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Did I tell you what I got up to in August?

Yes, I know its a while ago.

I’ll paint you a picture…

On a slightly cold damp day in August I made BLUE CHEESE.

I was kindly invited to a Gold Fields Farmhouse  cheese making course and I gratefully accepted. Did I have to think about it? Really? Cheese? Come on of course not. Who says no to cheese? I certainly don’t!

The makers behind this cheese business are Nardia a microbiologist and her husband Andrew a food technologist. Put these two together and you have a recipe for great cheese making I reckon. They started up Gold Fields Farmhouse in October 2005 and now sell their cheese around the local region. You will find their friendly faces at farmers markets and at their shop in Creswick just outside of Ballarat.

This day in August I drove 20 minutes out of Ballarat out to (got kind of lost, my fault I was not paying attention) a beautiful farm house sat amongst acres of beautiful productive gardens, livestock and farm buildings.

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I was welcomed by Nardia and then by Kate whom owns the farm with her husband. There were numerous WWOOFers (world wide opportunities on organic farms) busy working around the farm all greeting you with a friendly smile.

The farm house was warm and cosy and I felt I could be in the middle of the English countryside. The dining table invited me with cakes freshly baked by Kate still warm from the oven. These were the kind of cakes you could devour with a hot cuppa snuggled up on a cosy couch all afternoon.

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But I was there for CHEESE. Don’t get distracted Olivia!

After an intro from Nardia we ran through the basic process of making cheese. With a few questions answered the 4 eager students got down to the cheese making business.

 

Making cheese starts with warming milk, adding cultures and rennet, ripening, cutting the curd, stirring the curd, draining curd, packing the curd into cheese hoops, draining, turning, draining, salting, maturing and EATING. Thats are very crude run down of cheese making but you get my drift.

This cheese making process slows you down, your thoughts start changing pace and you begin to dream of a life in the country milking your house cow and lovingly making cheese… Ok that may be a little far fetched but its nice to dream (mine would be goats if you were curious). Its warm, slow and relaxing, nothing seems rushed. The commercial cheese maker may disagree? But for the home cheese maker it’s quite an experience.

You start to understand the love and care that is taken in making these beautiful hand crafted cheeses.

After the cheese was made we were served up a delicious lunch made by some of Kates WWOOFers. Followed by some beautifully poached pears.

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Once back to the cheese it was a matter of flipping and draining before we cleaned up, had a final ‘what if’ discussion and we were sent out on our merry little way with our cheese babies in tow.

At home we were given care instructions for our soon to be blue cheese,  making sure they grew the right coloured mound while keeping at a comfortable  12*c. They matured and after 2 months of waiting (impatiently) my cheese was ready!

I wasn’t disappointed. Soft, creamy, oozy and blue!

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience making blue cheese and meeting Nardia. The class is small, relaxed and informal. If you are down our way why not look them up, taste some of their cheeses or maybe take part in cheese making day.

To celebrate all this blue cheese I have come up with some recipes that might get you through the holiday season either in the Southern or Northern Hemisphere. Traditionally we ate stilton in the UK at Christmas so if you are on the other side of the world feel free to substitute with cheeses available.

Blue cheese Canapés

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Slow Cooked Leeks in Cream and White Wine with Crumbly Blue Cheese

2 Leeks trimmed to remove the tough green tops. Sliced thinly

½ cup White Wine

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tablespoons Cream

Welshmans Reef Blue cheese or Stilton type

Turn the oven on to 160*C FANBAKE

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy based casserole dish and on a med heat fry the leeks without colouring.

Once the leeks have started to soften and look translucent add the white wine and turn up the heat to let it bubble. Around 15 minutes.

Take off the heat and throw the pan with a lid in the oven. Let this slow cook for 30-40 minutes.

These will look all soft and delicious and the texture will be as if you could spread like butter. Perfect!

Add the cream and mix through the hot leeks.

Taste and Season.

Let these buttery leeks cool to room temp.

Cut some slightly stale baguette (I used a sourdough baguette) into thin discs and toast under the grill until crispy.

