Nice cheese, shame about the cough linctus!


Cheesemaker Sophie Summerlin explains the finer points of her Stanage Millstone

So it was Hip, Hip, Ole for wine expert Barry Starmore, taking part in Sharrowvale’s last cheese and wine evening before his double hip operation. He’s not that ancient, he’s the victim of too much sport in his youth and too many cellar steps in his working life.

Eat more cheese, Barry. Cheese contains calcium which is good for the bones. And wine is good for the soul. So, because he is particularly fond of Spanish wines the theme was Iberian, except for a short detour to Hathersage.

This is a monthly event jointly arranged by Barry and his colleague Jefferson Boss with grand fromages Nick and Nicky Peck of the Porter Brook Deli in the premises of Seven Hills Bakery, which provides the benches and the bread. So that’s three local businesses acting as partners in the same street.

For most of the 30 or so present the star of the show was a Calle Real cremoso, a sort of instant fondue. Warm it up slightly, whip the top off and spoon out the creamy, runny interior or dip your bread – in this case a Seven Hills Spanish torta. There’s a slight tang from the thistle rennet. I’ve had a similar cheese in Portugal and it’s a show stopper of a first course in restaurants.


Comoso – instant fondue


Barry partnered this with a lemony Vina Costeira Ribeiro 2014, a blend of five local varietals. They all worked well together.

The night had opened with, what else? Manchego 1640 cheese, hard and crystalline, a little reminiscent of grana padana. It was offered with two glasses, an admirable fino sherry, Fernando de Castilla en Rama, and a fruity red, Altamente Monastrell, which my wife rather liked. Louise from Seven Hills handed round slices of very good Spanish baguette.

Save a little of the red, said Barry and the reason soon became clear. We had suddenly switched countries and were in Hathersage. The evening was the debut of Sheffield’s nearest (and only) local cheese, Stanage Millstone, the cheese version of a minty Polo: It’s got a hole in it.

“There are a lot of old millstones lying around around our fields,” said artisan cheesemaker Sophie Summerlin, explaining the shape and the name. She and her husband James make and mould it by hand with milk from their neighbour’s farm, as they keep sheep and pigs themselves (and the latter enjoy the whey).

We had two versions, a very runny Brie-like cheese and the same cheese which had matured for another two weeks into a firm, creamy texture, and my own personal favourite.


Stanage Millstone, Sheffield’s ‘local’ cheese

Sophie and James have been selling it at farmers’ markets and I would imagine have already built up a following. The hole serves a purpose. It helps the cheese mature quicker.

There was enough cheese on offer to induce nightmares but let’s end with one on the night. First there came the cheese, a gutsy blue, La Paral, made by another husband and wife team, this time in Asturias, Northern Spain. It came with a clever strawberry studded and star anise flavoured bread specially baked by Seven Hills.

“Don’t sniff,” ordered Barry as he handed around glasses of a brilliant red liqueur, Pacharan Ordesano, but I did. It smelled of aniseed.

There is a lovely story to this drink. The makers go out into the fields and pick sloes to infuse with gin, along with vanilla, coffee beans and whatever, then they wait for the flavours to meld before bottling it. Then they drink it. That’s the difficult bit. You’ll love it if you like Benylin cough syrup, hate it if you don’t.

Let’s just say I reckon this won’t be the first bottle Barry will be reaching for when he comes around from his op.

Porter Brook Deli:
Starmore Boss:
Seven Hills Bakery:
Stanage Millstone:

Blue cheese, strawberry bread and cough linctus!

Blue cheese, strawberry bread and cough linctus!

A new gin blossoms

Elderflower gin in the making

Elderflower gin in the making

We only buy inexpensive bottles of wine from Starmore Boss, that friendly little shop on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield. That doesn’t stop us looking at more expensive booze. And I had my eyes on a bottle of elderflower infused gin in their window.

We love gin and make our own damson and sloe gins (which have a few blackberries thrown in) so surely, now the elders are blossoming, I could rustle up an elderflower one? By the way, I have solved my elderflower problem mentioned in a previous post – I was looking too early and they are just coming into flower.

Recipes online told me I would need about 20 heads of blossom to a bottle of gin so I set off on what proved to be a profitable morning’s foraging.

