In Season: Cheese and Onion

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in March 2010.

Mention cheese and onion and most people think of crisps. My quick Twitter survey revealed answers naming the Walkers brand, the colour of their bags (blue apparently) and even Gary Linekar, the face of Walkers crisps for so long he must surely have earned more from promoting crisps than from playing football and being a pundit. A few people were more inventive suggesting pasties and toasties but for most it was all about the crisps. The reason the crisp flavour works well is that the milky sour tang of cheese and the pungency of alliums are happy bedfellows, which means they have lots to offer in the kitchen, and spring is when plenty of both are at their best, real cheeses and real alliums, not Walkers crisps.

Thinking about the combination a whole host of dishes come to mind: leek and cheese sauce for pasta or chicken, onion soup with a lovely melting cheese crouton, cheese with pickled onions, cheese and onion marmalade sandwich, fresh goats cheese with chives, Yarg cheese wrapped in wild garlic, omelettes, frittatas or flans in a variety of allium and cheese combinations. The possibilities are endless.

British grown alliums are at their best now, lovely slim tender delicate leeks, new season spring onions, regular onions, shallots and of course wild garlic. Wild garlic has become an ‘on trend’ ingredient in the last couple of years as foraging has grown in popularity. It’s easy to find (the smell is a giveaway) particularly in woods by streams, you can grow it in your garden in a shady spot (but beware of it taking over) and you might see it at farmers’ markets or farm shops. You can eat the leaves and the flowers but like any allium it can range from mild to blow your head off in strength so always taste a little first before deciding how to use it. If you go foraging make sure you aren’t on private land or ask permission first, don’t collect from close to busy roads and be sure you know what it is you’ve picked. Don’t dig it up, leave enough for others to have some and for the plant to survive next year. The flowers are pretty sprinkled on salads and the leaves make a good substitute for leeks or spring onions.

As for cheese, fresh cheeses are particularly tasty in the spring as herds start to feed on grass again enriching the milk with clean herby flavours. Britain has a wealth of artisan cheeses and you should be able to find at least at one or two fresh cheeses in delis and farm shops. If you can’t then why not do a little experimenting in the kitchen and try making your own curd style cheese. It’s very simple to do and works with all types of fresh milk: cow’s, goat, sheep, even buffalo. Unpasteurised milk is lovely but normal works fine. This method is quick and easy and good as a supervised experiment for children. The yield varies depending on the milk, its highest with buffalo and lower with cow’s milk but whatever you choose you’ll get a lovely fresh delicious cheese. You can use the leftover whey in bread making in place of some of the milk or water.

Fresh cheese

Adapted from a recipe in the Casa Moro Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark.


  • 750ml milk
  • 1 tbsp essence of rennet (note that essence of rennet has already been diluted if you use undiluted rennet you must dilute it with water first)


  • Warm the milk to between 32-37C.
  • Add rennet and stir.
  • Pour into a bowl and cover with cling film.
  • Leave in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.
  • The curds will have set so cut them into about 3cm cubes whilst still in the bowl. Be gentle.
  • Leave for a further hour in a warm place.
  • Strain the curds into a muslin-lined colander.
  • Leave for about 6 hours for the whey to drain.

It’s as simple as that. The cheese will keep for up to a week in the fridge. It’s very mild in flavour and is particularly good rolled in some finely chopped wild garlic leaves or other fresh herbs. It also works well in omelettes, flans, and frittatas and stirred into pasta, with alliums of course and maybe a little mustard.

So next time you think of cheese and onion go beyond the immediate thought of a crisp flavour and branch out a bit in the kitchen.

Under the clock, with the flowers

Yesterday I had an assignation at Liverpool Street Station in London with a man I’d never met before called Dan (at least that what he said his name was). 

We agreed to meet at 11.30 BST.

He said I’d recognise him by the flowers and the gentle aroma of garlic. How he was going to identify me we didn’t establish. Gave me plenty of get out but not him.

