Cheese and Wine Musings

Cheese and wine, a match made in heaven? I had the pleasure of speaking  about cheesemaking at the Hurstville Wine Club monthly meeting recently.  Damian, Rhonda, Jeff and the team made me feel very welcome and it was great chatting to people who enjoyed tasting different wines and learning something new.

I covered the process of cheesemaking and then talked about wine and cheese pairing.   I recommend a common sense approach which would be used not only with wine but with any food being matched to cheese.  The stronger the cheese flavour, the more robust must be the matching wine (see the table at the end of this article).

I also demonstrated how to make ricotta (see my recipe here) and a sample of warm, freshly made cheese was sampled by the attendees.  It took just 20 minutes to make the cheese from start to finish, and I was fortunate to have help from the audience to stir the curd and spoon it into a basket.

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Ricotta cheese making demonstration

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Wine and Cheese Pairings

Types of Cheese Examples Wine Pairing
Fresh Cheese and Soft Cheese Cottage cheese, Cream cheese, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Halloumi, Fetta

Brie and Camembert

Crisp whites,

Sparkling wines,

Dry rose and

Light reds

Semi Hard Cheese

Hard Cheese (young)

Edam, Havarti

Parmesan, Cheddar, Gouda

Fruity reds,

Medium whites and vintage sparkling wines

Hard Aged Cheese Aged Cheddar, Cheshire Full bodied whites and tannic reds, also

Sweeter fortified wines

Blue Cheese Danish, Roquefort, Stilton Robust wines with sweetness to balance the bold flavours, eg Muscat

Text and photos copyright: Sophia Poulos

 

The Windmill Resort

Kythera again… and why not, you can sample the best of everything in a small corner of the world. A Greek island where those who leave, often return.

One such person is Alex. Even though his homeland is Australia, he just can’t keep away.  And so he acquired a Greek windmill, made of stone, in the middle of Kythera.  He slowly fixed it up, the old tower, the inner workings, and surrounded it with a number of quaint cottages for rent, circling them with magnificent grounds, growing organic produce and raising livestock, and the odd dog.

I was fortunate to visit this lovely place in summer and enjoyed Alex’s warm hospitality.  Alex is highly interested in the environment and has ensured that the property meets the requirements for organic certification.  He showed a group of us around the property, pointing out the organic tomatoes, zucchini’s as well as herbs, and a large chicken coop where hens produced beautiful fresh eggs.

The property has a large covered area and outdoor kitchen. The residents can enjoy a communal breakfast in the covered eating area, getting ready for the days activities of sightseeing, hiking, or simply, more eating!

If you want to experience a little slice of heaven, you wouldn’t be remiss to visit this place. Alex and his team are there in the summertime, to look after you  – or you can just sit and contemplate, perhaps as Zorba would have done so long ago.  And if you listen closely, you may even hear his voice on the wind “Teach me to Dance…”

For more information on the Windmill resort see http://thewindmillresort.com/

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Photos: Sophia Poulos

Cooking Classes at Aphrodite’s Island

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Welcome to Elizabeth’s class

Kythera is a magical place in Greece, also known as the birthplace of Aphrodite.  There are many beautiful places to see and things to do on the island.  The opening lines in Vilana Studio’s website state: “Kythera. For some the centre of Europe, for others the world. This is where three seas meet, the Aegean, the Ionian and the Cretan. It is also where these seas meet with the sun”.

 

I attended a cooking class held by Elizabeth Stais from Vilana Studios located in the southern part of Kythera. Elizabeth demonstrated how to make the greek Mizithra (soft style cheese) using raw goats milk produced on the estate.  Elizabeth also demonstrated how to prepare homemade vegetable and sweet pies using the fresh cheese.  We also tasted some of Elizabeth’s other homemade specialities such as Fatouratha, a sweet spice liqueur made from a grape spirit.

We were shown an old stone hand mill used to split peas and to grind grain.  The estate also has a special field called a “babakia”.  This is a unique farming practice used in Kythera where the fields are treated in a particular way so that the crops do not require watering after they are established.  This field grows tomatoes, melons, beans and other produce in a seemingly magical way and the flavour is more intense due to this special method of agriculture.

