Saturday, 27 March 2010

New (Blue) Cheese on the Block; Stichelton

It is described as a classic English blue cheese, but it is most definitely not Stilton.

It is in fact Stichelton, a relative newcomer to the English artisan cheese scene. It has been made since 2006 by American cheese maker Joe Schneider, in collaboration with Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy, at Collinthwaite Farm on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. It is produced from organic milk from the farm's 150 Friesian-Holstein cows.

The name Stichelton (pronounced as it is spelt, stitch-el-ton not stick-el-ton) apparently derives from an early name for the town of Stilton, as recorded in the 11th century Doomsday Book. The cheese is actually produced within the allowed PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) geographical area for Stilton and is made to what is essentially a traditional Stilton recipe. So the links with the archetypal English blue cheese are certainly more than tenuous. But crucially Stichelton is made from unpasteurised (or raw) milk and, as such, it is prevented from being called Stilton.

Evidently those Stilton producers who weren't already doing so, began using pasteurised milk after a food poisoning outbreak in 1989. The link with Stilton was unproven but it still brought to an end the use of unpasteurised milk in its production and pasteurisation, perhaps controversially, became one of the factors stipulated in the PDO status for Stilton when it was granted in the mid 1990's.
I was brought up on unpasteurised cow's milk, straight from the udder, and the difference is noticable. I still look forward to visting the farm, to return home with a carton of unadulterated full fat, raw creamy milk from my dad's own herd of Friesian-Holsteins. I firmly believe that pasteurisation does have a detrimental effect on the flavour and structure of milk and think this is well illustrated in the end result of this cheese. Surely many of its fabulous characteristics must be directly attributable to the use of unpasteurised milk.

It is undeniably reminiscent of traditional Stilton, yet Stichelton seems somehow to have an added dimension of flavor and texture. It has a rich, buttery mouth feel, almost moist in texture, with a full flavour that develops in the mouth and lingers afterwards. It is unmistakably creamy, in both colour and flavour, yet there is deep salty sharpness from the well distributed blue mould. This is a sensational cheese.
Stichelton - it's Stilton, only better.

Availability is limited but check out the website for a full list of suppliers; stockists include the Welbeck Farm Shop on the estate and Neal's Yard Dairy (it is also available via the Neal's Yard mail order service).

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sunday Fish 'n' Chip Supper - Murgatroyd's

Fish and chips are a real British institution. In the same way the original Harry Ramsden's fish ‘n’ chip restaurant, just up the road from me in Guiseley, was an iconic Yorkshire institution. However, from my own experience its popularity these days seems to rely more on tradition than on the quality of the food. Perhaps my last visit (which was admittedly longer ago than I care to mention) was not typical, but I’m pretty sure that Harry Ramsden's will not benefit from becoming a global brand - the business already has 35 restaurants and take aways in the UK and under its new owner Ranjit Boparan, owner of Boparan Ventures, is now apparently looking east to India and China for further expansion!

Luckily a few miles down the road is Murgatroyd's, built on the site of the old Moorfield Mill in Yeadon which was owned in the 1870's by enterprising local legend "Billy Murg". Architecturally the huge building is rather ugly; in fact it resembles a tacky American diner, and is very... green. However, I'm not there to critique the building and, looks aside, this place does proclaim itself to be "Britain's Finest Fish and Chip Emporium". Apart from anything else, somewhere that calls itself an "Emporium" must be good and it is evident from the people queuing out of the doors at peak times that Billy Murg was not the only one to believe this. I for another would be hard pressed to disagree.

Given their limited repertoire, it’s amazing how many fish and chip shops mange to get their product so wrong; all too often fish and chips end up a soggy, greasy unapetising mess. However at Murg's everything is cooked impeccably. The fish and chips served here never disappoint; they are consistently brilliant. Pescetarians beware, but the fact that they are cooked in beef dripping (as all good Yorkshire fish and chips should be) only adds to the attraction for me - it definitley makes for the crispiest, tastiest fried food.

