Monday, April 30, 2012

#Baketogether with Abby Dodge: Strawberry Angel Food Cake Trifle

This month’s #baketogether with Abby Dodge sounded simple enough.  She asked everyone this month to take her foolproof recipe and bake a simple angel food cake; an innocent combination of egg whites, flour and sugar.  I’ve seen my mother-in-law bake a hundred of these fluffy, spongy, cloudlike confections.   Piece of cake, huh? Well, not so fast, I do live at 6,300 ft.

I thought for my #baketogether offering, I would fold in some fresh strawberry puree right at the end, pour the batter into miniature tube pans that I have been wondering what to do with and then bake them up high and drizzle them with a Meyer lemon glaze and my strawberry lemonade angel food cakes would be something the culinary world would talk about for years to come.  Foodgawker and TasteSpotting would come and ask MY permission to put these little works of art on their front page.  Then the oven timer rang.

At first they looked quite good.  Ahhh, I thought my plan was surely coming to fruition.  I inverted the pan over a wire rack and left them alone to cool.  After about 15 minutes, I gently lifted the pan to have a peek at my masterpieces and much to my dismay they resembled little pink hockey pucks.  I quickly pulled one apart to see that surely they must at least have a heavenly texture.  Nope. Rubber biscuit. Oh man! This is not how it was supposed to go!

Unlike my blogger friend Barb over at Creative Culinary who has her own tale of high altitude chocolate angel food cake woe; I didn’t take photos of mine and only wish I had, for it is from our failures that we learn our most memorable lessons.  I’m not sure if my experimental addition of the strawberry puree (no guts, no glory) sabotaged my dream cakes or it was the altitude, or a combination of both, but I decided against investing another 11 egg whites in this venture. 

Left to deal with my family’s disappointment and an extreme angel food cake craving, I decided to take a different road and just buy one at my supermarket’s bakery.  I know, I know, this is a real cop out, and I really feel terrible about it, but we’ve all done it. 

Since I can’t give you a great recipe for a legendary strawberry lemonade version of Abby’s cake as planned, I decided to make a nice old southern summertime recipe containing my store bought angel food cake that I think just might satisfy everyone’s craving around here.  If you would like to make your own angel food cake according to Abby’s normally successful recipe, please click here.  If you are in the market for a recipe for adorable pink rubber hockey pucks, drop me a line and I’ll hook you up.

Strawberry Angel Food Cake Trifle

2 quarts strawberries, hulled and cut into bite size pieces

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice

8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 – 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

1 – 1/2 cup heavy cream, divided

3 cups angel food cake, cut into 1” cubes

1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans

Place strawberries into a large bowl.  Remove a couple of large handfuls and place them in a blender or food processor, puree; set aside.

Place puree into a small saucepan.  To the puree add sugar and salt; stir well and place over medium heat.

Place cornstarch into a small bowl.  Combine with the water and add to the puree and sugar mixture in the saucepan.  Stir well and heat to boiling; stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear and thick, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat, add lemon or lime juice, stir and set aside to cool.

In a medium size bowl combine together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.  With an electric mixer, mix on low until the ingredients are completely blended and smooth.  Add 1/2 cup of the whipped cream.  Whip with an electric mixer set to high until the mixture is thick and fluffy; set aside.

Sprinkle cake cubes into the bottom of a large bowl; top with the cream cheese mixture and spread to an even layer with the back of a spoon; set aside.

Pour cooled puree over the strawberries in the large bowl.  Stir well to completely coat the strawberries; spoon the strawberries and glaze over the cream cheese mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Before serving, whip the remaining 1 cup whipping cream with an electric mixer on high until it is fluffy and beginning to thicken.  Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract; continue to whip until the cream is thick and fluffy. To serve, spoon cake into bowls and top with whipped cream and nuts. 

Easily serves 6 - 8

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Day at North Denver Sausage Company and a Recipe for Chewy Salted Dry Sausage Pralines

A few months ago our local blogger group was invited to a reception at North Denver Sausage Co.  The owner and president, Kathy Laurienti, wanted to introduce us to her dry Italian sausage, and the fresh Italian sausage that she sells under her Paisano sausage label. 

