A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, written 1120 A.C.E.
I believe that Omar Khayyam would not have hesitated adding a piece of cheese to his famous verse.
I also can be certain that the complex flavors and textures that derive from these most simple and basic foods have stood the test of time for centuries and will continue to have an honored place on our tables and that the holy trinity of food ; cheese, bread and wine makes life just that little bit more delightful!
Cheese, revered by gourmands all around the world, is basically a product of one ingredient…milk. Be it cow, goat or sheep’s and with the help of Mother Nature’s natural miracle of fermentation it is transformed into a multitude of different textures, styles and tastes.
When Charles de Gaulle said “how can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheeses”, he was actually pretty far from the reality. Actually France is said to have more than 700 different cheeses, divided in 6 main categories. And there are probably hundreds more types all over Europe, The Americas and the Mediterranean. Cheese making has been going on for thousands of years and this depth of knowledge has built an incredible range. There is a type of cheese for each and every person – pressed, blue cheese, runny and creamy cheese, sticky and smelly, etc… and in each cheese family, there is at least one special item that will delight your palate.
Bread, simply grain mixed with yeast, allowed to naturally ferment and baked…..is there anything more humble yet ultimately transcendent than freshly baked bread? Another one of nature’s natural wonders of fermentation and such an essential that it is described as the staff of life and its use as slang for money. Bread was and still is the essential food for most people for most of recorded history.
Wine is another of nature’s single ingredient miracles and also a product of fermentation.
The history of wine, which started out as simply grapes accidently fermented, in many ways coincides with the history of the western world. Historians generally agree that wine was probably discovered accidentally in the Fertile Crescent area, the region between the Nile and Persian Gulf during the time of the world’s first civilizations between 4000 and 3000 B.C. Simply fermented grapes yes, but oh how many wonderful and magical variations on this theme there are now
Sometimes the finest and most memorable meals are made from the most natural of ingredients unadorned and pristine in their minimalism.
A selection of artisan cheeses, the freshest baked bread, washed down with a perfectly matched wine. Whenever I am home in Jerusalem I habitually find my way into the market. Find my favorite café and order a simple but sublime serving of Labane (thick, tart, and creamy yogurt-like cheese) with toasted bread or pita, olive oil, some fresh tomato, a few anchovies. A true taste of home on a plate and culinary simplicity in its purest form but ultimately the most satisfying.
A classic grilled cheese sandwich and creamy roasted tomato soupThis iconic sandwich and soup combo just may be the ultimate in comfort food dining. You can fancy it up with slices of fresh pear or use a runny and ripe camembert, or just go old school and keep things unpretentious with good quality aged cheddar.
Biting into a perfectly made grilled cheese sandwich is one of life’s perfect moments and a journey to memories of simpler times. The ultimate comforter when feeling down, a friend to the lonely and cheerer up when needed most and just damn tasty…
Choose bread that you prefer; white or whole grain sandwich bread, baguette, sour dough or even a rustic farmer’s loaf. Make sure it is sliced thick enough, crisp outside and soft inside. A ripe tomato and maybe a dill pickle are the traditional partners to your cheese choice such as cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey Jack. But actually almost any cheese will do.
To properly melt the cheese without burning the bread, brush the outside with melted butter cook the sandwich on one side over medium-low heat; flip it as it begins to turn golden brown. Grill the other side, and then flip the sandwich back onto the first side to reheat. Grilling both sides of the sandwich at once, whether in a sandwich press or using a second heated skillet to press the sandwich as it cooks, is efficient but produces a much denser texture.
Classic Grilled Cheese
Makes 2 sandwichesThe key to making a good grilled cheese sandwich lies in the heat of the cooking surface. A griddle or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet will produce equally delicious results.
4 slices of firm white sandwich bread
4 slices cheddar cheese
Unsalted butter, room temperature
Sliced ripe tomato
Freshly ground black pepper and salt
- Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.
- Place two slices of bread on a clean work surface. Butter and cover each with a layer of your favorite cheese; some sliced tomato is also appropriate. Grind on fresh black pepper and sprinkle with little salt.
- Top with remaining bread slices, pressing gently to adhere. Generously butter both sides of each sandwich, spreading it all the way to the edges.
- Place sandwiches on the griddle or in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on each side and the cheese has completely melted, 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning once. Before removing from griddle, flip sandwiches to reheat first side, about 15 seconds. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half; serve immediately.
Roasted tomato soup
Makes 10 servings
3 kg plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 head of garlic
1 large onion quartered
Finely chopped fresh thyme
Dried crushed red pepper
2 liter vegetable stock
Chopped fresh basil
16 1/4-inch-thick baguette slices
Preheat oven. Place tomatoes, cut side up, garlic and onion on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast until tomatoes and vegetables are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.