DON’T TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE BREAD, IN A BLINK IT WILL BE BURNT TO A CRISP. Yip, guilty.

Lay the bread discs on a plate and spoon on some leeks and crumble the cheese on top.

These make a great little canapé and a perfect addition to any end of year soiree.

With bubbles of course.

Thyme and Honey Shortbreads with a Blue Cheese Mousse and Red Onion and Fig Jam

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Now this one has to be a combo made in heaven.

I’m just saying, alright?!

Jam

500gm Red Onion, diced

25ml Olive Oil

50gm Raw Sugar

150gm Dried Figs, chopped

100ml White Wine Vinegar

50ml Balsamic Vinegar

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Fresh Rosemary, roughly chopped

A good few grinds of Black Pepper

Heat a heavy based pan add the oil and gently fry the red onions for 20 mins. Take care not to colour the onions.

Once the onions have softened add the sugar and the figs. Cook for 10 mins stirring quite regularly as this has the tendency to stick.

Add both vinegars, the seasoning and rosemary and cook for another 30mins.

Once the time is up the jam will be super sticky and thick, as it cools it will get jam like.

Sterilise some jars and spoon in this lovely gooey mix. Seal with the lid and once cool store in the fridge until needed.

Shortbread

200gm Flour

130gm Butter, room temp

50gm Honey

20gm Grated Parmesan

1 Tablespoon fresh Thyme, roughly chopped

1 pinch of Baking Powder

Salt and Pepper

Cream the butter and honey until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and the baking powder, thyme, parmesan and seasoning.

Mix until you have a crumbly texture and lightly knead until it comes together.

Pat it to make a flat disk and cover and pop in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes or more.

When rested bring out to room temp for 10 minutes before you begin rolling. You want the dough to be about 5mm thick.

Cut out the biscuits in any shape or size you fancy but remember these are canapés so 2 bites max.

Place on a lined baking tray and prick each biscuit 3 times with a fork.

Pop back in the fridge for 30 minutes while you heat the oven to 160*c fanbake.

Bake for 12ish minutes until just starting to colour.

Take out of the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the tray before moving very carefully to a cooling rack.

While the shortbreads are cooling move on to the blue cheese mousse.

Mousse

2-3 heaped Tablespoons Crème Fraiche or Sour Cream, room temp

150gm Ascot Blue, or creamy blue

Start by whipping the crème fraiche for 30 seconds and then crumble the cheese and season.

Mix well, chill until needed.

Savoury Blue cheese Cheesecake two ways

I’m going to give you two recipes here. Some prefer the texture of an uncooked cheesecake and some prefer a cooked. I also like to think that you can maybe serve the uncooked as a starter or an end to a meal for someone who doesn’t want a sweet ending to their meal but the cooked works well as light main served with some chutney and salad.

As I was testing these recipes I had Christmas or new years in mind. A dinner party maybe? Or a quiet meal with your loved one, both can be prepped ahead and be waiting patiently in the fridge for your attention

You choose but here are both.

The garnish is the same for both-toasted walnuts and the sweet and sour pears.

Uncooked

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200gm Saint Barbara Blue, or a mild creamy cheese

250gm Cream cheese

200ml Crème Fraiche or Sour cream

100-150gm Welshman’s Reef Blue, or a strong blue stilton style cheese

Base

125gm Biscuits, Digestive if you can get them or something similar

75g Melted Butter

Firstly make sure all the dairy is at room temp.

Crush the biscuits until you have a nice bowl of biscuit dust. Food Processor, thermo, rolling pin, hands whatever works for you to get this to the dust we are looking for.

Add the melted butter and mix.

Press this into a round8 inch springform lined baking and pop in the fridge to firm up.

While this is firming up get on with the filling.

In a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon mix the mild creamy blue, cream cheese, crème fraiche together.

Once this has all incorporated crumble in the strong blue cheese and fold this into the cheese mix.

Lay the cheese mix on top of the biscuit base and chill for a few hours or over night if you can.

This is much easier to cut when it has just come out of the fridge so leave it right to the end to serve.

Serve with some sweet and sour pears and a glass of something sweet.