Kathy’s late husband started Paisano Sausage Company a little over 30 years ago, and upon his death about a year ago Kathy took over the running of this small family operation.  Wanting to expand her product line, she recently began producing her dry sausage.

Kathy and her staff make sausage every weekday.   Health inspectors inspect her facilities every morning before production begins.  Each batch of sausage is seasoned and blended by hand before being stuffed in natural casings.
Kathy weighing out spices before making a batch of her fresh sausage.

She makes this look easy, but  I'm sure it's not.

Fresh Italian Sausage

The dry sausage is also made in much the same way but is dried by a process of being salted and air dried for a period of at least 19 days.  Not only does this dry the sausage, but it preserves it by removing the moisture making this the perfect snack for hikers, campers or doomsday preppers (I am fascinated by this show) since it needs no refrigeration.

On the day we were at Kathy’s factory, she showed us around and introduced herself and her products before getting down to the important stuff, the eating and drinking.  She had a sampling of each of her types of dried sausage, mild, medium and hot.  With these sausages she served a bowl of caramel sauce and a bowl of marshmallow cream. 

Now, I know this sounds really different but I can’t tell you how delicious it was.  The savory, spicy, chewy dry sausages along with the sweetness of the caramel and marshmallow sauces were really a great flavor combination.

A little further down the table Kathy had prepared her fresh sausage her favorite way with potatoes, onions and green bell peppers.  Her fresh sausage has a mild flavor with the perfect spark of anise flavor from the fennel she adds.  If you’ve dined at any of the many Italian restaurants around the Denver area, you very well could have eaten Paisano’s sausage since Kathy mainly sells this product to area restaurants.

Kathy's favorite sausage recipe.  Maybe she'll give us the recipe sometime.

Before we left that day Kathy provided us with beautiful gift baskets filled with an assortment of Italian specialty foods and a bottle of locally made wine from Balistreri Vineyards.  Included in the basket were a couple of packages of Kathy’s dry sausage in mild and hot.  Once home we quickly scarfed down the mild and saved the hot variety for my “research”.

Knowing that I really wanted to introduce you to the sweet/salty taste combo of the dry sausage with the sweet sauce, I decided to make it a bit more portable for those doomsday preppers and wrap it something sweet.  I had a couple of failures first trying to make vanilla nougat and then a sort of creamy taffy to wrap it in.  Both were disappointing so I went back to square 1 and decided to try a type of chewy praline.  Voila! Fantastico and oh so easy.

If you don’t have one already, go buy an inexpensive candy thermometer (you should really have one anyway) and get started.  If you want to buy some of North Denver Sausage Co.’s dry sausage for your candy, visit their website at and they’ll be happy to sell you some and ship it to your door.


Chewy Salted Dry Sausage Pralines

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 stick (4 ounces) butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
24 – 1/4" thick slices of dry Italian sausage (I like the hot)
2 teaspoons salt flakes
Lay 2 sheets of foil out flat on a heat proof surface.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
Place sugars and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a boil (stop stirring once it boils).  Let it cook until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Remove from the heat and add the butter, whisking until it is completely incorporated.  Add the cream and whisk until it is incorporated as well.  Return the mixture back to the medium heat and stirring frequently, bring the mixture back up to the boil and cook until the thermometer reads 242 degrees.
Working quickly, spoon 1 teaspoon of praline in 12 different spots, 3” apart, onto prepared foil sheets.  Top each spot with a piece of sausage then another spoon of praline over the sausage. Sprinkle with salt.  Repeat with remaining praline and sausage.  Cool for at least 30 minutes.  Wrap in plastic.
*If praline mixture starts to harden, replace it on a medium low heat for just a minute or two until it loosens. 
**Sausage can also be replaced with pecans, walnuts, almonds or bacon bits.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Back to London: A Perfect Day on Brick Lane with Good Friends and a Salt Beef Sandwich

There once was a time when I would schlep two heavy bags back and forth on my trips to the UK.  I used to arrive bags bursting with foods and gifts from home for my hosts, and then on my return I would fill them back up with English goodies for my family, but no more, British Airways has taken care of that with their one bag rule. 

