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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sweet Dreams are made of Cheese

Due to expanding waistlines, cheese only tends to be a treat in our house these days, but with Christmas approaching, it's a good excuse to plan a lovely cheeseboard. That set me thinking about cheese in general and some facts that might interest readers of this blog.

The origins of cheese are lost in the mists of time but scholars think it was probably discovered by nomadic tribes who stored their sheep's or goats' milk in animal hides for transport. The movement would have separated the curds and whey which interacted with the bacteria already present to make cheese. Cheese was probably very salty originally as a lot of salt would have been needed to preserve it. Very likely it wouldn't have appealed to modern tastes.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans developed the art of cheese making. In great Roman houses, it was customary to have a separate kitchen for preparing cheese. They experimented with smoking and flavouring it with all kinds of spices and herbs. At the Roman palace at Fishbourne in Sussex recently, I tried some smoked cheese prepared by a food historian. Mashed with garlic, coriander seed and parsley, it was absolutely delicious. (Recipe below.)

The Latin word for cheese - caseus - gives us the modern cheese and its variants, for example the Dutch kaas. The Romans called the hard cheese the legionaries were supplied with caseus formatus, from whence come the French and Italian words, fromage and formaggio.

Does cheese really give you nightmares? No one is quite sure where the idea came from but it may have to do with Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol where Scrooge blamed his ghostly visitors on the crumb of cheese he had eaten before bedtime. A study by the British Cheeseboard has, however, cast doubt on the theory. They invited 200 volunteers to eat a small piece of cheese before going to sleep and no nasty dreams were reported. Dr Judith Brian, a nutrition scientist at The Diary Council, explains that 'one of the amino acids in cheese, tryptophan, has been shown to reduce stress so cheese may actually help you to have a good night's sleep.' 

But the type of cheese you eat may affect the dream you have. The Stilton eaters reported the craziest, including a vegetarian crocodile upset because it couldn't eat children! If you want to dream of celebrities, apparently Cheddar works best. Almost two-thirds of volunteers reported meeting one, including Johnny Depp. Apparently, if you don't want to dream at all, try Cheshire.

Roman Smoked Cheese

250g oak or applewood smoked Cheddar
2 cloves garlic
1 - 2 teaspoons coriander seed (to taste)
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
A little olive oil and white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cur the cheese into small pieces. Crush the coriander seed and garlic and add these to the cheese with the rest of the ingredients. Mash well and serve as part of a cheeseboard or with a salad.

"How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different types of cheese?" Charles de Gaulle former President of France.

"A dinner party without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye." Antoine Brillat Savarin, French gastronome and author.

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