I look out of the plane window as we land. The runway attendants are all wearing fur Cossack hats: this is definitely Russia. After the complexities of getting…
Words by Bruce McMichael
A warm, early evening breeze blows gently across a leafy courtyard and through the doors into a welcoming light reflecting around the dining room of a small Italian seaside restaurant with rooms. Inside Locanda Rocco da Francesco in Sirolo on Italy’s east coast, we catch glimpses of beautifully laid tables covered by crisp, starched white tablecloths. By each table setting was placed a sheet of glossy paper boldly coloured black red and white. It showed a photograph of a young man, smiling, with tousled hair looking optimistically forward, into his future. Alongside the image was a menu of eight dishes, a flight of culinary genius created and cooked to honour the young man in the photo, Francesco.
Fondly known as Checco, he held dreams of becoming a chef and creating great, delicious meals. However, this evening was organised in honour of his life which was tragically cut short by a car accident while training to fulfil a passion for cooking, shared with his father Georgio, and of becoming a professional chef. Part of a series of eight dinners hosted this year under the title ‘Sognare con Francesco’ (Dream with Francesco), this evening’s event was organised by his parents, Daria and Giorgio Tridenti, owners of Locanda Rocco. To remember and honour Checco’s life, Daria and Georgio have created a scholarship helping young people to study at the prestigious professional chefs school, Accademia Niko Romito in Abruzzo.
This dinner was a fund raising event and Cook_inc. was kindly invited. Michelin-starred Italian chef Riccardo Camanini was working in the kitchen. It was an evening where emotions were expressed through the food and wine, throughout a menu celebrating Checco’s life and love of cooking. Chef proprietor Riccardo, of Ristorante Lido84 on the shores of Lake Garda, bought a small team with to work with Locanda Rocco’s brigade. Each courses was paired with natural wines grown on the Italy/ Slovenia border. Riccardo, a long-time friend of Daria and Giorgio, created the menu highlighting classic and modern Italian cuisine. “Cooking was a dream for Checco,” said his father, Georgio. “Through this scholarship we can keep his dream alive”.
The start of the meal veered from delicately baked Crackers with cassava and leek in an eel sauce, to Creamed pumpkin soup with curry seasoning. Both delicious delicate, and offering crunchy mouthfeel to be calmed the soup and its mild curry flavouring. Later, a plate of delicious silky Risotto coloured a bright green and made with celeriac and lovage oil was served. Creaminess was given to the rice by using the oil and not butter or cheese, making the dish good for those with lactose intolerance. A quick spray of Yersinia, an anise liquor made to a secret recipe but including almonds, added a final flourish. Riccardo’s signature dish of Cacio e Pepe cooked in a vescica (pig’s bladder) was ceremoniously served with a sharp knife piercing the inflated ball and releasing steam and wafts of cheese and pepper aromas into the room.
Courses were paired by wines from the Terpin winery, expertly matched and poured by the grower Franco Terpin, whose work in the vineyard have given him strong hands and wrists that bear witness to many hours pruning vines and working in the cellar. Franco and his wife Danielle make natural wines using long macerations and ageing to produce fragrant, wild, colourful, textural white and red wines. The evening atmosphere was reflected in a menu full of love, creativity and thoughtfulness. It was part of a series of eight chefs cooking eight menus at Locanda Rocca over this summer and autumn. Invited chefs included Valerie Piccini of Caino in Montemerano; Vincenzo Cammerucci of Ravenna’s Cami restaurant, and Sven Chartier from Saturne in Paris, Josean Alija from Nerua in Bilbao, Karl Baumgartner from Schöneck in Molini di Falzes, ending with Accademia Niko Romito on the 17th of December.
For our night, Riccardo chose to end the meal with sweet dish of Torta di rose freshly baked served with a brightly flavoured zabaione using lemon zest from fruit grown on the shores of Lake Garda near his home and restaurant. So, as the evening drew to a close and the breeze softened, we left the restaurant and gazed out over the Adriatic Sea which during the day is an inviting, deep turquoise colour and in constant motion and peaceful, and contemplated on the lost promise of Checco’s life.
Locanda Rocco Hotel & Ristorante
Via Torrione, 1
60020 Sirolo (AN)
Words by David J Constable
Quique Dacosta was back in London last month, three months after opening Arros QD, his first restaurant outside of Spain. Arros – the Catalan word for rice – promises a fine dining “evolution of paella”, and, following a € 4.8 M investment, is set to make the Valencian peasant dish the new star of London fine dining. This finely tailored chef – in monogrammed, carnation white shirt and a neatly-barbered beard – is the latest in a line of Spanish superstars to try their luck in the UK capital – Eneko Atxa, David Muñoz and Elena Arzak having established themselves with varying degrees of success – and is setting his sights on taking paella upscale.
The image of Spanish rice abroad has for too long been that of a lurid, yellow mass of paella – actually the name of the pan it’s cooked in rather than the dish itself – studded with tough chicken and prawns. “Paella is one of the best-known dishes around,” the chef tells me, “yet it is also one of the most mistreated”. Paella, according to Dacosta, has lost its way, bastardised across the globe and mass-produced on a depressing scale. “When you put paella on the table, things become more friendly,” he tells me over a large “Paella Valenciana” consisting of rabbit, chicken, garrofon beans, rosemary and traditional aioli. “Paella is a celebration, a sharing plate, but it has lost its identity”.
It’s difficult to argue. Supermarkets churn out their ghastly fake-styles, passing them off as classic and traditional paella, and creating a sort of Frankenstein-concoction between jambalaya – a pot of red rice loaded with smoked andouille, chicken, shrimp and a sofrito-like mixture known as the “holy trinity” in Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery and green bell pepper – and Valencian paella. In what Dacosta calls “an unforgivable decision,” Jamie Oliver further corrupted the recipe by suggesting that chorizo be added. Dacosta bulks at the idea. “Would you put chorizo in fish and chips?” he snorts. I shake my head in agreement, but am not entirely sure myself.
