I was leafing through the British section of the cheese-porn that is Juliet Harbutt’s World Cheese Book, when I came across an intriguing-sounding little cheese; named simply ‘Grace’, it was apparently a fresh soft cheese, packed into jars and covered with sunflower oil and herbs and spices. It sounded lovely but I sadly can’t find any trace of the cheese now, nor its producers.
Preserving foods in oil is nothing new and the Mediterranean in particular have a love of storing cheeses in olive oil, a handy way of keeping food fresh in a warm climate with an abundance of olives. Alas, you can see that my wee olive tree is all mouth and no trousers even in this spell of clement weather and I don’t think I’ll be harvesting any juicy fruits anytime soon.
I was still determined to get me some cheese in olive oil though and decided to try and make an English garden recipe with some Bath Soft Cheese that I had. The internet, as ever, was alive with information (not least from quite a few survivalist websites who, in the event of a zombie attack or The Road style environmental disaster, seemingly have enough preserved goods in their cellars to prevent them from having to barbeque each other for some months). But, most of all, I took inspiration from Oregon-based blog Culinaria Eugenius who described how to prepare Czech Pickled Cheese.
Bath Soft Cheese is a gloriously squidgy cheese that I discovered on a Fromage Friday a couple of weeks ago and with a fine English pedigree to boot. I roamed about my garden and decided on thyme, bay leaves, oregano and rosemary. Alas, my tomatoes are still tiny green marbles and so I bought some sunblush tomatoes to add to the mix. Finally, I added juniper berries; nothing says English garden more than gin (that’s just me, isn’t it?) I umm-ed and aah-ed about adding garlic but then decided that I didn’t want to overpower the taste of the cheese so left it out. You could also add other herbs such as lavender or sage and even fragrant petals such as roses, as long as they’re edible and dried.
Getting down to work, I sterilised a kilner jar by putting it through the dishwasher and then into the oven (on a low setting) for about ten minutes. The rubber seal I steeped in boiling water.
I cut the cheese into triangular chunks and packed them into the jar with the herbs and crushed juniper berries (make sure that the herbs are clean and then scrupulously dry to prevent introducing bacteria). I then poured over the olive oil, ensuring that it covered the cheese well and that there were no air bubbles in the jar. Recipes suggest giving it at least a week to marinate and that you can keep it for months on end. Personally, mine’s staying in the fridge and I won’t be keeping it more than a month. Firstly, because it’s cheese and I’m a pig. Secondly, because I’m not risking botulism for anyone.
I let it marinate for two weeks before I opened it and, when I did, found that the cheese was even more squidgy and delicious but also lightly flavoured with the herbs and oil. I served it with chunks of bread to mop up the oil. Culinaria Eugenius suggests using under-ripe Brie or Camembert, should you be unlucky enough to get a chalky one, and this would be a great way to make it more palatable.
If you store it in the fridge, the oil will solidify but as soon as you spoon it out onto a plate, it will start to melt. The miser in me nearly used cheaper sunflower oil rather than olive oil but I was glad that I didn’t skimp in the end. Infused with the taste and scent of the herbs, the oil itself is gorgeous drizzled over salads or baked cheeses.
Right, jars of cheese in hand, I’m off down my cellar, to see how my cheddar is faring. It’s only small but I reckon it’ll see off the zombies for a week or so…
I’m adding this post to the Cooking with Herbs challenge, hosted by Lavender and Lovage.