You don’t hear about cheese toasties much these days, do you? They’ve all been rebranded as paninis and grilled cheese sandwiches. So recently, when I was invited to take part in a cheese toastie-making competition by the Barber’s Cheddar maestros, it triggered all manner of culinary flashbacks. I used to love a toastie growing up and my older sister and I concocted some interesting variations on the cheese classic, most notably banana toasties (very sweet, certainly likely to burn your upper lip) and baked beans (does very pleasant and interesting things to the bread inside, trust me on this one).
However, it was to be Cheddar on the menu for this competition – but what to do with it? I’d been randomly pondering toastie combinations for a while (as you do) and came up with cheese, caramelised red onion chutney, smoked bacon lardons and watercress. I figured that the sweetness of the chutney would contrast well with the rich and sharp Barber’s 1833 Cheddar and the watercress would provide some crunch and pepper. And the lardons? Well, everyone loves a bit of bacon or ham in a cheese toastie (vegetarians excepted) but whole slices have a tendency to slide out of the melted cheese and weld themselves onto your chin like a thousand-degree beard. The lardons would provide little hits of hammy-bacon without injuring anyone.
So now all I had to do was make it. But this wasn’t a ‘make it in the privacy of your own home and put it on the blog’ sort of challenge. Oh no. I had to go head to head with seven other food bloggers in a live cookery demonstration at the Royal Bath and West Show. Hahahahaha.
And so, in one of life’s stranger episodes, I found myself wearing a Britney Spears headset and explaining my toastie filling decision-making processes to a tent full of people who had wandered in from the sheep-shearing demonstration next door. There was a judging panel of six members of the public (one of the original jury members having being dismissed for ‘not liking cheese’) who held up scorecards. It was hot. It was tense. Look how tense we all are as the scores are announced.
But guess what? I only won! I carried off a toastie-maker, quite a lot of Cheddar and a trip later in the year to go and visit the Barber’s farm and see how they make their cheese, which is all very exciting. So exciting that I didn’t actually take any photos on the day but I did recreate the prize-winning toastie for your delectation and delight.
And now (I’m brandishing my toastie-maker Oscar-style here) I’d like to thank my family, the artisan cheese-makers of the nation and most of all you guys for supporting me on this amazing cheesy journey (collapses in a fit of emotional tears)…
So, will you join me in a cheese toastie renaissance? What would you put in yours?
Freebie disclaimer: Barber’s cheese-makers gave me a complimentary ticket to the Royal Bath and West Show, as well as providing the ingredients for me to make my toastie at the show.