Fortunately there aren’t that many people just standing looking like they are waiting for a man bearing a wild garlic plant at that time of day – most people are busy rushing to or from somewhere. Me, I was just loitering.

Anyway along came a guy with a garlic plant and I reasoned there wasn’t going to be 2 people doing this so I said ‘Hi’ and as luck would have it it was Dan! We chatted bit, Dan told me about how to look after the plant and what to expect. We compared foodie notes. I handed him a sample of my home made sloe vodka (vintage 2006) as a thank you and he went off to carry on his day job (and sneak a nip of vodka I think) and I took the garlic for a coffee followed by lunch – most enjoyable and not too many odd looks.

The plant is now at home, the cats have checked it out and decided its not for them, I sampled some today at lunch and was impressed, so next up is to plant it at the shady end of the garden and hope that next year we have a good crop.

I can’t wait for a feast of wild garlic next year :)

With big thanks to Dan over at FoodUrchin for giving me a little bit of his garden.

In season: wild garlic

Wild garlic had been popping up on my radar for a couple of weeks as being very much in season and ‘very now’ i.e. a thing it seems we should aspire to be seen eating. Never one to want to miss out on an emerging trend I thought I’d best give it a go.

I didn’t fancy going off to forage for it – it mostly grows in woodland and by river banks – neither of which are that common in East London (and those that there are you’d probably not want to harvest wild garlic from). It’s apparently easy to identify with mid to dark green glossy leaves about 6 inches or so long and the garlicky smell is a give away – I remember that from woodland walks in Wales. Anyway I thought I’d keep an eye out to see if there was any on sale.

Eventually I struck lucky at the farm shop in Middleton, Suffolk – no I didn’t go to Suffolk to find wild garlic I was going anyway- there it was for sale by the bag looking pretty fresh and perky to me.

I did a bit of searching around for suggestions as to how to use it – most books and sites saying it could be substituted for chives or garlic though its milder than the latter. Spring herb soups also seemed to be recommended and salads. All good sounding stuff. After a bit more thinking about how to incorporate it into our meals over the next couple of days I decided on two different options:

Sautéed with a mixture of chard and kale to give a flavoursome mix of greens (about 1/3 of each would be about right). I chose to use rapeseed oil (which I’m currently switching to for quite a lot of my cooking, and because I was challenging myself to get as much of the meal locally as possible). I served it as a side dish with chargrilled lamb cutlets and new potatoes. It was pretty good but as I had only used about ¼ wild garlic and as the cooking softens the flavour it was a little bit lost – I’d try it with 1/3 wild garlic next time I think and perhaps add it after the other greens to preserve more of the flavour.

The second time I used it I decided to do a warm potato salad with a vinaigrette made from 1 part white wine vinegar to 4 parts extra virgin rapeseed oil and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard all shaken in a jar. I did lots of potatoes (local grown Charlotte – so a good waxy salad potato) and after simmering them for about 15 minutes I allowed them to drain for about 10 minutes (covered) before tossing them in the dressing then adding the chopped wild garlic and tossing again. This was really very good. The warm potatoes brought of the garlic flavour well and they were nicer, I think, than either spring onions or chives done in the same way – spring onions can be too harsh and chives not strong enough – the wild garlic was just right. It was just as good next day cold. 

So if you can get your hands on some wild garlic, either foraging or from a farm shop, then give it a go. These are two simple recipes to get you started but there’s lots of other good ideas out there too. I’ll certainly be trying it again.

G20 antics

Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.

Meanwhile over at ‘Word of Mouth’ (The Guardian’s food blog) the real action is already underway with journalists praising Jamie O’s menu for tonight’s exclusive dinner at No.10 and the posting populace getting very het-up about seasonality, authenticity, diversity and why oh why its Saint Jamie in the limelight again. 

So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).  

The brief: 

Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.

Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG. 

So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.

The menu:

You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:


Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)


Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms


Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard

A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.

So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.


Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.

Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.

Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!

Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.

Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.

Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).

Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.

Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK

Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.

Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.

Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.

Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.

Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).

So overall has he met the brief?

Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.

Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.