I found a couple of trees in a Sheffield park and collected the required amount of blossoms. Most city elder trees are by the sides of roads and you wouldn’t want to pick them because of traffic fumes. Then I had a scout around.

I discovered a couple of cherry trees I had not noticed before but it will take about a month for them to ripen. I have cherry trees staked out across the city. Three gooseberry bushes were full of fruit, tart but well worth picking. I didn’t overdo it, collecting about a pound. Then it was off to a branch of Aldi for a bottle of its Oliver Cromwell London Dry, which beat the much more expensive Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks gins at the 2013 International Spirits Challenge. It got a silver. At £9.99 it’s a bargain.

Back home I shook the blossoms to eject any bugs and cut off most of the stems. The green parts contain cyanide so get as much as you can off. It shouldn’t be a worry: people have been making elderflower drinks for years but you don’t want to be the one who tempts fate.

The blossoms filled a two pint basin. I put four tablespoons of caster sugar in a large, sterilised Kilner jar and poured in all the gin, swirling it in the jar to dissolve the sugar. I packed the blossoms into the jar with a sterilised wooden spoon so they were all submerged. I’m worried if the blossoms are exposed to air they will go bad.

The recipe advises shaking the jar once a day for a week before straining* but if you do this the blossoms will be in the air again (I tried). I’m still thinking about this. Currently the blossoms are being kept submerged by a plastic ‘paddle’ from a large jar of gherkins. I boiled it to remove any lingering pickle taste.

Then I made a gooseberry pie. The fruit goes well with elderflower but I wanted them all for the gin so used a few spoonfuls of elderflower cordial from the bottle I didn’t turn into granita to cook them with first.

The pie was lovely. So, I hope, will be the elderflower gin, ready a lot quicker than sloe or damson gins. I’m looking forward to a glass or two to toast a foraging summer. I’ve just had a thought. Anyone out there made gooseberry gin?

GIN UPDATE: The top layer of blossoms rapidly browned as I was unable to successfully keep them totally immersed. The brown bits were removed (losing some gin in the process) but the problem was back the following day. I think next time I will put the gin in a wide bowl and keep the blossoms immersed with a plate. The gin was strained off after two days, having become a greeny-yellow colour. The verdict is still out on this one, the smell is not unpleasant but not particularly rewarding. I suspect oxidation is the problem. Plan to try again next year!

2016 UPDATE: The elderflower flavour is quite pronounced and the taste is more acceptable. I think my original recipe advising the flowers to steep for five days is a little excessive. This time I’m going to try 24 hours.


Plenty of gooseberries waiting to be picked

Plenty of gooseberries waiting to be picked

Gooseberry pie

Gooseberry pie

Sid James and moody cows

Vintage Red Leicester from Sparkenhoe with Sharrow Sourdough and Hedgerow Piccalilli

Vintage Red Leicester from Sparkenhoe with Sharrow Sourdough and Hedgerow Piccalilli

I woke up blearily after a night of cheese-tinctured dreams. Did I really have one made from the milk of moody cows and another called Sid James?

We’d been to the monthly cheese and wine tasting organised by those Grand Fromages of Sharrow Vale, Nick and Nicky Peck of the Porter Brook Deli, with Barry Starmore and Jefferson Boss of Starmore Boss, visionary vintners further along the road.

I always think that a wine tasting pure and simple is really an excuse to put as many decent wines down your throat and pretend you’re learning something. Hands up all those who remember anything after the fourth glass. Thought so.

But add cheese and it seems so much more civilised and sophisticated, don’t you think? Instead of slurp, slurp, slurp it’s slurp, nibble, chew, because we’re enjoying it at the Seven Hills Bakery, which is supplying the bread.

There are 36 of us at refectory tables and we all say hello to our neighbours in that ultra-polite way the British have. The theme of the evening is artisanal wines and cheeses and, of course the bread, which has had the least distance to travel, straight from the ovens at the artisanal sourdough bakery where we’re sat.

We start with a sparkle: a Prosecco from the Bisol family in the Veneto region partnered with an English Brie, the aristocratic sounding Baron Bigod of Suffolk. It’s made with milk from a herd of Montbeliarde cows at Fen Farm, Bungay. Now I’m no lover of French Brie, which always seems to me to be too languid and effeminate in a French kind of way. But this is firmer and, if I dare say it, more manly.