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Baked Savoury Blue Cheesecake

 

150gm Ascot Blue,or a creamy blue

250gm Cream Cheese

250-300ml Crème Fraiche or Sour Cream

2 Tablespoons Cornflour

4 eggs

Juice ½ Lemon

Salt and Pepper to taste

150gm Welshman’s Reef or Buangor Blue, something strong

Base

125gm Biscuits, Digestive if you can get them or something similar

75g Melted Butter

Oven on 150*c Fanbake

Firstly make sure all the dairy is at room temp.

Crush the biscuits until you have a nice bowl of biscuit dust. Food Processor, thermo, rolling pin, hands whatever works for you to get this to the dust we are looking for.

Add the melted butter and mix.

Press this into a round 8 inch springform, lined baking tin and pop in the fridge to firm up.

While this is firming up get on with the filling.

In a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment or by hand with a wooden spoon mix the mild creamy blue, cream cheese and crème fraiche together.

Add the eggs one by one, the lemon juice and then the cornflour.

Mix until just combined.

Once this has all incorporated crumble in the strong blue cheese and fold this into the cheese mix.

Pour the mixture on to the biscuit base and cook for 45 minutes, until golden on top and a little wobble in the centre.

Open the oven door just a touch and leave the cheesecake to cool for an hour. This helps the cheesecake keep its good-looking appearance without cracking. But hey if it cracks its still gonna taste scrummy.

Transfer this to the fridge and chill over night.

When you are ready to serve cut when cold but serve at room temp with some sweet and sour pears.

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Sweet and Sour Pears

900gms firm, just starting to soften green pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/16ths, yes you heard me 1/16ths if that’s possible!

1 teaspoon Yellow Mustard seeds

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Oil

½ cup Verjuice or White Wine

1 teaspoon Cider Vinegar

Salt and Pepper

1 teaspoon fresh Rosemary, finely chopped

4 Juniper berries

10 Whole black peppercorns

2 Cloves

2 teaspoons Raw Sugar

1 Bayleaf, fresh or dried

Juice ½ Lemon

Melt butter and oil in a large pan on medium heat and add the mustard seeds.

When you start to hear the distinctive pop (like rice bubbles-snap, crackle, pop) add the pears and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring the temp up to start it bubbling. Turn this down and let it simmer on med/low for 20 mins or until the pears are starting to become tender NOT mushy.

Take off the heat check for seasoning and pop these into a sterilised jar, cool and store in the fridge until you are ready to use.

Make you sure again you bring these to room to temp to serve with the cheesecakes. It tastes so much better.

Last but not least one of my weekday favs, serious comfort food.

Potato Pie with Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onions

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1kg Potatoes, peeled and diced

350gm Onions, sliced

150-200gm Buangor Blue, or Shropshire Blue

1 Heaped teaspoon grain mustard

2 Tablespoons Oil

1 Tablespoon Butter

50gm Butter

2 Eggs

50gm Cheddar cheese, grated

Oven on 200*c Fanbake, 9 inch springform tin buttered and bottom-lined with baking paper.

Cook potatoes in salted water until they are soft and mash-able, 15-20 minutes should do it.

While the potatoes are cooking heat a large pan and add the oil and the Tablespoon of butter. Throw the onions in and cook on medium for around 25 minutes.

They will start to colour and caramelise that is where we want them.

Once the potatoes are cooked drain and mash these beauties with 50gm butter. Add the eggs one at a time making sure they are combined completely or you will have bits of scramble egg floating around in the mash. Add the mustard and season to taste.

Assembly time.

Take half the mash and spread on the bottom of the tin.

Add the onions spreading out so you have an even layer.

Crumble all the cheese over the onion.

Carefully spread the rest of the mash on top.

Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and hot.

Let rest in the tin for 15 minutes to firm up and cool down before slicing.

Serve with a green salad and some of my fig and red onion jam!

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Week night dinner done!!

See you at the next recipe, until then..

Remember be inspired and keep cooking like it’s ‘better than a bought one’

Oh and Merry Christmas!

Liv x

P.S I might be back with a sneaky recipe before the big day…