richer croque-monsieur, spread béchamel made with Gruyère on top after grilling one side, grill until a brown skin forms.

Bookies Sandwich

The bookies sandwich got its name a long time after it was established as a packed lunch eaten by workers in various labouring jobs and people involved with hunt and race meetings.

In England it was a thick seasoned sirloin steak grilled, sometimes fried, and placed between thick loaf crusts spread with horseradish and mustard condiments.

In Ireland it was a thick seasoned rump steak grilled and placed between white soda farls spread with carmelised onions.

The English version was wrapped in paper and cold pressed for 30 minutes.

By the middle of the 20th century the ‘bookmakers sandwich’ was a pub food in Britain and Ireland, and in Irish pubs across Europe and America.

The Vienna loaf replaced the batch loaf crusts and soda bread, then the ciabatta replaced the Vienna.

In Ireland the Waterford blaa is used to hold the steak, because it is seen as the ideal bread bun for soaking up the juices from the meat and the flavourings from the condiments and seasonings

Elsewhere the condiments betray its origins, and the meat will be beef or veal tenderloins, the latter in continental Europe.

Bookies Sandwich – (Batch loaf version)

700 g (4 x 175 g beef sirloin steaks, thick)
8 (4 cm) thick bread crusts
100 g creamed horseradish 
100 g English smooth mustard
15 g black pepper, freshly ground
10 g salt

Spread four crusts with horseradish and four with mustard, according to taste.

Season steaks, heavy with pepper for a spicy flavouring, grill or fry according to preference.

Place a steak and juices between each set of crusts, wrap in greaseproof paper, leave each sandwich under a heavy weight for an hour.

Eat cold.

Bookies Sandwich (Vienna/Ciabatta bread version)

700 g (4 x 175 g beef/veal tenderloin steaks, thick)
2 breads, side cut along length, halved
100 g Dijon coarse mustard
25 g soft butter
15 g black pepper, freshly ground
10 g salt

Spread four pieces of bread with mustard, and four with butter, according to taste.

Season steaks, heavy with pepper for a spicy flavouring, grill or fry according to preference.

Place a steak and juices on buttered breads, top with mustard breads, wrap in greaseproof paper, leave each sandwich under a heavy weight for an hour.

Eat cold.

Bookies Sandwich (Soda farl version)

700 g (4 x 175 g beef rump steaks, thick)
4 farls, side cut along length
500 g onions, halved, sliced
25 g soft butter
15 g black pepper, freshly ground
10 g salt
Oil, for frying

Sauté onions in oil over a low heat for an hour, until they are brown and almost crispy.

Spread four farl halves with butter, four with onions.

Season steaks, heavy with pepper for a spicy flavouring, grill or fry according to preference.

Place a steak and juices on onion farls, top with buttered farls, press down with hands, leave to cool.

Eat cold.

Focaccia Panino/Focaccia Farcite

Cafes in Italy have offered focaccia filled with cheese, meat, vegetables and sauces for so long now it seemed inevitable that someone would think of baking the filling inside the flat bread – a tradition that is not new, especially in Asian Europe.

Stuffed focaccia is unlikely to rival the Napolese pizza anymore than the Genoese pizza did when their fates were shared. Technically focaccia farcite is not a sandwich but its popularity is increasing, especially among the young, so you never know.

Focaccia fillings include brie, emmental, fontina, gorgonzola, grana padano, gruyère, mortadella, mozzarella, pancetta, pecorino, porcini, prosiutto, ricotta, salami, spinach and whatever vegetable is available.

Therefore stuffed foccacia – made with potato dough, sweetened egg dough and plain dough, and hardly ever with olive oil drenched dough or traditional sweet dough – is a meal in itself.

Perfect for lunch!

Focaccia Farcite – 1

400 g 00 flour 
300 g potatoes, cubed, cooked, cooled
125 ml water, tepid
30 g olive oil
30 g olive oil, for greasing
25 g yeast
Sugar, large pinch
Salt, large pinch
Milk, for brushing

This potato dough focaccia will take any filling you care to put in it, suggestions below.

Dissolve yeast in sugar in water, leave for 15 minutes.

Sieve flour into a large bowl, add salt and potatoes, and gradually work them into the flour with a tablespoon of oil.

Pour in the yeast liquid, mix and knead, add another tablespoon of oil.

Fold out onto a clean surface, knead for ten minutes until the dough is smooth, add more water if necessary.

Cover and leave to rise for an hour, degas, rise for a second hour, degas again.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Roll into a large rectangular to cover the base of baking tray, greased, leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Place fillings on one half, fold the other half on top, seal with milk, leave to rise for 15 minutes.

Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes, turning the tray once.

Suggested fillings and quantities:

125 g mozzarella/ricotta

90 g emmental/gruyère

90 g prosiutto/mortadella

75 g spinach/tomatoes

Focaccia Farcite – 2

This version produces a lighter bread, suitable for a thick cheese and ham filling.

230 ml water, tepid
200 g strong white flour
200 g flour 
180 g prosciutto
45 g brie
45 g fontina
45 g gorgonzola
45 g grana padano/pecorino, grated
30 g olive oil, for greasing
25 g yeast
15 g sugar
1 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in sugar in water, leave for 15 minutes.