I’m really not complaining.  BA has made me rethink the way I travel.  I’ve streamlined things a lot and instead of looking like some urban beast of burden while dragging one of England’s crazy airport luggage trolleys around, I now glide through the airport pulling just one bag with a small carry on on top.  Love it, but it has made me super paranoid weighing my bag everytime I add a pair of socks to the pile.
After nine days in Nottingham I packed up my 46 pounds of clothing and souvenirs and headed back to London for three more days with my friends Susan and Adrian.  I met Susan over the cheese case in Sainsbury’s in Nottingham many years ago.  She was chatting with her sister-in-law, and being hungry for American companionship; I picked up on her accent and struck up a conversation.  We exchanged phone numbers and have been friends ever since.  I can't help but think that our friendship was meant to be.

Being pretty new to London themselves since selling their home in Nottingham, I loved exploring the Londoner’s London with them.  They have two daughters living on their own here so they have clued them in on all the really cool and happening places we should see.  I really thought I knew this city pretty well until this trip and realized that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Since I just had a couple more days left of my holiday we hit the ground running.  On Sunday we headed over to Spitalfields Market.   This is a large open air market packed with stalls brimming with clothing and arts and crafts.  It is a wonderful place to shop if you aren’t close to your luggage weight limit or haven’t recently downsized your home.  Seeing that that pretty much left all of us out, we had a quick look around and decided to move on.

Since we weren't really in the market for any gifts or clothing and it was close to lunch, Susan asked one of the local vendors where we could grab a good bite.  She directed us a couple of blocks over to a food court that was supposed to have some pretty good food. 

We followed her directions and wound our way over to Brick Lane.   Brick Lane is located in London’s colorful East End in the Borough of Tower Hamlet.  Once known as Whitechapel Lane, this street is now home to a diverse population whose roots stem from hundreds of years of change and cultural evolution. 

Brick Lane is also the location of a Sunday market that began long ago with the dispensation given to the Jewish community allowing them to trade on Sundays.  Up and down this road you can find everything from fruit and vegetables to antiques and bric-a-brac.  Bustling Brick Lane on a Sunday is one more reason why London is my favorite city ever.

The food court we were looking for was located in a large building tucked in the middle of an endless row of curry houses.  Inside, makeshift kitchens containing every type of ethnic food you can imagine line the perimeter and coil around to the center.  After many, many samples we each made the difficult decision of what our lunch was going to be, paid our 5 pounds and headed out to find a place on the curb to sit and enjoy our lunch.

After finishing our curbside lunch, we took our sticky hands and full stomachs and headed further down the street.  We were amazed to see that our food court wasn’t the only one as the food and goodness stretched for blocks and blocks.

Just about the time we thought the street buffet was over, we ran across a London institution, the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery.   Open 24/7, which is quite unusual for shops in the UK, it is my understanding that there is a constant a queue for their inexpensive and fresh kosher foods.  
A peek at the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery's kitchen from the queue.

In the front window of this shop they have a tempting display of large moist slabs of salt beef which they are happy to slice for you and pile on a fresh bagel or light rye for the incredible price of 4 measly pounds.  By this time my partner in dietary crime (aka Adrian) and I got caught up in the spirit of the place, and since I had never tried it before, and we were ready for a little dessert anyway, we found ourselves ordering one.

We stood in the fast moving line for what seemed like an eternity until we stepped out into the bright sunshine with a little bit of heaven in our hands (I swear I could hear the angels sing).  We had opted to have our salt beef served the traditional way on light rye with a healthy slathering of English mustard and a generous amount of sliced gherkins arranged on top.  Adrian handed me my half and I carefully raised the warm sandwich to my mouth just as the one slice of pickle on my half squirted out the bottom bouncing off the top of the electrical cabinet we were using as a dining table.  Damn!

Knowing how heartbroken I was, Susan tried to make it better by convincing me that the 5 second rule had surely not been violated, and then even tried to talk me into cleaning it off with an antibacterial wipe.  Even though I must admit that I considered it for just a second, the movie Contagion came to mind and I just couldn’t.  No sir, my maiden voyage into English salt beef was going to have to be sans gherkin, and I'm happy to say that I loved it anyway.

