To my slight shame, I was a relative latecomer to the joys of cheese. As a child, cheese was in my life in several passive forms; as a sandwich filling (inferior to ham and generally in the way a bit), as something melted on top of a meal (very nice, but not exactly the main event) or as an untouched (by me) appendage to a meal of salad and leftovers. I would imagine that 90% of the cheese available to me, and probably most children of my age, was your standard block of pale yellow Supermarket Cheddar, in either Mild, Medium or Mature forms. I certainly never had anything against it, but I wasn’t addicted to, or even excited by it as many other children were, and I generally didn’t get all the fuss. Occasionally, like at Christmas, there’d suddenly be a lot more cheeses there on the table; a stinky one, a veiny one, a really soft one, and maybe one of those herby ones, but I seem to remember generally giving them a wide berth out of a sense of cheese-conservatism. Better left alone.
This all changed when, at the age of 21, I moved in with my wife (then girlfriend) and, for the first time ever, shared my grocery shopping with someone with different tastes, a different upbringing and, shock horror, from a whole other country. Sat across the dinner table from one another, she got me interested in tangy Danish Gamle Ole cut into long ribbons, creamy, crumbly Chèvre and that beautiful mouldy mess, Roquefort, the merest nibble of which puts one on the lawn of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, sipping three euro Côtes Du Rhône (please, indulge me). Before long, we visited Neal’s Yard Dairy and, after being fed copious samples from the end of a knife by the staff, we developed an additional habit for intense, sharp Innes Log goat’s cheese, the unsurpassed Montgomery’s Cheddar and, what went on the become the love of our lives (children aside), beautiful, creamy, salty, mouth-tingling, moreish, addictive, sublime Colston Basset Stilton. Whenever life felt too much from then on, a short journey on the Central Line was all it took to sort everything out. We even took half a wheel (a hefty four kilos) to Sweden in a backpack for our wedding.
I now love cheese. A lot.
Another thing I love a lot is garlic, which is handy, cause this recipe uses an entire head of it, squashed gently, clove by clove with the flat of a knife, in order to loosen the skins (a therapeutic job if ever there was one), and then cooked ever so slowly in plenty of extra virgin olive oil, for 20 or 25 minutes. Until cooking this, I’ve always been firmly of the belief that extra virgin is to be drizzled and dressed with, but never to meet with any direct heat, but I suppose, in this case, the idea is that the heat is so low that the oil will never reach the point of burning. In any case, I used the cheapie extra virgin I keep for making salad dressings and the thing tasted fine, so there’s a lesson learned. Five minutes before the garlic was done, I stirred in a handful of thyme leaves, plucked straight from the stem (Nigel, helpfully, expresses his horror at the idea of using dried thyme here in the description). As all this was gently sizzling away, I cooked some Tortiglioni, whose ridged tubes seemed perfect for this meal and, when it was cooked, drained it and chucked it into the garlic and thyme, and then crumbled up a generously sized slice of Chèvre (possibly a little too much, we thought later as we ate it, though not problematically so) into the pan, which felt extremely indulgent and exciting.
We ate it with a green salad (but, of course) and it made us feel as though summer had arrived early. Just simply a bowl filled with a few very, very beautiful things, prepared in a pleasing way. It would have been nice to eat it outside, and it would have been nicer to drink with it a nice glass of Italian wine (damn, damn, damn this no-drinking-during-the-week we’re doing) but, after such a lovely meal, I mustn’t grumble.
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