A self-taught chef who operates on the gastronomic cutting edge and hold three Michelin-stars, Dacosta blends respect for tradition with a desire to innovate. Arros in paella has initially been a celebratory Sunday dish, and according to Dacosta, should take up to two hours to cook, including vegetable preparation and a stock made from scratch. When complete, the dish sits in a spectrum of rice dishes ranging from soupy arros caldosa to stew-like arros meloson. But in his Dénia research kitchen, Dacosta has created tessellating steel trays called chapas that can cook rice in an oven as well as on an open flame and can be arranged in patterns on the table. “The fire is our guide,” he says. “But it’s not just the heat, it gives an aroma. It’s like an extra ingredient. The way you manage the fire, it has a bit of magic.” When he posted a video on social media of him using a pre-made stock, it made the Spanish papers.
The focus of Dacosta is to project rice into the high-end gastronomy scene. As one of the most recognised experts in the field of rice and paella, he seeks to challenge preconceptions and restore Valencia’s rice culture to its rightful place, while introducing the technique of true and authentic paella to London and the world. “Bringing our tradition and gastronomy to London is an exercise of commitment and responsibility, which fills me with excitement. The thing that was important for us,” he continued, “was not just to bring the recipe itself, but also the methods, the tradition.” Perfect rice, Dacosta stresses, isn’t stirred like the Italian risotto. It also has a crust, something that must be scraped from the pan, called socarrat. “If you don’t have any knowledge about this, you might think it’s burnt, but that’s where all the flavour is.” I can attest, the blackened, crispy socarrat is a delight and certainly worth fighting over, and the two paellas I sampled, the best I’ve had – despite no chorizo.
64 Eastcastle Street
London W1W 8NQ – UK
Tel: +44 0 20 3883 3525
Words by Bruce McMichael
Photos by Slow Food Archive (Photo Cover by Alessandro Vargiu)
Greedy, curious hands grab tiny pieces of diced cheese stalls displaying the Cheese 2019 logo before bringing these taste bombs to the mouth to chew and swallow, imagining new pairings and recipes. Along with 200.000 visitors, the natural cheese world descended on Bra, Piedmont – the town famous for being the birthplace and spiritual home of global activist movement, Slow Food. Every two years over a long September weekend the town is given over to cheese. Roads and car parks are closed; dozens of gazebos installed; street bars set up and household fridges cleared and cleaned ready for chunks of smelly cheeses, and this year charcuterie, craft beer and natural wine. Behind the festival stalls stand heavily bearded cheese makers hipsters, tousled haired shepherds from the mountains of Sardinia and Sicily, and cheese mongers wearing national costume. Cheese rounds from Switzerland, Sweden and Russia compete for attention, while tired palates are refreshed with local wines, sour fruit beers and cups of bitter espresso.
Food politics and natural cheese are natural partners. This year, controversial issues such as PDO and PGI labels sparked fierce debate, while Sardinian farmers talked about how their protests and campaign to achieve fair milk prices and boost the value of their island’s major export, Pecorino Romano cheese. The festival celebrated 12 years of getting the world to appreciate the skills, traditions and flavours of cheeses made with natural (unpasteurised) milk. Governments and consumers around the world are nervous about eating products created with non-pasteurised milk.
One attention grabbing cheese was Salers, a semi-hard product from Auvergne, central France. Only milk from Salers cattle that graze ancient volcanic soils on mountain pastures between April and November is used. The grass is full of wild flowers including gentian and blueberry that flourish in hot summers months nurturing a strong tasting, pressed semi-hard cheese. Younger rounds offer fresh buttery aromas before maturing and transforming into gentler scents into pungent, woody and smoky notes. Its making requires great skill from the herdsman and cheese-maker, but is very much worth the effort.
Festivals such as Cheese2019 help raise awareness of natural cheeses, with their funky flavours, surprising texture, ranging from soft to runny and from firm to chalky depending on seasons, milk and how the cheese maker presents his terroir, so a Camembert-style cheese distinctively tastes of the fields and milk of Normandy, France; British Columbia or the grass growing in New Zealand.
Intriguing flavour pairings were introduced to cheese enthusiasts such as pairing buffalo mozzarella and buffalo ricotta with oysters and seawater in dish created by Italian chef Vittori Fusari. The meal was paired with the flinty, fresh white wines made Nascetta and Timorasso grape varietals native to Piedmont. Nomadic cheese maker Trevor Warmedahl had just left the Mongolian cheese where he was taught ancient ways of making cheeses using yak milk, and was on his way to a mountain pastures in Styria, Austria to learn more techniques He says he had ”never tasted so many complex and diverse cheeses in one place. The taste and flavours of cheese made using different, natural starter cultures is so much better and interesting that industrially produced cheeses. I knew this intellectually but I fully understood its importance after my sensory experience here at the festival”.
Slow Food’s Cheese festival takes place every other year and a key part of the recruiting students to follow a Masters in Raw Milk and Cheese course starting in January 2021 (www.unisg.it). Applications open next year for those who want to know their Salers from their Pecorinos.
By David J Constable
Cover by Azzurra Primavera
My trips to Italy have been some of the most effervescent and liberating of my life. The food, the wine, the art, the women – fashion is credited rather too much. It isn’t merely the escape of Brexit Britain that thrills me, the will-we-wont-we mess of it all, the cabinet shuffle and reshuffle and frustrating merry-go-round of our leaders, but the fact that Italy is a glimpse into another purgatory. Nothing gets done in Italy, either. That, of course, is part of its pleasure. Doing something new would mean undoing something old and that would be a mistake.
And yet, there are some Italians who continue to innovate, their contrivances centring around pleasure: the food, the wine, the art, you get the gist of it. They created the Slow Food movement for extended lunches, and then, encouraged by its perennial success, widened it to a slow city movement. They flung open the doors to Eataly, a Circus Maximus promoting everything from manzo to mozzarella. There are 18 Eatalys in the country and a further 22 around the world, flogging pappardelle from Boston to Moscow. None of this is news to Italians, but to a visiting Brit brought up on a diet of bangers and bubble & squeak, it’s fresh and ingenious.