Most of the wow factor is down to the quality and size of the fish. A thick fillet of fresh skinless haddock is cooked to perfection in a crisp golden batter that sticks to the fish inside; crack through the batter and the fish flakes away in giant white translucent chunks.

The chips are served in a generous scoop and are always mouth jugglingly hot. Soft and fluffy inside yet crispy outside they are everything you could ask of a chip and more. This place (or plaice if I am being particularly corny) really benefits from its popularity; a busy fish and chip shop does mean a queue but it also guarantees great fish and chips as high turnover in double quick time means everything is freshly cooked and, very importantly for fish and chips, served piping hot. Battered fish sat under bright lights in a glass coffin for hours is a sad end indeed for such a scarce resource. The mushy peas are good here as well. Often they are a disappointing grey colour, thin, watery and tasteless but these are of a prefect consistency, very green and perfectly seasoned.

The only question is over the sustainability. There are no declarations of sustainable seafood or where the fish comes from, which is a real concern for me. I've never quite liked to ask, just in case I didn't like the answer and the dilema it then would pose, but I have emailed them an enquiry and await a response. Watch this space for an update.
*Update* Murgatroyd's tell me that they source their haddock from Iceland. Icelandic haddock stocks are better managed and more sustainable than in other waters (for example other parts of the Atlantic, the north-east Arctic, Faroes and the Irish Sea) but there was no reference to them sourcing from a specifically sustainable fishery.*Update*

Eat in the restaurant or grab a take away and scoff it on the benches outside, you won’t be disappointed; these really are some of the best fish and chips you will ever eat.

In the words of Billy Murg himself "If tha' doesn't like this lot, there's summat wrong wi' thee".

Harrogate Road, Yeadon, Leeds, LS19 7BN

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Harry’s Café de Wheels

As this week has been officially designated as "British Pie Week" here is my contribution to the great pie debate - not without controversy as it could easily be argued that this isn't actually a British pie at all. However the fact is that the Aussies love their meat pies almost as much as the Brits and I feel that inclusion here can be justifed as, after all, it was the early Britsh settlers that brought the pie to Australia in the first place!

Harry’s Café de Wheels is a pie cart located in Woolloomooloo, a harbourside inner city suburb of Sydney, next to the finger wharfe. Established in 1938 it is as quintessential a Sydney icon as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Originally known simply as "Harry's", the addition of "Cafe de Wheels" came about because of a historic requirement from the city council that mobile food stalls had to move a minimum of 12 inches (30 cm) each day.

Harry’s became a magnet for visiting celebrities (Frank Sinatra, Sir Richard Branson, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Pamela Anderson, Anthony Bourdain and Elton John have all eaten there) and the outsde is adorned with phots of its famous clientel. In 1974 Colonel Sanders paid a visit to Harry’s and reportedly ate three pies and peas while leaning on his walking stick in front of the caravan.

Harry's has become a unique part of the city’s nightlife and the place to get your post pub grub. A great way to soak up the excesses and it certainly beats a dodgy kebab.

We ate at Harry's Cafe de Wheels at lunchtime on New Years Eve, during our visit to Sydney in 2006/'07. We went for the famous "Tiger"(named after founder Harry "Tiger" Edwards); a meat pie topped with mashed potato, mushy peas and gravy.

The delicious deep flaky crust pie is filled with chunky beef in a rich peppery gravy, but it is the addition of smooth creamy mash, tasty peas and the puddle of extra gravy which make it difficult to top!

Well worth searching out if you ever find yourself in Sydney and in need of some quick, filling Aussie tucker!

For something more genuinely British try Sweeny & Todd Pie Shop in Reading, Berkshire. Something of a cross between an old style café and a quirky pub, it serves a good range of home-made pies to eat in or take away. The pies are fresh and really delicious with the added bonus of real ales and all at good value prices. A side order of tinned carrots is optional.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels
Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia

Sweeny & Todd
10 Castle Street, Reading RG1 7RD