Monday, 24 August 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Toasted Cheese from Heidi by Joanna Spyri.

Before I set out on this fictional food adventure, Heidi was one of the books that ALWAYS made me want to eat what Heidi was eating. If I had composed such a compendium as Jane Brocket's Turkish Delights and Treasure Hunts, Heidi would have been at the top of the list with no hesitation. The countless mentions of fresh goats' milk always sent me dashing the kitchen for a glass of cold milk, and when she toasts cheese over the fire with her Grandfather, it made me so hungry and I longed to do the same myself. They were such simple, hearty meals; bread, cheese, milk. Everything seemed full of the freshness and goodness of the Alp, and fresh air always makes you appreciate food more.

This recipe does not represent much of a culinary challenge; it is simply toasting cubes of cheese over a fire. But what a treat! It does make a big difference depending on what type of cheese you use. Cheddar is a rapid melter so would be running all down the fork before it ever had a chance of goldening, so you need a firm, dense cheese. Jane Brocket recommends Gruyere, which sounds very suitable.  

It's been a bit of a damp summer and we've not had many barbeques, and yet, being summer, we've not had any log fires indoors either. But one August evening, Andy and I were invited to a Firepit Fun evening in the garden of our friends' house. So i seized the opportunity for sociable cheese toasting and dashed off down to the supermarket to obtain a goodly lump of Gruyere from the Deli counter, and some loaves of bread. Jane Brocket suggests a Rye or Sourdough loaf, and from past experience with (sorry) Tescos excellent bread, we knew they do a mighty fine oval, soft, nutty brown Rye loaf, and an oval, soft, white Sourdough loaf. 
They are so good you can just sit there and keep eating it til it's all gone, without anything on it! When I went to the bread shelves, however, the spaces for both types of bread were empty. After some enquiries, and waiting for the bread guy to turn up with a freshly laden trolley, he was able to grab me one of each so I came away happy and excited. 

It had been sort of drizzling all day, but in a barely-there kind of way; not enough to put out a fire! So off we went with our cheese and bread and toasting fork, and gathered with friends around a wonderful roaring firepit, with Marshmallows and amazing Chocolate Cake. 

I cut up the cheese into cubes and people started getting interested. Several people seemed to think it was a very sensible idea, but were very surprised by the appearance of out toasting fork. Doesn't everyone have one? I grew up in a Victorian house, with a hearth, and the bronze fork was a familiar part of the hearth scene, always propped against the bricks at the ready. When Andy and I bought our own Victorian house, that first Christmas I found a wonderful and very similar toasting fork in our local charity shop and wrapped it for Andy's stocking. I assumed that everyone who owned a hearth would have one, but obviously I was wrong. And no, pokers really don't grip the cheese well enough, as we found out. I started off the toasting, rotating the cheese over the glowing embers til it was starting to gently bubble. 

Then I pulled it off the hot metal prongs using a piece of bread ripped from the loaf, and gobbled it all up together. It was certainly delicious, and fun, and good, and the fork was pulled out of my hand and the rounds of cheese toasting continued as the rain gathered momentum and fell heavily onto the many umbrellas in the dusk. It was love;y to have introduced the tastiness of Gruyere to many people who had never had it before, including one lady who said if she'd known what it was she wouldn't have tried it. And they kept coming back for more! So, it wasn't quite a still, clear golden night on the Alps, but it was a wonderful British summer evening amongst lovely people. 

Soon, we were all wet enough to appreciate going indoors for frothy hot chocolates, silly games and chatter til it was time for our warm, soft, dry beds. 

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