So it was that I returned to Italy and to Milan, visiting Eataly Smeraldo and the new restaurant of Viviana Varese. I’ll admit to having little knowledge of Viviana, other than she was a pocket-rocket chef, who accumulated techniques from across the globe, marking off stages in some of the world’s most celebrated kitchens. Then came her meeting with Sandra Ciciriello, which led to the opening of Alice Ristorante in Milan in 2007 and a Michelin-star in 2011. Other accolades followed, and now I’m here, in Milan, for something altogether different; for the rebranding, reopening and revolutionising of a common space but an unfamiliar name.
Alice Ristorante is no more, replaced now by VIVA. Viviana has used the opportunity to reopen to redecorate, installing artworks that bring a splash of dappled colour to dinner. Bright canvases adorn the walls, and multi-coloured perspex plastic hangs in front of the open kitchen and above a Kauri wood table, approximately 30,240 years old. The opening party at VIVA continued the creative theme, with Marco Nereo Rotelli’s luminous installation illuminating the Piazza XXV Aprile with the words “sustainability”, “sharing” and “synthetic city” bouncing off the walls. Viviana was somewhere in the kitchen, wrapped up in the revelry of it all, lost among chefs, friends who had travelled to Milan to support her. In total, 30 chefs took to the kitchen and various stationed stoves situated on the upper level of Eataly. I’m told later, that 8,000 bowls of food were served during the party and at least six times as much Champagne. As for the amount of Negronis, well… I had eleven, at the last count.
Walking this journey with Viviana is Ritu Dalmia, owner of the Italian restaurant Diva in Delhi and Cittamani and Spica in Milan. Together they present a formidable partnership, driven by an enthusiasm for flair, what Viviana calls “creative and operational synergy.” The formation of the new company VIVA was assisted with help from Ritu who, as part of the Riga Food Srl company with Analjit Singh, holds 20% of the shares, while Viviana controls the remainder. Both are driven by a recovery of ancient flavours, renewed in a contemporary style. They understand that food is about exciting the senses, representing each of their cultures through a lens – music, art, food, colour – and rotating ingredients in accordance with the seasons.
Both VIVA and Spica affirm the tight alliance of the chefs, with a menu at Spica rooted in the Indian-Italian-Peruvian-Mexican… cultures, celebrating the nostalgia of home and presenting the diner with a peek into the culinary lives of both, whether it’s a Keema pao from Mumbai or a Khao suey, a spicy coconut soup with noodles from Myanmar. The results are stories told through food; stories of a chef’s life, travels, inspiration and their journey up until now. The menu at VIVA reflects Viviana’s passion for quality produce from her vegetable garden, changing according to seasons like the Barbecued pumpkin and bay leaf ice cream dedicated to artist Kusama. I found the Spugna di mare: mussels in acidulated beurre noisette, Noto almonds and tarragon a particular highlight during the dinner at VIVA and Insuperabile: fine spaghetti with smoked broth, cuttlefish, clams and powdered tarallo a bowl that made me long for another, and another.
In this instance, doing something new for both chefs means a breakaway from the past, but not entirely forgetting about the past. There are lessons in the folds of history, lessons that propel you forward. Sometimes change is good, sometimes, change is necessary to evolve. But it isn’t always about going it alone, forging your own path; sometimes, having a friend on the journey with you can lead to unimaginable results. And here we have two chefs with two new restaurants from two very different backgrounds: two friends with everything ahead; united by creativity, by fun, by food, by art, by the challenge of it all. Two friends giving it a shot, inviting you along for the party – and what parties they throw!
VIVA Viviana Varese Ristorante
Piazza Venticinque Aprile, 10
20121 Milano (MI)
Tel: +39 02 4949 7340
Via Melzo, 9
20129 Milano (MI)
Tel: +39 02 8457 2974
by Jean-Pierre Gabriel
You have until September 30 to apply to become one of the Foundation interns created by Andreas and Sarah Caminada, one of today’s greatest, chefs from restaurant Schloss Schauenstein. First of all, the name Uccellin comes from Romansh, a language spoken by 60,000 people in the Swiss canton of Graubünden… and Andreas Caminada’s family.
Created by Andreas and supported by Sarah, his wife and mother of their two children, Fundaziun Ucellin aims to provide training in 20 weeks to young chefs (under 35) and dining room staff members through the best restaurants of the world. “Fundaziun Uccelin was founded to foster ambitious talents within the gastronomic industry with the long-term goal to secure highly skilled and passionate professionals for our wonderful crafts”, explains Andreas Caminada.
“In a few words,” explains Sarah, “through the contacts we have established with our network of chefs and producers, we want them to have access to the entire activity. Internships alternate chefs and producers. It is important to let them understand all the upstream work needed to bring a langoustine or a beetroot in the restaurant’s pantry”. Since its foundation in Switzerland in 2015, the initial engagement has grown into a global network with over 60 of the world’s most successful restaurants and producers as partners for the foundation’s internship program. Talents who have been accepted for the 20-weeks-scholarship are allowed to choose their individual itinerary out of these partners. Since March 2019, Sergio Herman has become the first international mentor of the Fundaziun Uccelin. «Sergio is not only authentic and successful in business. He is also a highly respected model for the next generation and connected to our target group” explains Sarah.
The foundation provides three specific training programs – one for promising young Swiss chefs, one for their international peers and one for talented waiting professionals. The foundation alsoprovides scholarships towards further education and training. All three training programs sharethe same modular structure over a period of 20 weeks which comprises several individual on-site assignments,hosted by a network of selected producers and restaurants. “All expenses are covered,” explains Sarah, “which leads us to a budget of about 15,000 Swiss francs per person, including pocket money of 500 francs per month. When a trainee joins us, he receives a kind of travel notebook, with the places of training. We “mother” him; we book his transport, where he will stay, etc.
Do you want to turn your dreams into reality?Written applications for scholarships can be handed in twice a year, in March and September,via the Foundation’s website, www.uccelin.com. The current application cycle runs until September 30, 2019.
It’s time to hurry up!
Hai tempo fino al 30 settembre per candidarti e diventare uno dei tirocinanti della Fundaziun Uccelin, creata da Andreas e Sarah Caminada. Innanzitutto, il nome: Uccellin deriva dal romancio, lingua parlata da 60.000 persone nel cantone svizzero dei Grigioni… e dalla famiglia di Andreas Caminada, uno dei più grandi chef di oggi del ristorante Schloss Schauenstein.