Sieve flours into a large bowl, add salt and work in the yeast mixture.

Fold out onto a clean surface, knead for 15 minutes until the dough is smooth.

Cover and leave to rise for an hour, degas, rise for a second hour, degas again.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Roll into a large rectangular to cover the base of baking tray, greased, leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Place fillings on one half, fold the other half on top, seal with milk, leave to rise for 15 minutes.

Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes, turning the tray once.

Focaccia Farcite – 3

For sweet tooths.

500 g 00 flour
5 eggs (250 g), 1 separated
250 g sugar
150 g apricots, dried, chopped small 
90 ml date syrup
50 g vanilla sugar
25 ml grappa
15 g baking powder
2 lemons, zest, grated
2 oranges, zest, grated

Sieve flour and baking powder into a large bowl, stir in the plain sugar, vanilla sugar, lemon and orange zest, add the grappa and eggs (leaving the white of one egg aside), mix and leave to rest for an hour.

Preheat to 180°C.

Fold out onto a clean surface, knead for five minutes into a smooth dough.

Divide into two equal pieces, shape each into a rectangular shape, place on baking trays lined with greaseproof paper, brush surface with egg white.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Spread date syrup across the surface of each focaccia, stopping short at the edges, sprinkle apricot pieces on top, cut into squares, sandwich!


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Kale

Kale-low-res
It’s green it’s mean and it packs a punch

A coarse large-leaf cabbage with a curly crinkled appearance, kale is the cultivated variety of the wild cabbage native to the Mediterranean, and rich in minerals and vitamins.

The ancient Romans introduced it to northern Europe and today it is still popular in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, where recipes gradually found their way to the Atlantic fringe – Ireland, Portugal and Scandinavia in particular.

Curly kale is the most cultivated variety along with local varieties adapted to their environment, such as Portuguese kale (couve) used to make caldo verde.

Being the good collectors that they are, the Flemish took kale to their culinary hearts.

Kale is an essential ingredient in stoemp, a mash made with potatoes, leaf and root vegetables.

Cooked with butter and cream it forms part of the Danish grønlangkål med skinke – kale with ham and caramelised potatoes.

The combination of kale, butter, buttermilk or cream, potatoes and spring onions/scallions or leeks is believed to be one of the oldest dishes in northern Europe.

Kale has made a comeback in recent years, because the colder climates improves its flavour.

 

Colcannon

 

500 g kale
500 g potatoes, whole
10 leeks/spring onions/scallions, chopped 
150 ml cream/milk
100 g butter/buttermilk
Salt
Pepper

Soak the kale in cold then warm water to remove dirt amd chase away the small spiders that love to weave their webs among its leaves.

Leave to drain for 30 minutes.

Remove stems, cut into leaves into strips then small pieces.

Bring to the boil in a little water, reduce heat and cook until al dente. Drain surplus water.

Boil the potatoes in their skins.

Cook the spring onions in the milk/cream over a low heat.

In a heavy based saucepan mash potatoes with the milk/cream and spring onions over a low heat.

Combine kale, seasoning and the butter, blend with a wooden spoon until the mash assumes the colour of the greens. Buttermilk can replace the butter to give a tangy taste.

 

Grønlangkål med Skinke

 

1 kg kale
75 g butter
20 ml cream
30 g flour
2 tsp sugar
Salt
Pepper
1 kg potatoes small 
40 g sugar
50 g butter

Boil the potatoes in their skins, peel and leave to cool.

Heat sugar in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the butter. When it foams add the potatoes and coat in the sugar-butter mixture.

Keep the heat controlled until the potatoes are browned and heated through. Make sure they do not burn.

Prepare kale.

Make a roux in a heavy based saucepan, add kale and two tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium heat, adding a little more butter, finishing with sugar, salt and pepper.

Serve with cooked smoked ham, pork sausages, pork on the bone and head cheese.

 

Stamppot

 

1.5 kg floury potatoes, peeled, cubed 
1 kg kale leaves
4 smoked sausages
100 ml milk, hot
75 g butter
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground 
Salt, pinch
Mustard, for dressing

Boil onions and potatoes with a pinch of salt in sufficient water to cover in a large pot, strain, retaining the cooking liquid.

Put the kale in a large bowl with the liquid, cover and leave until leaves wilt.

Transfer kale and sufficient liquid to cover it to a saucepan, cover and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes, drain, squeeze out liquid and chop small.

Put the sausages in the remaining liquid, cover and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Mash onions and potatoes with butter and milk, fold in the kale, season. Serve with pieces of sliced sausage dressed with mustard.

 

Traditional Kale Recipes

 
Caldo Verde PORTUGAL kale sauce
Vrzotovka SLOVENIA kale soup


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A CULINARY JOURNEY IN THE NORTH-EAST OF IRELAND

BOOK REVIEW

Not since Theodora Fitzgibbon compiled A Taste of Ireland in the 1960s has a food writer produced a book that can be described as a cultural event even before the first page is turned.

