Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beecher's Handmade Cheese: Flagsheep

Now that I've learned that everything I thought I knew about lactose intolerance and cheese was basically wrong, I've started eating non-goat cheeses again. Of course, it might turn out that I have an allergy to milk, in which case I and my shining dairy-filled future are screwed, but until I get tested (and because ignorance may be bliss in this case, that could be postponed indefinitely) I will merely see what happens when I consume small portions of, for example, aged cheddar. Due to the fact that most of the lactose drains out of the curds during production, and that the long aging leads to the breakdown of much of the remaining lactose, well-aged cheddar has next to no lactose at all.

Beecher's Flagsheep is a mixed cow- and sheep's-milk cheddar that is wrapped in muslin (a style of aging called "clothbound" or "bandaged") for 18 months or so. They do several cow's-milk cheddars in this traditional English style, including one that's aged for four years. Unlike the industrial brick cheddar you might be used to, Flagsheep fractures into shards when cut, following lines of tiny crystals in the paste. The sheep's milk gives it a rounder flavor than cow's milk alone - though I'll have to taste the four-year version and see how deep that becomes through the aging process. Flagsheep won 3rd place in the open/mixed-milk category at the 2011 American Cheese Society competition in August.

Cheddar cheese has a history dating back hundreds of years in England, specifically to the region around the town of Cheddar, where the cheeses are aged in the caves of Cheddar Gorge. During World War II, traditional cheesemaking dropped significantly due to the rerouting of milk to the war effort, and much of the cheese produced was "government cheddar," a processed industrial cheese similar to the "government cheese" distributed in the United States to food stamp recipients and low-income households. Perhaps due to the bland sameness of this product, cheese consumption dropped off, and in the 1960s the British Dairy Council started promoting cheese by marketing the "Ploughman's Lunch" - a plate of cheese, pickles, and bread - as a traditional pub meal, perfect for the working man with little time and a desire for a midday pint. With enough alcohol and mustard-seed brine, I expect any cheese would probably taste all right.

Since I'm the great-granddaughter of a Scottish fisherman, I decided to make a fisherman's lunch today instead. I'd bought some smoked salmon at the market last Saturday from The Smokery, and a jar of hickory-smoke "bacon pickle" from Unbound Pickling, and with a few Walker's oatcakes and the Flagsheep I was all set. Or almost; a raw or pickled onion is often found on a plate of ploughman's lunch, and I had a half onion sitting on the butcher block. I didn't want to eat it raw, nor did I want another pickle, so I decided to pan-roast the onion and give it a touch of sweetness with a whiskey-honey glaze that I thought would emphasize both my Scottish roots and the salty tang of the cheese. Everything worked well together, no matter what I paired: the cheese with the salmon, the pickle with the onion, the onion with the cheese, the pickle with the salmon and a bit of cheese, and bites of the oatcakes in between. No beer required.

Uinnea Ròiste Mealach (Honey-Roasted Onions*)

1/2 medium yellow onion
1/2 Tbs butter
1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp whiskey

Peel the onion and trim the root end just enough to remove the root ball. Slice the onion half into four wedges, making sure the layers stay connected at the root. Melt the butter in a small skillet and lay the onion wedges on their sides in the pan. Cover and cook over low heat for ten minutes. Carefully turn the wedges over and cook covered for another ten minutes. Lift the wedges out to a plate, turn the heat up to medium, and add the honey. Stir to melt the honey and combine with the butter, then add the whiskey and stir well. Place the onion wedges back in the pan and coat both sides with the glaze. Remove from the heat and let cool.

* a totally pathetic attempt at translation into Scottish Gaelic

No comments:

Post a Comment