Creato da Andreas e supportato da Sarah, sua moglie e madre dei loro due figli, Fundaziun Uccellin mira a formare, in 20 settimane, giovani chef (under 35) e membri dello staff della sala, attraverso i migliori ristoranti del mondo. “La Fundaziun Uccelin è stata fondata per promuovere talenti ambiziosi nel settore gastronomico con l’obiettivo a lungo termine di garantire professionisti altamente qualificati e appassionati per i nostri meravigliosi mestieri”, spiega Andreas Caminada.
“In poche parole”, spiega Sarah, “attraverso i contatti che abbiamo stabilito con la nostra rete di chef e produttori, vogliamo che abbiano accesso all’intera attività. Gli stage alternano soggiorni presso chef e produttori. È importante far loro capire tutto il lavoro a monte per portare uno scampo o una barbabietola all’interno di un ristorante”. Dalla sua fondazione in Svizzera nel 2015, l’impegno iniziale è cresciuto fino a diventare una rete globale con oltre 60 tra i ristoranti e i produttori di maggior successo come partner per il programma di stage della fondazione. I talenti che sono stati ammessi per la borsa di studio di 20 settimane possono scegliere il loro itinerario individuale tra questi partner. Da marzo 2019, Sergio Herman è diventato il primo mentore internazionale della Fundaziun Uccelin. “Sergio non è solo autentico e di successo nel suo business. È anche un modello molto rispettato per la prossima generazione e collegato al nostro gruppo target ”, spiega Sarah.
La fondazione offre tre programmi di formazione specifici: uno per i giovani promettenti chef svizzeri, uno per i loro colleghi internazionali e uno per i professionisti di sala. Inoltre la fondazione fornisce borse di studio per portare avanti l’istruzione e la formazione. Tutti e tre i programmi di stage condividono la stessa struttura modulare per un periodo di 20 settimane che comprende diversi incarichi individuali in loco. “Tutte le spese sono coperte”, spiega Sarah, “il che ci porta a un budget di circa 15.000 franchi svizzeri a persona, compresa una paghetta di 500 franchi al mese. Quando un tirocinante si unisce a noi, riceve una sorta di quaderno di viaggio, con i luoghi di studio. Lo coccoliamo come mamme, prenotiamo il suo trasporto, dove alloggerà, ecc.
Vuoi trasformare i tuoi sogni in realtà? Le domande di iscrizione per le borse di studio possono essere consegnate due volte all’anno, a marzo e settembre, tramite il sito web della Fondazione www.uccelin.com. L’attuale ciclo applicativo dura fino al 30 settembre 2019.
È ora di sbrigarsi!
Intro by Gabriele Stabile
Text by Roberta Virgilio
Video by Ari Takahashi
When Mazzo and Roberta Virgilio first gave me a hint of a new joint effort I was immediately curious. I had seen chefs turning closet sized restaurants to fried chicken shacks before but after all this is Italy and in the kitchen we do it better. The crumb mix Francesca, Marco and Roberta came up with has the power of conjuring up memories of lost childhood and the excitement of modern day refreshment. Food, sometimes, can be reassuring and comforting and relevant and exciting at the same time. This is one of those times. If you make it to Legs ( please open one downtown, or an ape truck, I can drive! ) you’ll probably go for the fried chicken sandwiches ( featuring dark meat ), but also the wings and the fries ( old fellas they pick themselves ) are equally satisfying. Great beers and all in all, solid summertime hang.
Roberta @ Legs
Legs, as often happens, has its birth from nightly chats at a counter between friends, friends belonging to the world of food, to the world of beer, but also – luckily – able to be completely transversal to different sectors, worlds and passions. It seeds in a relationship with the guys of Mazzo, Francesca and Marco, built up in the last two years to a friendship, made of evenings in Via delle Rose 54 imagining worlds and ways of contaminating and nourishing the sphere of cooking with other interests and paths.
So while Francesca and Marco outlined the idea of the tour and of Mazzo Invaders, we talked about what could happen of Via delle Rose 54, how many transformations it could undergo and how it could become the scene of other and different catering realities. We imagined ghost restaurants, deliveries but also the opportunity to say goodbye to the space that had hosted the lucky 6 years of Mazzo and its life. Then one day they talked to me about the idea-meeting Mazzo&Artisan, good beer and crispy fried chicken, and, given my experience, it was completely natural to turn ideas and images into numbers, procedures and methods that could be realized even without their hands.
That’s how the possibility of translating this new Mazzo&Artisan combo into Legs was born. Since the definition of the idea I played the role of Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar offering a different point of view from that of both, planning operationally and numerically the sustainability of the format.
It was very interesting to take a dish that is a symbol of Mazzo and the Italian spirit , which belongs to their cuisine and has always been made according to the highest quality criteria, and making possible for it to be reproduced in almost total fidelity without compromising its replicability and standardization, over time and with the idea of opening it in different stores and therefore locations.
So, in addition to having studied with them a business plan that could make them imagine what life they could expect in Via delle Rose 54, I had the opportunity to express the two main souls of my training and my life choices: food product engineering and the procedure definition
I also had the pleasure of helping Francesca and Marco with my presence in Rome, while they took off and landed with the first stages of Mazzo Invaders. Respect and mutual trust did the rest.
Afternoons of overdosing on fried chickens and marinated cabbage were the scenarios of the discussions, if you can call them so, on what techniques and tricks could make life easier for Legs. And so we arrived to the choice of boned thighs, the famous and juicy brown meat, tastier and with a more interesting texture compared to the breast (among other things already in the process of being included in the offer for other uses, as well as the skin – because the philosophy of nose-to-tail-eating remains fundamental – to name one of the places of the heart that I share with Francesca and Marco). We selected suppliers of potatoes that could give us old potatoes which have the right moisture content and perform best in frying.