Chef, food photographer and writer Dermot Seberry doesn’t suffer fools in the food industry. After several years working as a chef (in Ballinahinch Castle in Galway, Mount Juliet Hotel in Kilkenny, Cascades in Sun City, the Savoy and Smollenskys in London), he found himself training the chefs of the future.

As a head chef he had been unhappy with the standard of trainee chefs from the London colleges and when he approached them to ask what they were teaching he was asked to take some classes.

After a spell as a manager in Westminster- Kingsway College of Catering in London, he was invited to lecture in the advanced culinary arts course at DIT, Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin, where he helped set up the artisan entrepreneurship course.

CulinaryJourneyPromoCover

Meanwhile, back in his home county of Louth, the landscape  had changed. Seberry was philosophical. ‘The M1 motorway     put many pubs and restaurants out of business for sure but       also put an end to rubbish family run food.’

Restaurants were now using fresh, local produce cooked              by knowledgeable and imaginative chefs who understood seasonality and knew that was the key to taste.

This quiet revolution had started in the Scandinavian     countries, where the artisans and chefs set the agenda and        the menu, which always stated where ingredients were from.

Imaginative cooks, visionary chefs and innovative bakers gave preference to indigenous produce and products with their own distinctive flavours. Ultimately this approach began to influence those who ran the catering colleges.

‘Peer pressure has forced some colleges to rethink their approach to training chefs,’ he says. ‘It is not good enough to accept that old classical French methods are standard teaching practice.

‘It’s simply nowhere near the norm today.’

According to Seberry, many chefs are restricted to the methods and recipes of old and lack creativity of the mind. ‘They don’t love food; they just do the job of cooking.

‘They know what local produce is but don’t know how to use it.’

In the north-east, the culinary mood has been set by the artisans and chefs, and the locals and tourists have not been slow sensing the wind of change.

When Seberry was approached by the county tourism board to represent food, the idea of a colour book featuring maps and photos, local producers and restaurants using indigenous produce to make traditional recipes grabbed the imagination.

This book proves that artisan food from the north-east of Ireland is now established.

It is available online.


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[PLACE] BELTURBET | IRELAND | Cheese Artisans Part 1

SilkeCropp
Silke Cropp is an artisan cheese maker in Ireland
featuring Corleggy Cheeses http://www.corleggycheeses.com/

The stone cottage shrouded in greenery at the end of the lonely boreen is picture postcard perfect. Raindrops fall reluctantly from the trees, caught by the rays of sunlight that suddenly appear in the aftermath of another thunder shower. Emerging out of a grassy wall, a woman weeding the verge indicates the modern building behind a white van. ‘Silke is in there,’ she says in a guttural accent.

There is nothing incongruous about this setting in rural Cavan, a few kilometres from the border with Fermanagh. Artisan Ireland requires the EU stamp of approval and, just to prove this point, cheesemaker Silke Cropp explains that an inspector from ‘the department’ is arriving to take away some cheeses for testing.

During the blistering hot summer of 1995, the Sheridan brothers, Kevin and Seamus, sold Irish cheeses in Galway’s St Nicholas Market on Churchyard Street, not expecting their little venture to last. Two years later, they moved off the street into an adjacent shop.

‘There were all these fantastic cheesemakers who had invented their own cheeses,’ says Kevin, ‘and we were thinking, are we at a peak, as these people retire are we going to be left with none?’

Now, almost 20 years later, Sheridans Cheesemongers operate in Dublin, Galway, Meath and Waterford, and distribute abroad. Far from the nascent industry dying, it came alive. Quality was the key; and the fact that it was handmade.

In the 1950s, artisan production in Europe was back in the ascendancy, and cheese, followed by sausages and salamis, breads and pastries, jams and sauces, led the way.

When the Sheridans were selling cheese in the late 1990s, a third wave of Irish cheesemakers were beginning to make reputations for themselves. The second wave, cheese-lovers like Silke Cropp, were established and getting rave reviews. The first wave, in the 1970s, were already cheese legends but times were chang- ing.

‘The road to market was the biggest problem,’ Silke Cropp says of the days when transport was painstakingly slow and couriers were city-based. ‘I thought about exporting to Germany but that was too expensive. It only started to work when I joined the Food Co-op in Dublin in 1989 and travelled in our old Morris Minor, getting up at four in the morning. It was a long day.’

Her children got involved, daughter Tina setting up her own stall in the new Temple Bar Market in Dublin when she was 15. They sold cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s mature cheeses made with raw milk and vegetarian rennet. At the Food Co-op their cheese appealed to vegetarians who shunned animal rennet made cheese.

‘I felt that I needed direct customers if I wanted to make any money at all and that hasn’t changed. We sell to restaurants and shops and still attend the markets. My son Tom goes to Bray and I go to Dublin.’

‘We are an endangered species,’ she adds sanguinely. ‘The artisan is always going to be quite a small producer. Artisan to me means handmade using raw and first-class, quality ingredients, putting expensive stuff together to make something as best as you can, that people will talk about as something fabulous you can only get in Cavan or Kerry or Waterford.’


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