Blue cheese is one of those things. Some do. And some just don’t.
As for me, I really do. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I had a dish of gnocchi Gorgonzola in Aosta, in the north of Italy – a meal so sublime that I still dream of it. The Gorgonzola sauce was full of umami – that big, round, full, savoury flavour that fills your mouth and wakes your taste buds and makes your whole mouth water. Rich, creamy, pungent, slightly salty, with the slightest hint of sweet in the aftertaste. The gnocchi was ethereal and so tender it dissolved on my tongue.
It was the kind of meal that reduces you to reverence. A brief lust for the unseen chef. I was young. I was with my loved one. We were hiking in the mountains. We had met up with friends from home in this beautiful old remote Italian town and found ourselves in a small, dark, candlelit restaurant with white tablecloths and big wine glasses. Our handsome Italian waiter spoke no English but mimed and gestured all night long and he served the whole meal with theatrical Italian flair, banging down the plates and pouring the wine and water from great heights. It was divine. All of it. But especially the food.
Food, love, kinship. It’s a holy trinity.
We forget that food is deeply spiritual. But it really is. Food is what sustains us in every way. And bread perhaps more so than anything else; despite our current rejection of wheat as we move from a valuable ancient food source to an over-processed, industrialized version of flour grown from wheat that barely resembles what wheat once was. The trick it seems, is to eat less, and eat better. Find a supplier of stone ground, wholemeal flour. Even if you mix it half and half with regular flour, you’ll notice an incredible difference in both taste and texture.
This beautiful bread is my latest favourite thing. It’s excellent with soup, or stew, or a big hearty salad. Or serve it alongside a charcuterie or cheese platter. I like it best buttered, and then slathered with cream cheese and apricot jam. But it’s very fine all by itself. And if you’re one of those who doesn’t prefer blue cheese, you can easily substitute something else here. Grated cheddar or Gouda would work well. Smoked cheddar would be perfect. Danish Blue works well too.
Stilton, walnut, and raisin bread
This recipe was adapted from The Great British Bake Off: Celebrations, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
- 100 grams (~3.5 oz or ~3/4 cup) of Stilton or other sharp cheese of your preference
- 100 g (~3.5 oz or ~3/4 cup) chopped walnuts
- 100 grams (~3.5 oz or ~2.3 cup) raisins
- 300 grams (~10.5 ounces or 2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 200 grams (~7 oz or 1 1/2 cups) stone ground, wholemeal flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 400 ml (~1 3/4 cups) buttermilk or milk soured with lemon juice
- Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a baking sheet.
- Trim the rind off the Stilton if using and crumble to small pieces. If using cheddar or other hard cheese, grate coarsely. Combine with the chopped walnuts and raisins.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking soda and salt and mix well.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Stir lightly.
- Add the cheese, nuts, and raisins. Continue to mix either by hand or with a wooden spoon to form a soft, shaggy dough. You may need to work in a little extra flour (if too sloppy) or a little extra milk (if too dry). But don’t over-mix.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead very gently, just for a few seconds, then shape into a circle or oval.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Loaf should be nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped from underside. (Good luck with this!) Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.