English salt beef is really just corned beef to us Americans.  Wanting to cure my own for some time, I thought that this was my perfect opportunity.  Still wanting to have that true English salt beef experience, I combined a couple of English recipes, cleaned out the fridge and let it cure for 10 days.  As you will see in my recipe, I boiled mine; served it on light rye with big dollop of mustard (I used extra strong Dijon) and lots and lots of extra pickles just in case.

Salt Beef

4 cups water
1/4 cup sea salt
2 lightly packed tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon pink salt (also known as Prague powder, curing salt or salt peter)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 juniper berries
4 allspice berries
1 star anise
1 large sprig thyme
1 large bay leaf, broken
1 medium size dried Thai chili
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 whole cloves
1 – 1/2 pound beef brisket
1 medium size onion, coarsely chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
Place all of the ingredients except the brisket into a medium size sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 4 minutes.  Cool.
Place brisket into a large zipper seal bag.  Pour cooled brine over the brisket in the bag.  Place in the refrigerator for 7 - 10 days, turning over once every day.
After curing time, remove the meat from the brine and place in a large stock pot and cover with clean cool water.  Add onion, celery and carrot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until fork tender.  Mine took right at 3 hours. 
Remove from the water and rest, covered for 15 minutes.  Slice and serve. 
Makes 4 – 6 hearty sandwiches

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tea for Three at Langar Hall: Mini Scones, A Creamy Scone Topping and a Great Cup of Tea

After our tour of Long Clawson Dairy, my dear sweet friend Karen who had been reading magazines in the car (now that’s a true friend), suggested we head up the road a few miles to Langar Hall for some coffee.  Since I hadn’t been there in some time and Jane had never been, we were quite agreeable to the idea.

Langar Hall is a large country home that is situated at the end of a long lime tree lined drive.  Located in the small village of Langar just down the road from Long Clawson, and about 12 miles southeast of Nottingham, this beautiful hotel is run by Imogen Skirving whose family has owned it since 1860.  Out of financial necessity and under Imogen’s thoughtful direction, this once private residence was gently and gradually transformed into a tranquil 13 room boutique hotel some 25 years ago.

We obviously werent't the only ones that loved warming our bones by the fire.

When we arrived we were shown into the living room and seated by a warm crackling fire.  Too late for breakfast and a little bit too early for lunch, the kitchen still managed to assemble us this beautiful plate of scones with jam and cream.  Since I was on a diet at this time, I had until this point felt I had to shun this English treat, but not wanting to offend the chef, I gladly dove in.
Our mid morning scones

After spending a little time getting to know Jane better and having finished our drinks and scones, the three of us decided to walk around the ground floor of the house.  As we exited the living room , we happened to run into Imogen and her Hospitality Manger, Avishek (Avi) Dubey. 

Jane mentioned to Avi that we were bloggers who would love to see more of the property and take some photos if possible.  Avi could not have been nicer and took us on an extensive tour of the house and grounds.

The main dining room.

One of the smaller dining rooms

If you look closely out the window of this small dining area you can see the headstones from the village's church graveyard which is right next to the hotel.   

The library adjacent to the small dining room above.
I've been fortunate enough to have had a couple of wonderful suppers in this room.  I love its  intimacy.

The main stairs up to the guest rooms.

There are beautiful little details throughout this lovely house.

The Cartland room.  Named after romance writer Barbara Cartland, this was the room she liked to stay in when she visited Langar Hall.  This is definitely my favorite room in the house.
Every room has its own personality with great attention to detail.  You really feel like you are a guest in someone's home. 

The Cricketer room.  Ok, on second thought, this has to be my favorite room of all.

The Bohemia room.  Forget what I said before, this is my favorite room for sure.

Oh to lounge in a hot bubble bath in this tub after a night of wonderful food and drink downstairs.

The view across the parking lot.

The chalet. You can actually stay in this little house. We did not go in, but understand that it is very private yet much smaller than most of the other guest rooms. It is just a very short walk to the main house.

The view from the chalet at the top of the garden.

These are just a few of their beautiful guest rooms.  If you are interested in a stay at Langar Hall and would like more information on this child and pet friendly country hotel, please click here.  Thank you so much Avi and Imogen for giving us such open access to your lovely property.  Imogen, I so envy you as you are living my dream.