Transfer tomatoes, vegetables and any accumulated juices to processor. Process until smooth.
Heat pureed tomato mixture in large pot over medium-high heat.
Stir in tomato paste, thyme and dried crushed red pepper. Add stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until soup thickens slightly, about 25 minutes.
Wine: A lively rosé comes to mind, such as Henri Bourgeois Sancerre. A fruity-yet-dry Tempranillo from Spain’s Rioja region or Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace would also work beautifully.
What happens when you cross a classic grilled cheese sandwich with everyone’s favorite bacon butty?
A BLTC! The ultimate weekend lunch, BLT grilled cheese with a side of comforting tomato soup.
4 slices of firm white sandwich bread or any other preferred bread
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
8 slices streaky bacon
4 thick slices ripe tomato
1 tablespoon butter
8 crisp lettuce leaves
1. Fry bacon until crispy and drain on absorbent paper
2. Place the slices of bread on a clean work surface. Butter and layer 2 of the bread slices with a slice of cheese; sliced tomato and top with 4 strips of crispy bacon. Grind on fresh black pepper and sprinkle with little salt and finally the remaining slices of cheese.
3. Top with remaining bread slices, pressing gently to adhere. Generously butter both sides of each sandwich, spreading it all the way to the edges
4. Place bread buttered side down in a fry pan over medium-high heat. Cover with lid and let cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden and the cheese is melted.
5. Cut in half and place on the crispy lettuce leaves to serve
Wine: With the flavorful cheddar cheese, sweet tomato and the bacon that just makes the whole thing better, red is definitely the way to go, but not too dominant. A slightly chilled Pinot Noir would be perfect, like the bright Clos Henri Pinot Noir from New Zealand or the silky Louis Jadot Bourgogne Rouge Pinot Noir or even a nice young slightly chilled Beaujolais.
Is Welsh rarebit (or Rabbit?) the ultimate melted cheese on toast? It certainly is a simple dish but this thick sauce of cheese, beer, and spices, spread on toast is one of the best noshes I know, conjuring up comforting childhood memories and if comfort isn’t toasted cheese, then I don’t know what is.
60ml cider or brown ale
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
175g grated cheddar cheese
6 slices of brown, course wheat farmer’s bread
Butter for the toast
Toast the 6 slices of bread and spread with butter. Keep warm
Place the butter, cider or ale, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper into a pan. Heat the ingredients gently until all the butter has melted.
Slowly add in the grated cheese. Stir continuously until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy in texture. Do not allow the sauce to get too hot or the cheese will become stringy.
Divide the mixture evenly between the slices of hot toast.
Toast the rarebit under the grill until the cheese bubbles and has started to brown. Serve hot.
This next recipe is my cosmopolitan version of Welsh rarebit
Toasted Manchego cheese gratin
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1/3 teaspoon cayenne
¾ cup strong dark beer, like Guinness
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
450 gram Manchego cheese
4 to 8 pieces lightly toasted ciabatta bread.
1. Put butter in a saucepan over medium heat and, as it melts, stir in flour. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and very fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, paprika and cayenne, then whisk in beer and Worcestershire sauce.
2. When mixture is uniform, turn heat to low and stir in cheese, again stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and pour into a broad container to set (you can refrigerate for up to a day at this point).
3. Spread mixture thickly on toast and put under broiler until bubbly and edges of toast are crisp. Serve immediately.
Wine: Even though this may be the quintessential British nosh up and it would seem natural to suggest a pint of strong Ale for this savory dish; I believe a zesty white wine is more appropriate. We can head to northern Italy and pour a refreshing Pinot Grigio or with a La Fleur Jaune Pouilly-Fuissé. The ripe apple flavors in the wine will marry well with the savory cheesiness of the Welsh Rarebit
What is a Ploughman’s Lunch? Well it is exactly what it says. A lunch packed for a ploughman or farm hand to take out into the fields for his lunch. Just where the name or contents of a Ploughman’s comes from has been lost in the mists of time though there are records of it mentioned in 18th century English literature. But whenever this complete meal was first consumed or what it comprised of there is one thing that it must contain a chunk of local cheese and freshly baked crusty bread. Today, a good Ploughman’s consumed in a traditional British pub will have cheeses of the region or at the very least British, local cured cold meats, or a slice of pate and/or pork pie, a slices of apple and a thick wedge of crusty bread or a baguette, chutney and pickles.
