Swiss Cheese

August 19, 2010 § 1 Comment

Swiss cheese is much in evidence at the show dairy in the hamlet of Pringy on the outskirts of the village of Gruyères in Western Switzerland. And I don’t just mean the vast wheels of the stuff in the maturing cellars. There’s lots in evidence in the twee on-site restaurant and most of all in the knick-knack laden gift shop.

Picture-perfect Gruyères with its castle, quaint winding streets and Maison de Gruyère show-dairy is definitely a tourist magnet. On the day of our visit it was overrun with visitors of all nationalities including two improbably grown-up and portly troupes of boy scouts. We duly joined the queue for tour and museum tickets and after a short wait we were taken step by step through the story of the cheese. It all starts here with the alpine pasture:

Well it does and it doesn’t as only the specially designated Gruyère d’Alpage is made in the summer from the milk of cows grazing the high mountain pastures. Just 56 dairies produce 400 tonnes per annum of this rare commodity whereas a total of 200 dairies produce 27,500 tonnes per annum of Swiss AOC (Appellation d’Origine) gruyère. Talking of AOC gruyère, the museum maintains a dignified silence on the subject of so-called French gruyère. The French cheekily awarded their own product national AOC status back in 2001 and subsequently went a step too far going for Europe wide PDO (protected designation of origin) status. Earlier this month the European authorities, quite correctly in my view, threw out the French claim. It’s a bit rich the French trying to protect their own so called gruyère cheese when they come down like a ton of bricks on smalltime producers of elderflower champagne…

Back to the genuine article. Swiss AOC gruyère can only be produced in a relatively small area centred around Gruyères itself within the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Bern. The milk comes not from what I think of as a traditional Swiss light brown cow but from the black and white or reddish-brown and white Fribourg breed. Each cow eats an astonishing 100kg of grass per day and produces as a result just 25 litres of milk. The traditional 35kg round of cheese is made from a generous 400 litres of milk. At the show dairy, they work with vats holding 4,800 litres of milk to produce 12 cheeses at a time. The morning milk is added to the previous evening’s milk (which has been stored overnight at a temperature of between 15 and 18 degrees C) before the cheesemaking process begins.

Gruyère cheese is often described as unpasteurised, but as the museum visit makes clear, the milk is gently heat-treated (to 57 degrees C compared to the 71 degrees C of the pasteurisation process) during the production of the cheese. The milk (presumably skimmed to remove the luscious Gruyère crème double much fêted in this part of Switzerland) is first heated to 32 degrees C before adding a natural starter culture (lactic acid fermentation agent in whey) and subsequently animal rennet. The starter culture matures the milk and the rennet causes it to coagulate into a mass. The coagulated milk or curd is then cut using large blades into small pieces. Judging the exact moment to begin the cutting is reckoned to be the trickiest part of the whole process.

The cut curds are then heated to 57 degrees C until the mixture becomes elastic and firm to the touch and the cut curds shrink to the size of small peas. At this point the whey is drained off and the curds ladled into moulds and pressed to form the virgin gruyère cheeses.

The fresh cheeses, vulnerably pliable at this stage, are soaked in a 20% brine solution which gives the cheese half of its ultimate salt content. Finally, the cheeses are placed on shelves of untreated pine (picea abies, the Norway spruce aka the Christmas tree) and left for a lengthy maturation process at a constant temperature of 13 to 14 degrees C. The cheeses are turned daily and brushed with salt solution as they mature. This no doubt used to be carried out by hand but the ever-ingenious Swiss have devised a robot to carry out this repetitive task. There is a certain fascination to be had watching the robot progress up and down the aisles of cheese.

5 to 6 months’ maturation produces a doux (mild) cheese; 7 to 8 months’ a mi-salé; 9 to 10 months’ a salé; +10 months’ a réserve; and finally 15 months’ a vieux. Older is not necessarily better in my book and I rather enjoyed the mild flavour of the youngest gruyère. Visiting the show dairy is a multi-sensory experience and helpfully you are given samples of 3 different ages of cheese to taste the difference. They become progressively more intense and savoury as they age.

You’re not normal if at this stage you haven’t developed an intense salivating urge to buy more cheese to take home. Might I suggest that you restrain yourself from joining the horrendous crush in the end-of-tour store and take a stroll up a grassy hill in the direction of the town of Gruyères itself. On the way, you will pass this traditional farmhouse:

Ring the bell and the farmer’s wife will cut for you a wedge of authentic Gruyère d’Alpage. She also sells the fresh whey cheese known as sérac, a by-product of the gruyère cheese making process. This is what the local farmers used to eat themselves as the gruyère itself was far too lucrative a commodity for home consumption.

