Well it was possibly our biggest challenge yet… to cook and serve our dinners in a cheese cellar… what made us even think we could do it? Well I have to say I do like a challenge but this was going to be a big one for a number of reasons.
Firstly we were going to base the menu on the cheese… namely Winterdale Shaw a hard cheddar cheese. The idea to use cheese at every stage was not too hard as I am a big fan of cheese but in cooking it is a challenge to get the balance right.
However, perhaps the biggest challenge was a kitchen had to be built. In fact when we first mooted this back in January when I helped make the cheeses the kitchen was going to be on the first floor of the barn!!!
Well the kitchen is still not quite finished so it meant we needed to be adaptable. To serve a dinner in a dark and damp cellar meant we needed to think not only about a workable menu but more important a menu that could be prepared from a kitchen that comprised of a small domestic oven, two double ring electric hotplates and a gas paella lamp.
So the menu was constructed around the cheese and we thought it only fitting to use (as much as possible) the produce local to the dairy and farm so chose to use Pork from Roundwood Orchard Pigs as the main course.
So having lugged equipment up to the venue and then also roped in the assistance of fellow cheesemaker Jason we were ready along with Cheesemakers Robin & Carla Betts to provide dinner to fourty guests over two nights.
We had tables lugged into the cellar and then thanks to nearby resident Harry we had chairs and also some apples and damsons scrumped from his orchard! We also decided the lighting needed to be fitting for the cellar so with assorted lighting including over 200 tea lights the caves along with a six figure sum worth of cheese we were ready for the guests to descend the steep steps to the eat their dinner.
Firstly though we served a welcome drink in the shop area along with assorted nibbles. Using the cheese that we had assisted in making we served some “retro” cheese cubes on sticks with silverskin pickled onions, baby gherkins and fresh pineapple cubes. Also a classic welsh rarebit and then some rather scrummy cheddar cheese & cauliflower beignets or fritters if you prefer! These seemed to be a big hit!
So after a welcome by Robin & Carla the guests then made their way to the tables and dinner commenced!!! First came the starter a double baked cheese soufflé served with a watercress and apple salad dressed with a local cobnut oil. Plates when removed from the tables were licked clean and guests seemed to be getting into their stride as they tucked into the home made breads.
Main course next was using the local Pork. This was to be a tasting plate of three different cuts and cooking methods to showcase the free-range meat. The belly was firstly very slowly poached in lard infused with herbs and then just before serving the skin was crisped up and was then served on top of some Bramley apple puree. A goulash made with the shoulder cut was firstly marinated in sweet paprika and then sealed and the cooking liquor had the addition of sauerkraut and grated potato and then slowly braised for a couple of hours.
The final cut was a bold one… Pigs liver… not everyone’s favourite but it seemed to be a hit both nights. The pig had been slaughtered on the Monday and I picked the meat up on the Tuesday and had soaked the liver in milk since the Wednesday, soaking in milk helps to tenderise the meat and also helps to remove the excess blood. The garnish for the liver that we literally pan fried last minute was some fried onions and the garnish with all of this was cheesy mashed potatoes and of course some green beans!!! It was interesting to hear from several guests how much they had enjoyed the meat.
One admitted he had not eaten pork for over 30 years but had thoroughly enjoyed it and we even converted one guest to mashed potato!!!
Again clean plates were cleared from the tables and then we served the cheese made back on January 24th… we simply gave our guests a wedge and served it with our porridge oat biscuits and a little dish of home made banana and date chutney and some more of our scrumped fruit!!!
Finally we had decided to make a classic junket using the Betts unpasteurised milk and rennet. This illustrated the start of the cheese making process as it is the warming of the milk to then be set using rennet that starts the whole ball rolling!! Well having had a dummy run we made the junket by heating the milk with some sugar, vanilla and freshly grated nutmeg we then added the rennet and poured it into the chosen moulds. Leaving the junket for a couple of hours to set. It was certainly a challenge to get the quantities of rennet right for the volume of milk. Robin uses circa 230ml of rennet for 1000 litres of milk and we found we used no more than 5-8ml for 2.5litres of milk and it was setting as we poured so we had to be quick!!
The junket was served with a warm freshly baked shortbread biscuit and topped by a spoonful of tart Damson puree. A shot glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes served alongside! I think some relished others were sceptical it was certainly a talking point.
Coffee served with our homemade chocolates was the final flourish. We had done it dinner served in a cheese cave and the guests were happy!!! It was a real pleasure and without the involvement and passion of Robin & Carla would never have happened.
I must also say big thanks to helpers Jason fellow cheese maker (he was the stoic behind the scenes chef who ensured it all came together on each night) and then Julia who is a regular assistant front of house at our events now more commonly know as “The Hands” since an article that appeared in the September issue of the Saga Magazine!
As all the guests departed along with a sample pack of our cheese and brochure from Roundwood Orchard Pig. We trust all arrived home safe and sound and will bring back some pleasing memories of Going Underground!