We studied what we shared as one of the elements that most of all bore the identity of Mazzo and the Italian identity of Legs: bread for the coating. It has been produced by hand for years by Marco to obtain a coarse grain but perfectly balanced with its finest components, the breadcrumbs used to coat Mazzo’s fried chicken was also included as a souvenir in the tote bag of gifts of the 5th anniversary of Mazzo, seasoned with the historic onion powder that gives it a spicy note. How to make it in quantity and in a more agile way was one of our first concerns and then the epiphany in a memory: as a child my mother made me use the meat grinder to make breadcrumbs at home. And so, between amarcord and tradition, the trick was done
Standards, procedures, replicability, many words that often move away from the concept of quality, freshness and fun. Not for me; in fact I imagine and see a path in the opposite direction in these same words. I aim to apply these concepts to projects aimed at sharing and quality, without forgetting fun and economy, sustainability in all its forms.
Video by Ari Takahashi who, after a recent visit at Legs, came with me for a centocelle shoyu ramen. More on that soon, hopefully.
Via delle Rose, 54
00171 Roma (RM)
Tel: +39 06 6496 2847
Words by David J Constable
Photos by Richard Haughton
Authentic cheddar, consumed with voracity around the world, is made by only a handful of artisan producers in the south-west of England, passionate cheese-makers who keep the ancient traditions alive, satisfying the cravings of ardent cheese connoisseurs.
It’s a beautiful spring morning in the south-west of England. The sun is shining (a rare thing to happen here), and the cows move across the plains in slow, purposeful movements. I can see a multitude of breeds, predominately robust and healthy British Friesian and Swedish Red-and-Whites. These thick-set, wide-hipped, large-breasted females appear perfectly in tune with the rhythm of the countryside; eating, sleeping and farting merrily.
Returning to the fields from their morning milking, the heavy-hanging udders wobble like a fat man’s chin, emptied of their milk they are now ready to swell-up all over again. These cows are the starting point for so many things we enjoy every day, from milk, butter and yoghurt to ice cream, eggnog (ewwww – blame the Americans) to, of course, cheese. So, let us move over to the cheese part of the story.
Yes, beautiful, wonderful, delicious, varietal cheese in all of its many forms. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. It’s one of the great culinary evils, and I can’t stop eating it. Who eats a little piece of cheese, ey? Have a think, I’ll wait. No one, you see. I eat slice after slice after slice, before realising that I’ve eaten the whole fucking wheel. If I’m not cutting chunks and eating it directly, then I’m grating it on my morning eggs, melting it in soups, baking it in the oven. I dip my bread in it, dip my finger in it, I even stick my tongue in it, licking up all of the deliciously gooey, addictive drug that is the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, goddam fucking joy that is CHEESE. And it’s these beasts in the field, these fat, sleeping, farting, cows we have to thank for that.
This is the idea: I wanted to work in reverse. Beginning with a single wheel (or truckle) of cheese, I’d take the necessary steps backwards to discover its origin; back to the curd, the churning, the milk, the milking, the cows, the fields. I wanted to go behind-the-scenes of the cheese-making process. I wanted to meet the cows, the farmers, the cheese-makers, so I decided to travel to one of the oldest dairy and cheese-making regions in the UK, to Cheddar in Somerset. Here I’d visit the ancient caves where wheels of cheese are aged, and I’d visit those people responsible for making it, the people who keep the old traditions alive. If you’re going to explore and write about cheddar, there’s only one place to start.
A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF CHEDDAR
Richard (my travelling photographer companion) and I took a road trip to Somerset, a rural county of rolling hills, famous for the Glastonbury Festival, its cider and its cheese. Province is essential; in fact, it’s everything. Think balsamic vinegar of Modena, Chianti Classico of Siena and Florence, Sabina oil of Lazio. In terms of Italian cheeses, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, all proudly bound by province and their DOP status, but the story of cheddar is different. Yes, there is a place and a cheese called Cheddar, but it is not about the province, but the process. Still, to learn the full story there is only one place to go, and so
There are many stories about how the now iconic cheese came into being. There’s the one about the milkmaid who left a bucket of milk accidentally in the caves, returning to find it had transformed into something more interesting. Another, that the Romans may have brought the recipe to Britain from the Cantal region of France. What is known about the area of Cheddar is that it has been at the centre of England’s dairy industry since at least the 12th Century, with the earliest references to cheese dating from 1170. With the absence of refrigeration or adequate transport, there was a problem with surplus milk. That problem was solved by turning milk into cheese. Cheese-makers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd to squeeze out the moisture, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheese-making along with other refinements was perfected in the Cheddar area, and so the first authentic cheddar cheese was born.
Our first stop on this cheddar pilgrimage, was to the famous caves, a place of ancient myth and quite possibly the birthplace of cheddar itself. It was in these caves that the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in Britain was discovered; aged at around 9,000 years old. He was named, rather appropriately as “The Cheddar Man”.
The caves themselves are located in a vast gorge, a long, narrow valley between the mountains, which weaves its way like a flowing river through the Somerset countryside. The area is underlain by Black Rock slate and formed by meltwater floods during the cold periglacial periods. Of the many caves, the two most accessible and open to the public, are Gough’s Cave and the smaller Cox’s Cave – which are said to have inspired Helm’s Deep in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers (1954). Luckily for us, it’s after-hours, and the tourists and school buses have departed, leaving the caves open for discovery.
Along with our guide, John Spencer, Managing Director of The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company – a family-owned, independent small artisan producer, and the only company making cheddar in Cheddar – we enter through a wide passage, into the cold, dank, grotto-like cavity. Sharp, pointy stalagmites and stalactites hang from the ceiling, dangling above me like shark’s teeth. On the walls, dark splotches of mould help to create an environment John describes as “perfect for maturing cheese”.
The influence of the cave environment is remarkable in terms of texture and taste; creating the perfect temperature, with zero interference. The cave-ageing treatment has been used for hundreds of years, although, in more recent times, maturation and ageing rooms closer to the dairy have taken over. The use of the caves to aid in the maturation process was reintroduced by the company in 2006 and resulted in the cheese developing a deeper creaminess and a flavour profile that sets them apart.
We walked deeper into the cave and further into the darkness. It’s eerie, almost impossible to see except for a few small bulbs that pop on like stars in the milky way. A series of tall cages become visible towards the rear, each housing truckles of cheese, wheel upon wheel upon wheel, wrapped in muslin to protect any foreign bacteria coming into contact and messing up the perfectly balanced probiotic cycle. On closer inspection, I can smell the slightest tinge of ammonia mixed with a nutty scent, and it reminds me of winters in London and the men who roast chestnuts on Westminster Bridge. Up close the round truckles are blotchy with mould, splatters of green, grey, purple and orange. It’s a beautiful display of vivid colours, like ink splashed across a canvas or an art installation honouring Jackson Pollock.