In any case I’ve recently eaten something very similar while on holiday, the St Jude made by the White Wood Diary with milk from the same herd.

Nick gives us one of those little cheesy tips to use to impress. If you see a chalky line in the middle of your Brie it’s not fully mature.

Naturally the bread is French, a baton made with a poolish, or pre-fermented dough, explains bakery boss Laura Bullock. By the end of the evening I’ve changed my mind about Seven Hills, which I associate with heavy, dense, extra chewy breads with hard crusts, not good for ancient teeth. They do those but there are lighter ones instead.

I won’t go through every mouthful but I think Nick is pulling our legs when he asks us to identify two Hafod cheddars made on different days of the week, June 9 and June 12. Apparently he isn’t. It’s something about the quality of the grass or the mood of the cows. Moody cows? I can’t but others can. At any rate, both are outshone by their partner cheese, Isle of Mull.

If you used this event to nick ideas for your own cheese and wine party or cheese course then these cheeses are a fine match with the bakery’s white sourdough. And the wine to go with cheese from a moody cow is a Domaine Brau Viognier Pure from Languedoc.

Sid James was a mishearing for St James cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese from Cartmel, Cumbria. It tasted craggy, like Sid. It went with a red from Santa Barbara, California, described as “elegant forward Pinot,” which is not what you would call our Sid. I thought juicy but I was probably conjuring up images of Barbara Windsor.

The overwhelming vote for platter of the night was for a partnering of the bakery’s excellent buttermilk tea cakes (my favourite) with Cote Hill Blue and an intriguing sherry, Valdespino Pedro Ximenez El Candado. “Coating but not cloying,” said Starmore Boss. Now that’s a phrase I’ll use at my next wine tasting.

It was great fun and all for £20 a head. The next event is on June 24 and 25.

Porter Brook Deli:
Starmore Boss:
Seven Hills Bakery:

Shucks, I’ll have an oyster

Christian Szurko shucking oysters

Christian Szurko shucking oysters

Oysters ready shucked

Oysters ready shucked

They say you should sing the first verse of the national anthem in your head after an oyster has been shucked to make sure you are not eating something still alive. That’s how long it takes the nervous system to expire. I didn’t need to do that as chef turned fishmonger Christian Szurko is opening the oysters for me. It looks dangerous. If you want to DIY make sure you bring some plasters.

We are at Sheffield’s newest oyster bar, a couple of wooden counters underneath a mounted stag’s head in a corner of J H Mann, fishmongers, in Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield. Christian and his brother Danny haven’t made a song and dance about their new venture – wet fish is still the focus of the shop – but oysters are available Saturdays and on high days and holidays. They sold 300 at the last Sharrowvale Market.

If, as they say, oysters are an aphrodisiac (it’s all that zinc for men’s hydraulic systems) then it must have been quite an amorous Sunday afternoon after the market.

“We’ve been thinking about an oyster bar for some time,” says Christian, opening an oyster. It’s an art: the customer doesn’t want any shell and the juices should not be spilled. These are Colchester No 1 oysters, plump, juicy with just a touch of briny. We eat them with shallot vinegar. You need to chew not swallow to savour the taste.

You might also savour the price, just £1 an oyster. It’s £2.25 at Loch Fyne and while the surroundings are more comfortable (it’s a stand up job at Mann’s) they are less exotic. From where I am standing a hake is baring its teeth at me. I take its head home for stock.

“I don’t want to charge more than the normal price for oysters,” says Christian. It is early days and the bar has still to be finessed. If you order half a dozen you might well want some lemon and Tobasco. And a tipple. There will be an arrangement with local wine shop Starmore Boss a few doors away to purchase a glass of Chablis or whatever with your oysters.

The oysters are first class, really tasty, a good size. “This is the best time of year for them when the water is cold,” Danny points out.

It is not Sheffield’s first oyster bar. The Lyceum theatre had one, which also served champagne, in the Nineties but it was ahead of its time. They were still the drab days of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Now there’s not a better time to have one or a better site, just off Ecclesall Road with its trendy restaurant, shops and bars.
*Oysters are also usually available at the West 10 wine bar, Ranmoor.

Dawes scoffs an oyster

Dawes scoffs an oyster