Elizabeth’s classes are conducted throughout April, May, June and September. For details and enquiries please contact Elizabeth Stais at vilanastudios@gmail.com.

 

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Stirring the curds for Mizithra

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Ready to eat

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Home made vegetable pie.

 

 

Photos: Sophia Poulos

Hands on Cheesemaking

The latest class really got into the “cheesemaking spirit” and what a fabulous result!  The class at St George and Sutherland Community College runs for five hours and in that time four cheeses are produced, together with homemade crackers and tomato sweet chilli jam. Students took home samples of their efforts for their family and friends to enjoy too.

Photos: Sophia Poulos

 

 

Simple Ricotta Style Cheese

Here is a simple recipe for making a Ricotta style cheese with just some milk and vinegar, made in minutes.

Simple Ricotta Style cheese

Ingredients:

2 litres milk (can be any type of milk, even UHT)
90ml white vinegar
Sea salt, as required

Method:

Heat milk in a large saucepan to 90°C uncovered (do not allow to boil), stirring occasionally with a large metal spoon.

Remove saucepan from the heat, add vinegar and stir briefly. Curds should start to form instantly. Set aside for 10 minutes, covered.

Lift the ricotta from the whey using a slotted spoon and fill a small colander. Sprinkle ricotta curds with salt as you are filling up the colander. The ricotta can be eaten immediately or left to drain for a few hours (or overnight) for a firmer texture. Turn out ricotta and store in fridge for up to 4 days.

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Zucchini and Bacon ‘Impossible’ Slice

You are faced with hungry mouths to feed, but the fridge is fairly bare.  This recipe is from the group of recipes referred to as “Impossible Pies”. As all you need to do is throw a bunch of ingredients together and it forms a glorious, munchable mass, not more than 45 minutes later.  I thank my friend K. for leading me to this beauty, it has been become one of my go-to dishes in times of need.

Zucchini and Bacon Slice

Ingredients

3 medium zucchini (courgette), unpeeled, grated
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely sliced
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled fetta cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup olive oil
5 eggs, lightly beaten
ground pepper, to season
2 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways (optional).

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C (375 deg F). Grease and line a baking tin with baking paper.
    Combine all the ingredients together, except asparagus.  Smooth top and decorate with asparagus spears (if using).
  2. Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 35 minutes or until browned and firm on the top.
  3. Leave to cool slightly.  Slice into squares and serve warm or cool.

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[Text and Photos copyright Sophia Poulos].

Speedy Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni are surprisingly easy to make.  Using store bought fresh lasagne sheets, some chopped spinach and creamy ricotta, and topped with a rich tomato sauce, they are ready to bake in no time.

Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni Recipe

Butter, for greasing baking dish

1 bunch Spinach, Swiss Chard or Silverbeet, stems reserved, leaves chopped finely,

250g ricotta

2 eggs, beaten lightly

1 tablespoon chopped basil

1 tablespoon grated parmesan

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon chilli oil, optional

375g fresh lasagne sheets, cut in half, crossways

1 tablespoon grated parmesan, extra

Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 red onion, chopped finely

Stems of spinach, chopped finely (optional)

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup red wine

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

400g canned chopped tomato

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Pinch cinnamon and pinch allspice

Method

Butter a large rectangular baking dish.

Prepare Tomato Sauce as detailed below.

Place about 1 cup of prepared sauce to cover the base of the baking dish.  This will prevent the cannelloni from sticking to the dish.  Set aside dish and reserve the rest of the sauce.

Mix remaining ingredients, except lasagne sheets and extra parmesan, thoroughly in a large bowl.

Take a lasagne sheet piece, place with the shortest side closest to you.  Add two heaped tablespoons of the spinach mixture along the centre of the sheet.  Brush top edge of sheet with water and roll up to enclose filling.

Place roll into prepared baking dish.  Repeat with remaining lasagne sheets and mixture.

Top the rolls with reserved tomato sauce and extra parmesan.