Since our little tour is now over and while we're on the topic of tea, I thought I’d kind of clear something up for some of my fellow Americans.  If you would like to enjoy some tea or coffee, finger sandwiches and scones, you want to have “tea” or “afternoon tea”, not “high tea”.  High tea is more of a meal which is served on a high dining table (as opposed to a low coffee table) early in the evening.  Food served for high tea is heartier fare than what you find for afternoon tea.  I found out early on living in England that children customarily have their supper early in the evening and it is called tea but it could actually be called their high tea.

Now that we established which tea is which, I thought I’d pass on a recipe that one of my removal men gave me when he was packing my household for our return to the states.  After a couple of days of making tea for him and his crew, he reluctantly told me that even though I was a very nice woman, my tea was the worst he’d ever had.  I had lived in England for over 4 years and no one ever told me that I made a horrible cup of tea until then.  I was more than ashamed.  He took me to the kitchen and patiently showed me how to make a proper cup.  So, even though it may seem simple; I’m going to pass the method on to you.  You never know, you might be like me and be making a horrible cup of tea and not know it.

In order to make a good cup of tea, you have to start with a good quality leaf tea.  Tea bags will do in a pinch, but we are talking a great cup of tea here.

You should always preheat your teapot by pouring in a good bit of piping hot water, swirling it around a couple of times before pouring it out.

 Now, quickly add your tea to the heated pot (one teaspoon for each cup and one for the pot).  Fill it with more boiling water, place the lid on top and let it steep for approximately 1 minute for green tea, 3 – 4 minutes for black and oolong teas, 4 - 5 minutes for herbal tea (I'm an herbal tea girl myself), and 5 – 6 minutes for rooibis and mate. 

If you are like me and don't have a tea cozy, wrap your teapot in a dish towel to keep it hot while it is steeping.

To serve, pour the tea through a strainer.  If you drink your tea with milk, pour the desired amount into the cup first and then pour strained tea on top.  Add white granulated sugar if desired.  Voila! A great cup of tea.

Now that you’ve got a great cup of tea, you’ll want something wonderful to go with it and there’s nothing better than the perfect scone with some jam and clotted cream on top.  Since we can’t get proper clotted cream here in America, and that crap in the jar you can buy in deli section of many stores doesn’t count because, well, it’s crap, we’ll have to improvise a bit.  Thank goodness great jam is widely available here, so buy your favorite and then make the following recipes and have a proper afternoon tea.

Perfect Yeast Scones and Sweet Cream Topping
1 envelope of active yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, chilled
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tablespoon white vinegar that has been allow to sit for 5 minutes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sprinkle yeast over the water in a small bowl; stir once or twice and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar; blend a couple of pulses to combine.  Add the chilled butter to the flour mixture and blend until it is completely incorporated, approximately 5 – 10 seconds.
With the food processor running, gradually add the buttermilk until the mixture lumps together.  Turn out on a floured surface and knead a few times until it is a smooth elastic mixture that is no longer sticky.  Pat dough out until it approximately 1” thick. 
Dip a 2” diameter biscuit cutter into flour and cut out approximately 24 scones, rerolling and cutting dough until it is all used.
Place scones on a non-stick cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven.  Bake small scones like these for approximately 8 – 10 minutes or until they are golden brown and cooked through.
If you don’t want to eat all 24 of these scones, freeze the unwanted portions for later.  To prepare from frozen, remove from the freezer and thaw for approximately 15 minutes and place into a preheated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until they are golden brown and baked through.
Serves 12 people 2 scones each.
Sweet Cream Topping

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar
4 ounces mascarpone cheese

With and electric mixture set to high, whip cream until it thickens just a bit and becomes frothy.  While continuing to whip the cream, gradually add the sugar, whipping until it is incorporated.  Add the mascarpone and continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick.  Serve immediately with warm scones and jam.
This makes enough cream to top 12 mini scone tops and bottoms generously.

Now you are ready for a bit of afternoon tea.  To expand on your tea menu you can also add some small pastries and finger sandwiches. You might want to give your sandwiches the English treatment by lightly buttering the bread, removing the crusts and cutting them into small portions.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

More from the Midlands: Long Clawson Dairy's Blue Stilton and My Version of Delia's Recipe for Stilton Soup

Before embarking on this trip to England, I told myself that this time I was really going to discover more than just coffee shops and antique stores.  This time over I was going to scratch the surface and find out more about some of this beautiful country’s culinary treasures, and on the top of my list was Stilton cheese. 

