It is difficult to know quite how to categorise this post by Project Officer, Felicity McWilliams, but it’s all in the name of research for one of our new galleries…promise!
Given that it is, apparently, British Cheese Week, today seems an appropriate time to share with you the results of a little experiment I carried out a few weeks back. Anybody who came along to our cheese-themed Museums at Night event last month will have seen copies of recipes from a 1970s cookery book produced by the Cheese Information Service. The book is called Make a Meal of Cheese, and I came across it whilst researching for an area of the new museum galleries which will focus on farmhouse cheesemaking. Organisations like the Cheese Information Service and the Milk Marketing Board used such publications (and the promotion of concepts such as the ‘ploughman’s lunch’ in pubs) to encourage consumers to eat more British cheese. It’s fascinating – the authors really try to convince you that any recipe can be improved by the addition of cheddar cheese.
Some of the recipes actually sound okay – leeks wrapped in bacon covered in cheese sauce, for example – but many more are distinctly suspicious. I decided to test one, and was immediately drawn to the implausible cheddar cheese curry. It sounded (and looked) terrible, but I was willing to give it a chance.
Here are the assembled ingredients. It was quite enjoyable measuring everything in advance into little bowls – I could pretend I was a TV chef. As you can see, other than a chopped onion there is a distinct lack of vegetables in this curry. As the recipe points out though, you can make this almost entirely with store cupboard ingredients, so it is convenient.
Step one: fry onions in butter. So far so good – fried onions smell delicious and I was starting to think that this might just be okay.
Step two: add flour and curry powder. Looks a bit weird, and I came to the realisation that I was effectively making a roux.
Step three: add vegetable stock. It’s like their recipe researcher thought to themselves, ‘Curry sauce? Well, I know how to make a sauce – adding curry powder will make it a curry sauce, right?’
Step four: add seasoning (like that’s going to save this dish), sultanas and chutney. I suppose the sultanas added interest but the chutney gave a vaguely unpleasant sliminess to the sauce.
Step five: add cheddar cheese. It felt wrong, even as I was doing it. I stirred it round a bit to coat it all in sauce and tried to spot when it looked like it might be starting to melt.
Step six: serve, 1970s style, in a ring of rice.
You may be impressed, or horrified, to know that I did eat the curry – and I don’t mean just a small taste. I actually served this to my parents for Sunday lunch. Mom, who had assisted in the preparation, was as sceptical as me but my Dad tried hard to be enthusiastic, saying ‘I’m sure that, since you made it, it will be delicious’. He did sound like he was trying to convince himself.
The verdict? I’d really hoped that this dish would surprise me, that somehow, despite looking revolting and being formed of a strange amalgamation of ingredients and cooking techniques, it would actually taste pleasant. Alas, it was revolting. The sauce was slimy, without any real flavour as the curry powder just seemed to sit on the surface. And cheddar cheese does not taste good in curry. It’s consistency and sharp tang (we used mature) clashed horribly with the sauce. Perhaps we should have used a mild cheese, but the sauce was tasteless enough as it was.
The rice was alright though.
Once the taste of this curry recedes far enough into my memory for me to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad really, I plan to attempt another recipe from Make a Meal of Cheese. Do comment and let me know if you have any interesting cheese-based recipes – good or bad, and the weirder the better!