I initially thought that sérac must be a marketing man’s invention to make a plain cheese more enticing with a mountain-themed brand identity. A sérac is, as any mountaineer will tell you, the name of the rough ice lumps that form when a glacier undulates. It transpires that it’s the other way round. The cheese was named sérac first, with a possible derivation from the Latin word for whey, serum, and the glacial formation was named after the cheese in a fit of whimsy.

The farmer’s wife suggested eating the sérac as it came with salt, pepper and fresh herbs or using it as a cooking ingredient. I found a handy recipe for cooked sérac posted on the www.genevalunch.com website on 15 March 2010 by Jonell Galloway.

Finally, if all this sounds too touristy for you, how about a day’s foraging for wild plants in the lush Fribourg countryside? I saw an enticing little flyer for just such an adventure pinned up on the Maison de Gruyère noticeboard but didn’t have the time to take up the opportunity. The lady leading the foraging walks is Christine Brinkerhoff-Meier tel 00 41 (0)26 928 1429 ortieenfolie@hotmail.com. The tours run from 9.00 till 16.00 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.

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Why don’t women drink beer?

July 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

I will certainly be drinking more beer after my recent Adnams of Southwold brewery tour. After all, what could be more refreshing than a pint of bitter on a warm summer’s evening? This particular beauty was pulled at the Red Lion on South Green in Southwold, Suffolk:

My fellow guests on the brewery tour were exclusively male and sadly mostly fitted the real ale stereotype of bellies, beards and sandals. It doesn’t need to be this way as, happily, our guide for the tour was master brewer Belinda, a no-nonsense microbiology graduate who seemed to have found her perfect niche in life. In a little over an hour, she gently demystified the brewing process throwing in a dashes of chemistry, history and folklore for good measure.

We started with the simple list of ingredients for making beer – malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

Barley first. Appropriately, the most commonly used variety is named “Tipple”. The degree to which the barley is roasted is key to the character of the finished beer – think of how different roast beans produce differently flavoured coffee. Here are some different samples of barley with different degrees of roasting:

My favourite for munching on (we were encouraged throughout to smell, taste and of course drink) was the enticingly named crystal malt (so called because the processing of the barley results in a glassy crystallised finish to the grain or endosperm as the experts call it). Crystal malt contributes biscuity, caramel flavours to the finished beer.

On to the hops. This was the part of the brewing process I particularly wanted to understand. I can’t count the times I have heard someone sniff their freshly pulled pint of beer and enthuse over its hoppy characteristics when all I could distinguish was a general beery smell. What would a hop smell like in isolation?

Belinda tipped a generous heap of dried hops onto a napkin on the table and invited us to smell them. I was first in the queue, almost sticking my nose into the heap, inhaling deeply. I smelt…absolutely nothing!

Belinda explained that the hop’s aroma is concentrated in the resin which is concentrated in the base of the dried flower in areas which have a brighter yellow colour. Rub these between your finger and thumb and the aroma is released…aah yes it worked. What I smelt was something a little floral, aromatic, even just a little acrid. A bit like the crushed leaves of pineapple mayweed or even camomile flowers. So this was the characteristic hop aroma I’d wondered about all these years.

I did some homework after the tour. Harold McGee’s amazing food science book “On Food and Cooking” (Heston Blumenthal’s bible) didn’t let me down when it came to hops. He explains that hops (Latin name Humulus lupulus) provide 2 different flavour elements in beer: bitterness from phenolic alpha acids (humulone and lupulone) in its resins and aroma from its essential oils. The aroma of ordinary hops is dominated by the terpene myrcene also found in bayleaf and verbena whereas other more exotic hop varieties are dominated by the more delicate humulene, also other terpenes such as pinene, limonene and citral which give piny and citrus aromas to the hops.

There’s a balance to be struck with hops – the bitterness only comes out after prolonged heating of the brew which of course destroys the aroma. To give the finished beer more aroma, a practice known as dry-hopping is used which means that hop pellets (they are most conveniently used in this form) are thrown into the brew after it has been boiled and they slowly infuse their flavours and aromas at a lower temperature. So beer has a lot in common with herb teas and tisanes and you can’t get much more ladylike than that!

Now for the yeast. This is perhaps the most mysterious of the ingredients. At Adnams they use their own special natural yeast strain which has been kept alive for years. It’s not the same as regular baking yeast but has in fact been used successfully for breadmaking by a Lowestoft baker in the past.