Cheese known as Stilton was first sold by Cooper Thornhill, the inn keeper of  The Bell Inn in the village of Stilton in the mid 18th century.  Thornhill's cheese was cream based with additional cream added  in stark contrast to most of the cheese of the day which was commonly made from partially skimmed milk and considerably cheaper.

As the popularity of his cheese began to grow, Thornhill soon found it difficult to keep up with demand and enlisted a renowned Leicestershire (pronounced "lester-shire") cheesemaker named Frances Pawlett  for help in its production.  Pawlett then formed a cooperative with other dairies around her Leicestershire farm to produce this cheese using the Stilton recipe. 

With its location on the main road from London to Edinburgh, The Bell Inn soon became a main outlet to trade the cheese, with production being moved almost exclusively to Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. 

Although there are many gaps in the history of Stilton cheese, what is known is that many people most certainly played a part in the evolution of this cheese, making it the delicious final product that we now enjoy. 

Today, true Stilton can only be produced in the three adjoining counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire by five licensed creameries.  These  facilities include Long Clawson Dairy, Colston Bassett Dairy, Cropwell Bishop, Tuxford and Tebbutt Creamery, and Websters. Production of this cheese by these dairies is strictly governed under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by the European Commission.

This means that in order for cheese to be called Stilton:

- it can only be produced in the three Counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire

- it must be made from locally produced milk that has been pasteurized before use

- it can only be made in a cylindrical shape

- it must be allowed to form its own coat or crust

- it must never be pressed  

- it must have the blue veins radiating from the center of the cheese

In advance of my trip to England I contacted Long Clawson Dairy.  Having eaten their cheese  for many years and knowing their reputation for excellence, I asked if I might be able to arrange a tour of their facility and learn a bit more about them and their products.  Martin Harris, the dairy’s Export Manager, returned my e-mail and after much work on his part, obtained permission to give me and fellow blogger Jane, author of the blog Midwest to Midlands, a tour around their facility.

On the morning of our tour Jane and I were met at the front office by Martin who gave us a short briefing before our tour began.  We were asked to remove all of our jewelry or anything that might fall off of our persons during the tour and place it in an envelope that would be kept at reception.  Martin stressed that if anything fell in any of the cheese in any stage we, along with the entire batch of cheese, would have to be destroyed. It was at this point I realized that he meant business and this tour would probably mean a hairnet, lab coat, rubber boots, and lots of hand washing.  I wasn’t disappointed on any count.

Before we got started Martin gave us a little history and told us that Long Clawson Dairy had recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Originally started in 1911 as a cooperative of only 12 dairies, it has now grown to over 40.  Each dairy in its cooperative has to be accessed yearly and a sample is taken and tested each time their milk is collected. If at any time hormones or anything else is detected that might cause the milk to be tainted, it is immediately incinerated.  What’s not to love about that?
Once the fresh milk is collected from the participating dairies, it is held in Long Clawson's tanks until it is pasteurized and pumped into the vats to be made into cheese.

All dressed up, disinfected and ready to go; we were first taken into a large room that is home to several large vats which hold 4,000 gallons of milk each.  Each one of these vats will eventually produce enough curds to make 250 pounds of Stilton.
Thanks to Jane for this photo of the curds (bottom) and the whey (top of photo).  The whey will be drained, concentrated and dried before and made into nutritional supplements.

The first step in the production of Long Clawson’s cheese is gathering the milk from their participating dairies.  After it is tested, cleared for production and pasteurized, the fresh milk is poured into the vats and starter culture, vegetable rennet and penicillium roqueforti (blue mold spores) are added.  During this stage the curds are formed and separates from the whey.  This process takes approximately 22 hours.   

Before I go any further, I must interject that the smell of cleanser is almost overwhelming inside the cheese making areas.  The stainless steel sparkles and every inch, from floor to ceiling is scrubbed and buffed throughout this entire facility.  After each batch of curds and whey, the vats are thoroughly sanitized before the next use.