If the dish looks too dry, add some extra water.  Cover with a layer of baking paper and then a layer of foil.   You can refrigerate the dish at this point, if you wish, and cook it later.

Cook in a preheated moderate oven (180 deg Celsius), for approximately 1 hour.

Tomato Sauce

Heat oil in frypan.  Cook onion, spinach stems and garlic over medium heat until softened.

Add wine and cook about 2 minutes.  Add rest of ingredients and cook until thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Add 2 cups water to thin out the sauce. Bring to boil.  Set aside.

[Copyright text and photos Sophia Poulos]

The Young Migrant and the Lamb

This is a story about my father, a young man in the 1950’s, about to leave his island home of Kythera to come to the great unknown land of Australia.

He had to obtain his papers to travel to Australia, so he set out for Athens to get the paperwork completed. His father gave him a live lamb to take as a gift to his hosts in Athens, with whom he would be staying and who would help him with the government officials (one never goes to another home empty handed!).

He arrived at the port of Kythera where a large ship was moored. In those days, there was no pier where the ship might anchor. Instead, passengers would board a smaller boat and would be transported to deeper water to board the ship.

So my father with his small pack of luggage, some garden produce wrapped in a cloth and the lamb, boarded the small boat. There was a look of horror from the other passengers when they saw the animal. “Get this animal off the boat! they exclaimed. The young man stood his ground. “No, you get off the boat!”, he retorted. On seeing the fierce determination of this young man, the passengers settled back into the boat and they were able to continue the journey.

My father made the journey with his small pack of luggage and lamb to Athens, and obtained his travel papers. At age 18, it would be a long journey to the other side of the world, and he would not return for yet another 18 years to his homeland.

We don’t know what happened to the lamb, but it is likely to have been enjoyed by the family as a hearty meal of Roast Lamb.

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Roast Lamb ON THE SPIT with Oregano and Lemon

This is an iconic Greek dish, the herb flavours permeate the rich meat. Lamb is traditionally eaten at Easter, which occurs in Spring in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, we are lucky enough to have access to lamb all year round. Ideally you will have an spit with a motor to make the cooking of the lamb easier.

Serves: 6-8
Prep: 20 mins, plus marinating time
Cook Time: Depending on the thickness of the meat, around 1.5 to 2 hours, plus 15 minutes resting time

Ingredients
1 lamb leg (about 1.8 kg or 4 pounds), deboned and left as a whole piece (ask your butcher to assist)
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut into slivers
2 garlic cloves, peeled, extra
3-4 lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons dried oregano (ideally Rigani)
salt
ground pepper
olive oil

Method
1. Trim lamb of excess fat. Rub salt and pepper onto both sides of the lamb. Using a small sharp knife, make incisions into the flesh of the lamb leg, and put a sliver of garlic into the slit. This will perfume the lamb with garlic. You do not need to cover the whole lamb, about 10-12 incisions spread around should be enough.
2. To make the marinade, mix about two tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, chopped fresh oregano and dried oregano in a bowl. Add about 4 tablespoons juice and two tablespoons oil to make a sticky paste, set aside.
3. Slice the lamb into thick slices, about 4 cm wide along across the boned lamb. Rub most of the marinade all over the lamb. Reserve about 3 tablespoons. Leave the lamb to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours, to allow the flavours to be absorbed.
4. When you are ready to cook, prepare the spit for Roast Lamb.  Depending on the type of spit you have, this may involve lighting coals.  Ensure that the coals are sufficiently heated before starting the cooking.
5. Remove lamb from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, this will ensure that the lamb cooks evenly.
6. Thread lamb pieces evenly onto the spit, baste with reserved marinade.
7. Set the spit to rotate and wait until cooked.  This will take around 1.5 to 2 hours depending on your heat, and the thickness of the lamb pieces.
8. When the lamb has completed cooking, cut it from the spit, an electric knife is helpful.  Remove it to a warm platter, loosely cover with foil and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Serve with tzatziki and pita bread, if desired.

Note: the amount of meat can be increased according to the size of your spit.
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