Finally the water, the simplest of the ingredients. Adnams now use the town supply carbon-filtered to remove unwanted chlorine rather than, as previously, water from their own well. Calcium chloride is added to the water to act as a catalyst for the various necessary enzyme processes.

In overview, the process for making beer is relatively straightforward: after all it used to be produced in the home as women’s work in the mediaeval period. It can be divided into 4 stages:

1. Preparing the wort. A mash is made with water and malt which is soaked for 1 and 1/2 hours then heated for 3 hours to produce a sweet coloured liquid which is drawn of ready for stage 2.

2. Boiling the wort – hops are added and the liquid is boiled both to add bitterness from the hops and to inactivate the malt enzymes and so fix the sugar and carbohydrate levels in the mix. The liquid is drawn off and sent to the fermentation tank ready for stage 3.

3. Fermentation. Yeast is added and the mixture is kept at a controlled temperature for fermentation to occur over a period of 2-10 days. During this period the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol and its byproduct carbon dioxide which gives the beer its fizz. Top fermentation is carried out at a higher temperature (up to 25 degrees C) and gives the beer a strong acidic flavour with fruity spicy notes. Fermentation at lower temperatures produces beer with a drier, crisper flavour and bready notes.

4. Clarification and conditioning
The yeast foam and from fermentation and dead yeast cells are removed by a combination of filtration and fining (adding an agent that attracts and collects the detritus in the beer making it easy to remove the whole lot in a lump. Intriguingly, isinglass, a gelatine like substance derived from fish swim bladders (originally sturgeon) is still used by Adnams as the preferred fining agent. Technically then vegetarians can’t drink beer. With a degree of pragmatism overcoming principle, it seems that the beers can still be deemed suitable for vegetarians as the fish derived content of the beer is so small.

The beer is then transferred to cask or bottle and the bottled beers are pasteurised to increase the shelf life. Secondary fermentation occurs in the cask so it is a living thing with a shelf life of just a few weeks hence the importance of a publican who knows how to keep his beer properly.

So, 4 ingredients, 4 processes – sounds simple but 8 building blocks can give you a seemingly infinite variety of outcomes. Think of music built on 8 notes of the scale or DNA built from just 4 bases…

Going back to my opening question, why don’t women drink beer, I think much of it is in the marketing. Scanning the list of names they give a distinctly masculine old fashioned wartime image (Bombardier, Spitfire, Barnstormer…) or else give an impression of a warm cloudy brew fit only for yokels (Tanglefoot, Waggle Dance, Grumpling). There are so many different beer styles out there that there must be something for everyone. If we could cut the old fart marketing and come up with something cleaner, simpler and more explanatory I think the breweries could be on to a winner in terms of opening up a whole new market beyond the CAMRA afficionados.

And yes, the tour did conclude with a comprehensive tasting of the Adnams range – drink all you like within reason!

A dish for spring: potato pie with Beaufort cheese

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

The best thing about the Tarentaise town of Moutiers in the French alps is that it is home to a co-operative which produces the magnificent Beaufort cheese. I passed through Moutiers last weekend on the way home from my ski tour and brought home a generous wedge of the stuff.

You may know Moutiers as the road bottleneck en route to your ski holiday or indeed as a vast alpine waiting room: at weekends the coaches lumber through from the early hours of the morning and the place is thronged with dishevelled looking bleary-eyed travellers. However last weekend, Moutiers was looking uncharacteristically lovely in the spring sunshine:

Just around the corner from the bridge over the Isère river is the redoubtable co-operative building. Solid and pink, you really can’t miss it:

And, joy of joys, there is a wonderful shop within which keeps sensible opening hours (open till 6.30 in the evening). Of course the Beaufort d’ été (cheese made from summer milk when the cows have grazed on the high alpine pastures) takes pride of place:

As well as the Beaufort, the shop sells a fantastic range of other local cheeses, sausages and preserves. I could have filled my shopping basket many times over but, mindful of my budget airline’s baggage weight limit and my own ability to lug the stuff home along with my ski kit, I confined myself to a single perfect generously proportioned wax paper wrapped parcel.

The co-operative offers guided tours at weekends. Sadly I didn’t have time for one of these but there are plenty of information leaflets on hand.

