Paul Gayler, executive chef at the Lanesborough Hotel, can't get enough of it. And neither, it seems, can the rest of us. It has recently been claimed that there are now more cheeses made in the UK than in France, and it's true that an enormous number of farmhouse varieties are appearing on the market.
Sales of goat's cheese are on the increase, and classics such as parmesan and brie are becoming staples to rival cheddar and stilton. This all adds up to a delicious cheeseboard, but Gayler believes that we should be more adventurous. "Cheese's unique characteristics in cooking are too often overlooked," he says. "Why not pair blue cheese with white fish, or cheddar with a lobster bisque? Or use goat's cheese to make a pesto sauce?"
WARM LENTIL SALAD WITH PEPPER-GRILLED GOAT'S CHEESE AND ANCHOVY TOASTS
If you can't get genuine puy lentils, cannellini beans also work very well in this winter salad.
200g puy lentils;
1 onion, finely chopped;
1 tsp cumin seeds;
4 tbsp olive oil;
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar or white-wine vinegar;
1 shallot, finely chopped
For the toasts
6 canned anchovy fillets, rinsed and dried;
1 egg yolk;
5 tbsp olive oil;
4 slices French bread (1.5cm thick);
4 Capricorn goat's cheeses, cut in half horizontally;
1 tbsp fresh thyme or rosemary leaves;
1 tbsp coarsely ground black peppercorns
Put the lentils in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil, skimming off impurities that rise to the surface. Add the onion and cumin seeds and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are just tender. Drain them well. Mix the olive oil, vinegar and shallots and stir in to the lentils. Keep the mixture warm.
For the toasts, work the anchovies and egg yolk to a paste with a pestle and mortar, then gradually blend in the olive oil to give a thick purée. Toast the French bread and spread with the anchovy paste, then top each one with two pieces of goat's cheese. Sprinkle over the thyme or rosemary leaves and black pepper, then place under a hot grill until lightly browned. Put the warm lentils on serving plates, top with the toast and serve straight away.
BAKED REBLOCHON IN SAVOY CABBAGE
Although this dish is fairly expensive to make, the flavours are out of this world. Serve as a substantial first course or a delicious and unusual lunch dish.
3 tbsp vegetable oil;
100g potatoes, cut into 5mm cubes;
1 onion, finely chopped;
75g smoked bacon, cut into small strips;
50g chanterelle mushrooms, thinly sliced;
75g button mushrooms, thinly sliced;
2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped;
8 green cabbage leaves; freshly grated nutmeg;
1 reblochon, rind removed;
25g unsalted butter, melted;
300ml reduced meat stock;
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the potatoes until golden brown and just tender. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining oil to the pan and stir in the onion, bacon and mushrooms. Raise the heat and cook these until golden and tender. Add this to the potatoes, stir in the chives and leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ gas 6. Trim the cabbage leaves and cook them in boiling salted water until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and refresh in cold running water, then drain well and dry on a cloth. Lay out the leaves, slightly overlapping, on a work surface and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Slice the reblochon in half horizontally, then cover one half with the potato mixture and top with the other half to form a sandwich. Place the reblochon in the centre of the cabbage leaves and fold them over to cover the cheese completely. Season again and brush with melted butter. Place in a baking dish and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until heated through.
Meanwhile, heat the reduced meat stock. When ready, transfer the cheese to a serving dish and pour the meat stock around it. Serve cut into wedges.
APPLE PECORINO STRUDEL
Serves six to eight
A simple dollop of fresh cream is all you need to accompany this strudel, but if you prefer something a little more elaborate, try a compôte of plums or prunes. Strudel pastry can be time-consuming to make, but filo is a convenient substitute.
50g fresh white breadcrumbs;
50g ground almonds;
100g unsalted butter;
900g cooking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced;
50g caster sugar;
1 tsp ground cinnamon;
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice;
50g raisins, soaked in water until plump;
25g walnuts or almonds, chopped;
zest of 1/2 lemon;
150g pecorino romano, thinly sliced (or you can use ricotta);
4 large sheets filo pastry (about 45cm x 30cm);
icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ gas 6. Fry the breadcrumbs and ground almonds in 50g of the butter until lightly golden, then set aside.
Mix together the apples, sugar, ground cinnamon and mixed spice, raisins, nuts and lemon zest. Then carefully fold in the pecorino cheese (or the ricotta).
Melt the remaining butter. Lay out a sheet of filo dough on a work surface and brush with some of the butter, then top with the remaining sheets of filo, brushing with butter between the layers. Brush the final sheet of pastry with more butter and sprinkle the fried breadcrumb mixture over the top. Spread the apple mixture over the surface and roll up the pastry to form a compact roll.
Transfer the strudel to a greased baking sheet, curving it to fit if necessary, and brush with the remaining melted butter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp and golden in colour.
Remove the strudel from the oven, dust with icing sugar and serve hot.