Once the curds form, the whey is drained from them and it is dried and used to make nutritional supplements.  Since the curds initially form into a huge block, it is then cut into smaller blocks and broken down into smaller curds from there.  It is to these small curds that the salt is added to enhance the flavor and help with maturation.  We were given a small taste of the curds after salting and they have a very pleasant buttery taste much like dry cottage cheese.

From this point the curds are scooped into the round molds in a process known as hooping.  The molds are then stacked and the remaining whey is allowed to drain through tiny holes in the sides.

The molds are then moved to the hastening room where they are held for four days and turned 3 times to keep them thoroughly drained and evenly hydrated.

Each stack is rotated 3 times so it is evenly drained and hydrated.  Excess whey can be seen under the stacks as they are rotated.

Each stack is coded so the cheese can be traced from the time the milk cow was a calf all the way to the time the cheese reaches the shelf. 

After the whey is drained, the cheese is ready to be removed from the molds.

At this point the drained cheese, which now weighs approximately 22 pounds, is removed from the molds, smoothed on the outside and wrapped in plastic. 

After 5 days the cheese is unwrapped and stored in chilled rooms to age for 5 – 6 weeks.  By this time a beautiful outside crust has formed and the cheese is pierced with stainless steel needles to allow air into the cheese to accelerate the interior mold growth.  The cheese is then aged for another 3 – 5 weeks before it is ready to be graded and sent to the packaging area to be cut and wrapped for sale.

Our tour guide, Martin Harris, Export Manager of Long Clawson Dairy.  Blue Stilton to his right, Blue Shropshire to his left.

 I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Stilton is only one of 30 varieties of cheese produced here.  Long Clawson also makes some of the finest Blue Shropshire (which is a close cousin to Blue Stilton and is mainly differentiated by the addition of annatto for its orange color and slightly smoother finish), Aged Red Leicester (also known as Leicestershire Red), paneer, and many blended cheeses.

A vat containing Red Leicester

Red Leicester cheese aging.  I wish this was smell-o-vision as the rich smell of the buttery casing is indescribable.

I can't thank Martin enough for all of his hard work so I could bring this fascinating process to you.  For those of you living in the UK, Long Clawson's cheeses are widely available or you can order them directly from their website.  If you’d like to try some of Long Clawson’s fabulous, beautifully crafted cheeses here in the US, they are available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Safeway, Metropolitan Markets, HEB, Giant Eagle, Schnucks, Hagens, Savemart, Fresh and Easy, and seasonally through Williams Sonoma.

Not only is Stilton a wonderful cheese to eat with fruit, nuts and biscuits, it is also a great cheese to cook with.  A few years ago my host Karen introduced me to Delia Smith's delightful recipe for Stilton soup which is a combination of Stilton, celery, onions and cream and it was an instant favorite of mine.  I couldn't possibly do a post about Stilton without passing this recipe on to you.  For more recipes ideas, please click through to Long Clawson's site to see how versatile this cheese can be.

Creamy Stilton Soup

I have to give Delia Smith full credit for the inspiration for this soup, but it is really a hybrid recipe.  I combined her recipes for Stilton Soup and Bleu Cheese Soup and also felt I had to gild the lily a bit and add a few touches of my own.  Since I think all soups should get the bay leaf treatment I have added one here, threw in some thyme and garlic, added a little extra stock and reduced the cream just a bit.   You're really going to love this recipe.

1/2 stick butter (2ounces/56g)

1 pound (500g) celery, finely sliced

1 medium potato, finely diced

1 medium size onion, finely diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

3 cups (750ml) vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme

5 ounces (150g) blue Stilton cheese, chopped

1/2 cup (125g) whipping cream

Salt and white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add the celery, potato and onion and cook, stirring frequently for approximately 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for one minute longer before adding the stock bay leaf and thyme.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the vegetables are soft, approximately 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf.  Puree with an immersion blender or cool completely and puree in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add the cheese crumbles to hot soup, stirring well to combine.  Add the cream and salt and pepper.  Serve piping hot.

This soup is delicious drizzled with a little olive oil, topped with crispy bacon crumbles, croutons or a little bit of extra Stilton. 

Serves 4 - 6