Time for a few Beaufort facts:

• Beaufort is produced under the EU’s “Appellation d’Origine Protégée” scheme
• Its production is limited to the Beaufortain, Tarentaise, Maurienne valleys plus part of the Val d’Arly all in the département (administrative region) of Savoie in France.
• The milk used to make the cheese must come from two special mountain cow breeds, the Tarine and the Abondance.
• There are currently 650 milk suppliers, and 45 cheesemakers collectively producing some 4,300 tonnes of cheese a year.

And one kilogramme of this lovely stuff was mine all mine to to take home and treasure! In the unlikely event that you should tire of eating your Beaufort au naturel, here is a recipe which both showcases the cheese and doesn’t require too much of it.

It comes from Simon Hopkinson’s new book “The Vegetarian Option” and combines the cheese with potatoes and cream, encasing the lot in buttery puff pastry. A scattering of fresh herbs – thyme and the first chives from the garden – give a taste of spring.

Here’s the cheese and potato filling spread onto the puff pastry base:

And here is the finished pie glazed and ready for the oven:

And here is the crispy golden brown finished article smelling deliciously of thyme, a touch of garlic and cheese.

Recipe for potato pie with Beaufort cheese

Taken from Simon Hopkinson’s “The Vegetarian Option” but with some alterations/improvements of my own. This is absolutely gorgeous eaten warm from the oven with a simply dressed peppery green salad. It’s also pretty good cold the next day perhaps as part of a superior packed lunch if by chance there’s a wedge left.

Ingredients

500g small/medium potatoes (SH suggests Desirée: I used new season Pentland Dells very successfully – they have just the right balance between flouriness and waxiness for this dish)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
100 ml double cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly bruised
10-15g butter for dotting
375g bought all-butter puff pastry in 2 equal pieces or sheets (if you have a 500g pack pastry, simply scale up the recipe)
75g Beaufort cheese, very thinly sliced
teaspoon each chopped thyme leaves and snipped chives
beaten egg to glaze the pastry

First steam or boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Leave to cool, peel and slice thickly and put to one side.

Place the cream with the garlic in a small saucepan, bring to the boil then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse until the cream is cool.

Line a shallow heavy baking sheet with baking paper. Roll out the pastry into a rough square shape 2-3mm thick. Take as much care as you can as this will be the shape of your finished pie. Lay the pastry on the baking sheet.

Leaving a border of 2 cm or soCover the pastry shape with half of the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Lightly season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cover with half the cheese, half the herbs and a few dots of butter.

Repeat these layers. Brush the border of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second piece of pastry to an identical shape and place over the following. Press the edges very firmly together, rolling up to form a tight seal. Remember that you will be adding liquid cream to the filling shortly and it is imperative that it does not leak out. Press the tines of a fork into the rolled rim of your pie to further reinforce the join.

Carefully cut a hole 1 cm in diameter in the centre of the pie. This will allow you to pour cream into the pie in due course. Glaze the finished pie generously with beaten egg.

Before adding the cream and baking the pie it is a good idea to rest the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to stop the pastry shrinking when it goes into a hot oven.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 while the pie rests.

Once the pie is rested and you are ready to bake it, the final step is to add the cream. Remove the garlic from the cream then carefully pour cream through the hole into the pie either using a funnel or a teaspoon. Allow the cream to settle and stop pouring as soon as the pie seems full. Reserve and set aside any leftover cream, you will have a chance to add some more once the pie has browned.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes until the pastry begins to crisp up and become golden. Remove from the oven and add a little more of any remaining cream.

Reduce the heat to 180 degrees/gas mark 4, return the pie to the oven and continue cooking for a further 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown all over. Check progress during this second phase of baking and cover with foil of necessary to stop the pastry turning too brown.

Let the pie stand for a few minutes after baking. If you are not eating it straightaway, remove carefully to a wire rack to allow to cool.

Visit to the heart of Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle

March 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

I finally made a visit in mid February to what I suppose must be the spiritual home of The Rhubarb Fool, Oldroyd’s rhubarb farm in the village of Carlton near Leeds, home to the world’s largest rhubarb forcing shed.

Dutch rhubarb has been inveigling its way into our shops for a couple of months now.  Thanks to the “High Priestess of Rhubarb” Janet Oldroyd’s interesting talk I know know how and why that is and why it’s best to wait for the proper stuff from Yorkshire.  Whereas Oldroyds and the other 10 remaining Yorkshire rhubarb producers wait patiently for frost to break the dormancy of the rhubarb crowns growing in the fields, the Dutch cheat by spraying their crowns with an active plant hormone, the nasty sounding gibberellic acid.