The wheels are only a few months old, having been produced in the dairy by The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, down the road. Upon leaving the dairy, they are taken to the maturation room where they’ll be stored for 12 weeks, before moving to the caves, where they are aged for six months (Mellow Cheddar); 12 months (Mature); and between 18 and 24 months (Vintage). By the time we depart the caves, stepping back out into the light, my nostrils have been consumed with the smell of old cheddar. We make our way down the gorge towards the process room, where the milk arrives each morning before being turned into curd and eventually, cheese. Around 70 tonnes is produced annually – a small figure compared to the bigger, corporate cheese producers – and last year won prizes in The British Cheese Awards, The Global Cheese Awards and The World Cheese Awards.
While the likes of Montgomery’s, Westcombe and Keen’s – who together, created one of the first UK Slow Food Presidia, for ‘Artisan Somerset Cheddar’ – are the only three producers in Somerset making farmhouse cheddar, The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company are the only people making and selling cheese in Cheddar itself. Producers the world over follow a similar recipe, but the differences between their cheeses are vast, and the style and quality labelled as cheddar vary greatly, with some processed cheeses being packaged as “cheddar” while bearing little resemblance.
Returning to province, we have established that there is a place called Cheddar, but that the cheese itself does not hold PDO status. Instead, I learn that “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” can be applied to those cheeses that have been produced from local milk within Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, and manufactured using traditional techniques. The techniques required include ‘cheddaring’, and it is this process which has become the most essential and defining process of producing cheddar.
Taking all of the above into consideration, none of it has stopped other countries making cheese and labelling it “cheddar”. In 2007, a French-owned cheese company based in Scotland called Lactalis McLelland was named as Supreme Champion by the British Cheese Awards for their “Seriously Strong Cheddar”, beating 867 kinds of cheese. Those in the aforementioned English counties using local, unpasteurised milk and applying the ‘cheddaring’ process are the only cheese-makers who can officially call their product authentic.
To witness the cheddaring process, Richard and I make our way over to Keen’s and their Moorhayes Farm. When we talk about cheddar today, the first name that springs to mind is Keen’s. Here you have a proper, bonafide cheese-making family, five generations of award-winning producers who have been making unpasteurised cheddar since 1899. In 2013, they won the UK Supreme Champion at the World Cheese Awards, although they were already popular and well known to cheese connoisseurs prior to this, the award thrust them onto the world stage.
We’re meet by George Keen, the man responsible for the day-to-day operations of the farm and who, along with his brother, Stephen, and his son, James, continues the traditions of the family who have made cheese on these premises for decades. Their mother, Dorothy, learnt cheese-making at the Somerset Farm Institute in Cannington, and it was their Great Aunt Jane who pressed her first truckle in 1899 and set the wheels in motion for the family business. The farm itself presents a careful process of bovine care, with large cattle shed set up like a day-spa with soft-hay sleeping partitions, bountiful troughs of food and designated massage areas where the cows can press their rumps against spinning brushes.
George and James work in a happy, symbiotic partnership. It’s a process and a routine they have done over and over. The farm and dairy give off a relaxing atmosphere – once you get past the smell of cow shit – and offer a happy-go-lucky environment nestled in quiet seclusion within the Somerset countryside. For instance, cows are not urged to leave their pasture, but instead, return to the dairy for milking whenever they feel. It’s a simple, mechanically run operation in which the cows approach a machine themselves for self-milking. Each cow is fitted with a 5G smart collar which controls the robotic milking system and records the time and volume of milk so that everything is monitored and recorded. I watch as they install themselves for self-milking – it takes 250 litres of milk to make one whole cheese – while others sit sprawled across hay, a farting choir of cows producing a loud morning chorus. The milk here is not stored or transported. It is not tampered with at all. Only unpasteurised milk will do. This can sometimes mean the milk is difficult to work with and unpredictable, which is why it is even more essential that the cheese-makers at Keen’s are experts at making excellent quality cheese.
James demonstrates the all-important cheddaring process, during which the curds are cut and pressed together into slabs. The slabs are stacked on top of each other, the weight of each pressing out any moisture. They are then cut, pressed into slabs again and re-stacked. The process continues until almost all of the whey is expelled. When the ‘cheddaring’ process is over (it takes about an hour), the curd is passed through a mill to cut it into smaller, even-sized pieces. Salt – another crucial ingredient – is added to stabilise the curd and to stop bacteria growing. Then, the cheese is put into moulds and left to drain before it is pressed for three days, bathed in hot water and then smeared with hot lard and wrapped in three layers of muslin, a permeable coating that allows air to get to the cheese and moisture to evaporate. As James testifies it’s a long, tiresome and laborious process, a gruelling workout, day-after-day-after-day, like lifting weights in the gym. The result is James having shoulders like a battering ram and biceps that pop like Popeye on steroids.
As the cheese ages, the surface becomes gradually colonised by those wonderful splotches of multicoloured mould. Looking at a well-aged cheddar cheese, you could be forgiven for thinking that its looks rather rank and is well past human consumption; however, some of the most prized cheddars are aged over 18 months, covered in mould and dark spores. The ideal maturation time, according to George, is between 10 and 12 months, though cheese here can mature for up to two years. Keen’s also produced a 29 month aged that has a nutty flavour and long finish – something I could quickly develop a severe habit for. “What we don’t want is a sharp, acid cheese,” George explains. “The cheese should promote the intricate range of flavours that exists in a raw milk cheese.”
THE GREAT CHEDDAR BOOM
Back at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, John takes me to the back of the processing room, where a small museum is dedicated to the history of this special cheese. Black and white photographs adorn the walls and show the old men with medieval farming tools alongside off-duty workers enjoying cheese sandwiches and drinking milk from sloshing jugs. I’m able to gain a better understanding here, not just of cheese-making, but the importance of farming in the region and how it contributed to the industry, both in Somerset and across wider Britain.