8 thick slices of smoked ham freshly cut from the bone
3 tbsp. Branston pickles and/or Piccalilli
3 tbsp. pickled beetroot
8 balsamic pickled onions
4 pickled artichokes, sliced in half
A wedge of aged English cheddar or alternatively could be Caerphilly, Cheshire, Derby, Double Gloucester, Lancashire, Red Leicester, Stilton or Wensleydale
Fresh crusty bread
Simply assemble your ingredients on a big platter and serve.
Garnish with a bunch of tiny radishes that can also be nibbled on.
And to drink …in a pub it really must be a pint of the local beer or cider but for our purposes a nicely chilled Rose possibly from Rioja would be perfectly fine.
Mozzarella in carrozza
“Mozzarella in a carriage” a golden-crusted fried mozzarella sandwich. A little bit of Italian comfort food almost a cliché for Italian snack food, just add tomato sauce and you have a kind of inverted pizza (after all pizza dough is really just a simple bread dough)
Country white bread or rustic Italian bread, sliced
200 gram fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 cup milk
100 grams fine dry bread crumbs
1 large egg
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (bottled variety is fine)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Olive oil, for frying
Place a slice of mozzarella on a slice of bread and top it with a light sprinkling of basil. Cover with another slice of bread, making a sandwich. Remove the crust from the bread and cut the sandwich into quarters.
Put 1 cup of milk in a shallow bowl. Put the bread crumbs in a shallow dish or plate. Dredge both sides of the sandwich, first in the milk, then in the bread crumbs, pressing the edges lightly to seal the sandwiches.
Put the sandwiches, covered in to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
Whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl, then whisk in the salt, pepper and a little milk.
Heat a shallow amount of olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.
Remove the sandwiches from the refrigerator and, as the oil comes to temperature, dip each sandwich in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Fry in batches of 3 or 4, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 5 or 6 minutes per batch. Drain sandwiches on paper towels.
To serve: heat the Marinara sauce and pour a little onto serving plates. Arrange a few sandwiches on top of the sauce and pour a little more sauce over the sandwiches. Garnish with a little chopped Basil.
Wine: Great with Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or other Sangiovese-based wine.
The ultimate tribute to the Holy Trinity of cheese, wine and bread is to convene with friends or family around a pot of bubbling cheese fondue while sipping a glass of chilled white wine. Generous pieces of crusty bread are dipped into the dish, made with a blend of Gruyere and Emmenthal cheeses, copious amounts of dry white wine and garlic.
1 1/2 to 2 cups (375ml-500ml) dry white wine
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch
700g mixed grated cheese, such as Gruyère and Emmenthal
1 to 2 teaspoons Kirsch
1. In a sturdy pot, add 375ml white wine, the garlic and the starch.
2. Add the grated cheese and cook over moderately-high heat, stirring often, until the cheese is melted and smooth.
3. If the mixture is too thick, add up to 125ml more white wine until its texture is to your liking. Add the kirsch.
4. Serve warm, in a fondue pot.
Wine: The traditional wine served with Cheese Fondue in Switzerland is a Fendant Chasselas a crisp dry white but also the crispness in a dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc cuts through the rich cheeses, while the wines’ fruity notes pair well.
To make your cheese course outstanding create a balanced offering by choosing a range of cheeses in an assortment of tastes, consistencies and milks (cow, goat and sheep). Choose something mild like a Swiss or cheddar, something in the middle, like a rind cheese (Brie or Camembert) or a goat variety, and something more pungent or intense in flavor like blue cheese (including Roquefort, Stilton, or Gorgonzola). Serve garnishes such as a selection of dried or preserved fruits for that sweet counter balance and breads that are both interesting and entertaining themselves. With so many kinds of cheeses to choose from, contrasting them with both sweet and savory elements creates the ultimate cheese course
- Baguette crouton with Olive Oil, a layer of goat’s cheese and black olive tapenade.
- Brie with a few drops of truffle oil
- Roquefort with honey
- Sharp English Cheddar with fresh pear
- Bleu d’ Auvergne with Black Cherry Compote and Spicy Fruit Bread
- Fig preserves and thin slices of toasted walnut bread.
As a rule, the wine you choose should follow the flavors and intensity of the cheeses. A big, strong cheese needs a big, intense wine. Let’s say a creamy and robust Gorgonzola or a sharp Reggiano pairs beautifully with a powerful Zinfandel or a big, deep colored and full bodied Petit Sirah.
On the other end of the taste scale a light and tangy goat cheese is perfect with a crisp dry Sauvignon Blanc or a fruitier Pinot Grigio. An aged, aromatic Brie or Camembert pairs wonderfully with Chardonnay a wine that can take the creamier and fatty cheeses.