Rhubarb, or to give it its evocative and alliterative full name Rheum Rhabarbarum is an ancient plant originally from China and Russia.  It’s literally the plant of the barbarians and there is some speculation that the Rha in the Latin name might refer to the River Volga in Russia.

On the morning of our visit Janet was dressed appropriately in a vibrant chartreuse  outfit the exact acid yellow of forced rhubarb leaves.  As she cradled some of the precious rhubarb stalks in her arms I saw the perfect photo opportunity but was just too polite to thrust my camera in her direction.  I had to content myself with pictures of the Oldroyd establishment instead.

From 1877 onwards, Yorkshire did indeed lead the way in forced rhubarb production.  It had the natural advantages of heavy water retaining soil, cold frosty conditions in winter, high rainfall and plentiful supplies of wool by-product “shoddy” to provide a nitrogen rich fertiliser.  The Yorkshire coalfields provided fuel for heating the sheds and the newly built railway lines provided a ready route to market.  The Victorian heyday of rhubarb is reflected in the names of the different varieties – Victoria and Albert are both popular but I must say my own palate is not yet sufficiently attuned to detect the difference.

Janet’s talk was interesting but after 30 minutes or so we were all itching to get into the sheds themselves.  Finally our time came and we filed solemnly through the plastic curtain into the darkened shed itself lit only by flickering candlelight.

The warm, humid atmosphere and pungent vegetal smell hit us at once.  There was a palpable sense of pent-up energy in the shed.  As our eyes became accustomed to the soft light we saw row upon row of ruby red crowns largely devoid of soil packed tightly together.  The stems were thrusting upwards striving vainly to find the light.  The steamy atmosphere of fertility and growth was all too much for one lady in our party – she declared herself a little faint and made a hasty exit!

Our visit ended with an opportunity to buy some of the stuff.  Some of the more contrived products (rhubarb wine and rhubarb salad dressing?) didn’t appeal but the gorgeous satin-ribbon pink stalks did.  I was sorely tempted by a whole box of the premium grade rhubarb – 20 or so sticks as thick as a baby’s arm presented in a blue presentation box.  What a fantastic Valentine’s Day or Mothering Sunday gift that would be!  I remained sensible and chose a pound or so of spanking fresh class 1 stalks (or petioles as Janet Oldroyd botanically correctly calls them).

Back home, I cut them up into chunks and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes or so with a generous quantity of golden caster sugar, and the grated zest and juice of an orange.  Absolutely gorgeous chilled with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.  Since then, I’ve not been able to get enough of the stuff – more rhubarb recipes to follow soon.

If you are tempted to buy some rhubarb, have a look at the producer name on the packet – chances are it will say Oldroyd.

Swiss food in London

January 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

After the New Year’s Eve feast (see previous post) it was our turn to rustle up a meal for 14 (6 adults, 8 children) on New Year’s Day. We’d prepared in advance by doing all the shopping, except for the salad ingredients, in Switzerland. Even the bread came from a lovely bakery in Zürich airport terminal. Swiss wine, an essential component of the meal, would have been too heavy to carry so we’d arranged an advance delivery to our hosts’ address by UK wine merchant Nick Dobson Wines. Nick is a man after my own heart who specialises in wines from Austria, Switzerland and Beaujolais. I’ve bought a number of items from him over the years both for home consumption and as gifts and he’s been really efficient, helpful and knowledgeable every time, plus supplied some really enjoyable wines so I would definitely recommend him if you are looking for something unusual. I give his contact details below at the end of this post.

Our Swiss themed menu was:

Bündnerfleisch (dried cured meat from Graubünden) – a mixture of beef and venison

Mixed salad

Cheese fondue

Bündner Nusstorte (caramel walnut pie from Graubünden)

We indulged in a bit of judicious cheating (or careful purchasing depending on your point of view!) and brought back from Klosters a bag of ready grated weighed and blended cheese for the fondue and the Nusstorte too.  I give recipes both for cheese fondue and Nusstorte below if you want to have a go at home. Both recipes have been tried and tested more than once back home in the UK.

Our Bündnerfleisch came from an artisanal manufacturer in Klosters, a little shop on the main Landstrasse road close to the Heid ski lift.  Bündnerfleisch is salted and cured meat, usually beef but we bought the venison version as well – similar but darker red with a background gamey flavour.  The raw meat is first salted and mixed with a secret recipe of herbs and spices before being hung up to dry for several weeks.  The meat is then pressed into a distinctive rectangular shape before being very thinly sliced and served.  Bündernerfleisch is similar to the better known Italian bresaola which itself comes from the nearby Valtellina.