Central to the modernisation and standardisation of cheddar was the 19th century Somerset dairyman, Joseph Harding. For his technical innovations, promotion of dairy hygiene and volunteer dissemination of modern cheese-making techniques, he has been dubbed “The Father of Cheddar Cheese”. Harding stated that cheddar cheese is “not made in the field, nor in the byre, nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy”.
It was Harding and his wife who were behind the introduction of the cheese into Scotland and North America. His sons, Henry and William Harding, were responsible for introducing cheese production to Australia and facilitating the establishment of the cheese industry in New Zealand, where today, it is still produced en masse. Cheddar had gone global, competing with big cheeses on the international scene. What better way to stick two fingers up to the French, than be rivalling them and their egotistical, nouvelle nonsense fromage.
In more recent times, Britain has moved to the very top of the international league table of cheese producers, overtaking France. As of 2018, the UK was producing 750 varieties of cheese, 100 more than France, despite the French eating twice as much. According to a United States Department of Agriculture researcher, and a 2014 article titled “The Biggest Cheese” in The Boston Globe, cheddar is the world’s most popular cheese and the most studied type in scientific publications.
Before the 19th Century, however, cheddar was already having an influence, notably in the courts of kings. Both King Henry II and Charles I publicly announced their adoration for the stuff with administrative records showing that both kings made purchasing the very first batches of its production a priority, wanting to ensure that it was only available through them. These kings were, it would seem, the supermarket buyers of their day, the upper-crust suppliers and go-to cheesemongers of Britain.
Even the great writer Daniel Defoe wrote of the cheese in his book A Tour of the Islands of Great Britain (1724), describing it as “the greatest [cheese], and best of its kind in England.” Defoe wrote, “It is called our English parmesan and brought to the table with the mites so thick around it that they bring a spoon for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese.”
And, the British explorer Captain Scott took 3,500lbs (nearly 1,600 kg) of cheddar with him on his famous expedition to the Antarctic in 1901. Enduring months of freezing temperatures, Scott and his men, along with English cheddar, also dined on seal meat, penguin blubber, turtle soup and drank pints of lime juice. Cheddar was becoming a necessity for many and was an identifier of England, becoming one of the essential products the English produced and consumed. Here was a cheese growing in status, building on reputation, collected and consumed by writers, poets, explores and even royalty. Not only was it growing in popularity, but it was symbolic, a defining slice of English and British culture. All cheeses are nationalistic when you think about it; they are nation-defining artefacts: English Cheddar, French Camembert, Swiss Gruyère, Italian Parmigiano.
ALL HAIL CHEDDAR
What was once all farmland and dairies in Somerset, is now only a few farmsteads, as land is sold to overseas investors and the profession of farming appears less than appealing to a new generation. Hundreds of cheese-makers dwindled to only a few, a few select people who work to preserve and keep ancient traditions alive. While cheddar continues to be produced and consumed across the world, only a small number can be found in Somerset. As for those cheese-makers producing cheddar actually in Cheddar, only one remains.
Cheddar is a hard cheese though, literally and metaphorically, one that will fight the fight and continue on its journey. It has already led a fascinating history, influencing the lives of writers, explorers and royals. Even now, it creates buzz and excitement, and has the cheese-world talking. Now, it’s moves forward, forging t a new future and a new story, one that began all those years ago, by accident, in the caves of Somerset, within the Gorges of Cheddar, to eventually ending up on kitchen tables and cheese boards around the world.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company Ltd.
Somerset BS27 3QA – Regno Unito
Tel: + 44 1934 742810
Keen’s Cheddar Ltd
Wincanton BA9 8JR – Regno Unito
Tel: + 44 1963 32286
Words by David J Constable
Photos by Suzan Gabrijan
An exploration of the Soča Valley – a place of sleepy villages, dairy farms and rolling fields – proves a happy hunting ground for Ana Roš’ new cheese-centric menu.
Just as you can’t choose your family, you can’t choose your neighbours either. Bad neighbours can lead to Shakespearean dramas, dissent going back decades. But, if you’re fortunate enough to have good neighbours, then your life can be positively rosy and both sides of the fence benefit. Take Slovenia. The tiny speck of a country in Central Europe, entangled by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, sees neighbours positioned often miles apart. It is a place of sleepy villages and dairy farms, of spring-sprung meadows, dense forestry and crystalline rivers. Communities are made up of half-timbered houses and family-run operations. Slovenians produce an impressive amount of victuals: stockpiling mulberries, collecting pollen, turning over gallons of homemade beer and buckling cellar shelves under the weight of Alpine cheese. There’s a robust agrarian mentality, an understanding that the land is part of nature, a slice of everyone’s life.
For Ana Roš, everything is here. She draws the bedroom curtains to reveal a bulging allotment, spilling over with produce. It’s this that influences her and what will play a pivotal role in the new cheese-centric menu at Hiša Franko. The current menu consists of around 70% cheese already, but she has plans to up this percentage to create a 100% cheese and vegetable menu. “It’s a natural move,” Ana tells me during a visit in April, “this garden-to-table approach is what Slovenian people do, it’s not a gimmick or a trend. This isn’t new for us. It’s our life story”.
The cheese story begins in Slovenia’s villages, where families breed dairy cows – predominately the Braunvieh breed – and pass cheesemaking habits down the generations. “I know all of our suppliers personally,” Ana says. “If I need some of this stuff or extra of that, then I’ll speak to them directly. It’s a community of fisherman, butchers and cheesemakers. Dairy is so important in this part of the country, and the quality of the cheese is so high because the landscape is so green and healthy. We have products you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and that is something to be celebrated. My kitchen team knows how to stretch an ingredient and use it to its maximum, and cheese is so versatile. We use Bovec sheep cheese, produce fermented cottage cheese and house-smoked our own salami cream.”
Such was their interest with cheese, that Ana and husband, Valter Kramer, rechristened the honour at home, which just so happens to be Hiša Franko. They buy around a ton of local cheese and age it in their cellar for up to five years. As well as Tolminc and ricotta, the cellar features formaggio di fossa, a pit fermented cheese Valter is taking to Emilia Romagna, where he ages it for four months in underground pits with the assistance of Joško Sirk – a Slovenian restaurateur at the helm of the Michelin-starred La Subida trattoria in Friuli, near the Italian border with Slovenia – then brings it back to Hiša Franko. “It was always a dream of mine to have a cheese cellar,” says Valter, who also ages meats and salamis. “I can have fun down here in the cellar and experiment. Fun, food and family, right? That feels like a pretty good life to me”. The restaurant’s website posits that the cheese in Valter’s cellar is “Not only the most important part of our local diet” but “the GIFT for all the people of the Soča Valley.” It’s no surprise that along with vegetables, the cheese will play such an important role in the Hiša Franko menu because it plays such an important role in the day-to-day life of each and every Slovenian. “It’s about infrastructure and knowing your strengths” Ana tells me. “We struggled to survive, but it was about education and perseverance. This teaches you to be humble. Application is key, knowing what you have around you and how to apply it means we can use a product to its full”.
Using a product to its full potential is how Ana builds her menus. In this mountain region, nothing is sown before May 1st when the threat of snow is finally over. By June, it is hot and humid. The farmers will then move their cattle into fresh pasture where they make cheese. Ana’s food is heavily influenced by the seasons and is flavoured by the wild; from summer flowers and pollen to garden vegetables from her backyard plot. In fact, more than 90% of the Hiša Franko menu uses garden ingredients, pushing Ana to the fore of the Slovenian culinary movement in which she is almost solely responsible for elevating the country as a gastronomic destination. “We have the Alps, Mediterranean and the lowlands,” says Ana. “Some of the most beautiful and unique ingredients come from my backyard, so why not use it! If you take all of that away from me, you take away my expression, my voice”. The creation of a purely cheese and vegetable offering to diners, however, is a brave one.
That said, she also produces fermented cheese lollipops. It’s fair to say that those who know Ana, know that she’s not a person to shy away from a challenge. Moving to a solely cheese and vegetable menu could be her biggest challenge. But name a great chef who never took a risk. I’ll wait… “Creativity is finding your way out,” said Ferran Adrià. For Ana, she has all of the tools of her trade around her. Cheese is a high value product in Slovenia and along with her neighbours and local farmers, she and Walter have their own stock too! Indeed, you could say that Hiša Franko is built on cheese, a castle of dairy, a restavracija of deliciousness. It seems only right that the menu pushes and promotes homespun cheese. When it’s this damn good, why keep it for yourself?
Staro selo 1
5222 Kobarid – Slovenia
Words by Redazione Cook_inc.
Photos by Food On The Edge
The international launch of Food On The Edge 2019 took place on the last Monday (May 20th) evening at Robin Gill’s newly-launched Darby’s restaurant in London. The event saw the announcement of the 2019 venue, the themes and list of speakers to date, as well as the launch of the Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme.
ABOUT FOOD ON THE EDGE
Food On The Edge is the much talked about two-day global convention that has taken place annually in Galway City, Ireland. The fifth Food On The Edge is taking place on the 21st and 22nd of October 2019, again in Galway. A coming together of international chefs to listen, talk and debate about the future of food in our industry and on our planet. Previous speakers have included Elena Arzak, Albert Adria, Massimo Bottura, Ana Rôs, Magnus Nilsson and many more visionary, change-promoting chefs. More than 600 people attended over the two days of Food On The Edge 2018, which was held at the NUI – National University of Ireland. More than 50 of the world’s best international and Irish chefs and food leaders took to the stage to share their food stories and debate topics, while approximately 70 Irish food producers showcased their produce in the Artisan Food Village. The two-day programme includes a wide range of 15-minute talks, panel discussions, master-classes and networking activity.
ABOUT THIS YEAR EDITION
The venue for this year’s Food On The Edge event was also announced at the London launch, as being held in NUI Galway, the city’s university, for the second year. JP McMahon then went on to reveal the full list of confirmed speakers (that you can check here) which includes cult chefs and stars of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, namely Brazil’s most influential chef Alex Atala of D.O.M, and New Zealand-born Ben Shewry of Attica restaurant. Columbian chef and winner of 2017 Best Female Chef in Latin America Leonor Espinosa of Leo Cocina y Cava will be attending as well as trailblazer Daniel Giusti, former head chef of Noma in Copenhagen, who set up Brigaid, a project that puts professional chefs into public schools to transform and rethink school food. Australian chef Mark Best of Bistro and Netflix fame from The Final Table; Prateek Sadhu of Masque, the number five ranked restaurant in Mumbai; British-Indian chef, presenter & food writer, Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury; Irish chef Derry Clarke of Michelin Star l’Ecrivain in Dublin; and Dalad Kambhu of Michelin Star Kin Dee in Berlin are just some of the ground-breaking chefs due to speak. Other confirmed speakers are Alan Jenkins, editor of the Observer Food Monthly; Korean-born Danish chef Kristian Baumann of Michelin Star Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen; chef, cookbook writer and activist Sophia Hoffmann of Berlin’s Café Isla Coffee; Contemporary pizza chef Denis Lovatel of Pizzeria Ezio in the mountains of Belluno; and Brazilian chef Alberto Landgraf, of Oteque in Rio de Janeiro. The main themes of Food On The Edge in 2019 are Migration, Conversations, Food Stories, Food Waste, Action, Reaction and Food Education.
ABOUT THE FOOD ON THE EDGE AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME
JP McMahon, founder and symposium director of Food On The Edge, said: “We are delighted to launch Food On The Edge 2019 in London this year and to use this event to announce our new Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme. Each year we receive a large number of inspirational applicants hoping to partake and speak at Food On The Edge. These applicants are very often doing wonderful things for Irish food and developing the industry in their own way. While we have limited capacity of speaking slots, we wanted to do something to acknowledge these food champions. I hope this initiative will widen the reach of the Food On The Edge and act as its legacy into the future, eventually expanding onto a global scale”. Six people who are working to change the landscape of Irish food and are exemplifying the Food On The Edge ethos will be selected to be the Food On The Edge Ambassadors for 2019. The Ambassadors will be invited to speak in a discussion at Food On The Edge 2019 on the work they are doing, as well as receiving a two-day ticket to the event and a profile on the event website.
Discover more about the event here www.foodontheedge.ie