The people who run the Klosters business very kindly showed me round their processing and drying rooms where I was able to sea the beef pieces maturing slowly in the rafters:

You can read more about Bündnerflesich by following this link: http://www.grischuna.ch/productsE.html. I just wish we could get hold of it more readily over here as it’s delicious.

This was a really easy meal to feed a crowd of people, fun for both grown-ups an children.  Neither the truly authentic Bündnerfleisch nor a pre-prepared Nusstorte are readily available here but you could easily substitute a platter of  other cured meats and procure a tart from your local bakery to recreate the idea.  Here is the grown-ups’ table (the riotous childrens’ table is just next door).

And here’s the beautiful Nusstorte fresh (well almost) from Charly’s in Klosters:

Recipe for cheese fondue “moitié-moitié” (half and half)

This recipe comes from my trusty little Betty Bossi Swiss Specialities cook book, a little ringbound volume with one recipe per page, clear simple and instructions and a photo of every dish.  The half and half in the recipe title refers to the mixture of 2 cheeses used in this fondue.  This recipe serves 4 people generously.

Ingredients

600g day-old bread from a cob or chunky baguette type of loaf (you need the right ratio of crust to crumb – a tin loaf would give too much crumb) cut into cubes
300g mature gruyère cheese
300g vacherin fribourgeois cheese (substitute emmental if vacherin fribourgeois is not available)
300 ml white wine, ideally a Swiss chasselas, otherwise whatever dry white wine you have to hand
1 peeled clove of garlic left whole
1 small glass (liqueur glass) of kirsch
1 tablespoon cornflour
a pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, paprika, freshly grated nutmeg

Grate the cheese using a coarse grater and place into the fondue pan. A traditional fondue pan is referred to as a caquelon.  If, like me you bought a ready grated fondue mix of cheeses, simply tip the contents of the packet into the fondue pan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cornflour and white wine.  Pour the mixture over the cheese in the fondue pan.  Place the pan over a low heat and slowly bring the mixture up to boiling point, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Add the whole garlic clove, kirsch and seasoning to the mix.  Once the mixture is smooth, creamy and bubbling, bring the fondue pan to the table and set your table burner on low.  You are now ready to serve.  Give the bottom of the pan a stir every so often with a bread cube on the end of your skewer to stop the cheese crust which forms on the base (known as la religieuse) from burning.

Recipe for Bündner Nusstorte

This recipe comes from a little ringbound paperback “Bündner Landfrauen Kochen” (Graubünden farmers’ wives cookbook) and was submitted both by Mrs Annina Mengiardi of Ardez (Swiss German version) and by Mrs Marta Padrun of Lavin (Romansch version) so it is certainly authentic.  My Romansch is limited but as far as I can tell, the recipes are identical. The translation from Swiss German is mine as are one or two additions. I’ve made the recipe twice now so can confirm that it works.  The sweet pastry dough is a little difficult to handle so be gentle with it. Caramelising the sugar for the filling has to be done carefully as well. The key thing is to seal in the filling thoroughly otherwise it bubbles out when baked.  A small slice of the pie is enough so on that basis the recipe would serve 12 people. It’s usually served on its own without cream or ice-cream and is just as good with a cup of tea or coffee as it is for pudding. I wonder if this is the European precursor to the American pecan pie?

Ingredients

300g plain flour
150g caster sugar
150g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt

Filling

300g caster sugar
50 ml water
250g roughly chopped walnuts
200 ml double cream
1 dessertspoon of honey

Rub the butter into the flour to which you have added the pinch of salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then the beaten egg and work into a dough handling as lightly as you can. Wrap and chill the dough for half an hour.  Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line a loose bottomed flan tin 24-26cm in diameter. Do not trim the excess pastry as you should aim to leave an overlap of 3 cm. Wrap and return the remaining pastry dough to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, melt together the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan and allow to caramelise to a brown colour. Add the chopped walnuts, cream and honey, stir well and allow to cool to room temperature.

Fill the pie base, then roll out a lid and place it over the tart.  Seal the edges well.  I recommend leaving the pie edges untrimmed at this stage as you can neaten up the edges after baking.  Prick the surface with a fork all over decoratively if you like (see picture above) but don’t overdo it as the filling will leak out.

Bake at 220 degrees C for the first 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180 degrees C and bake until the tart is a light golden brown (approx another 30 minutes.

Contact details for Nick Dobson Wines

Telephone 0800 849 3078

http://www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk/

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