This dish is inspired by an inspired cheese course I ate at the Beach House restaurant just yards from the sea in Oxwich Bay, arguably the Gower peninsula's prettiest inlet.
The cheese itself was Brefu Bach (which translates rather sweetly as 'little bleat'), a creamy, grey-rinded delight from Snowdonia that won the accolade of best newcomer at this year's Cheese Awards. It had a pronounced and delicious tang which made it more typical of goat's milk than cheese, and it had been warmed to wobbling point, rather than melted, popped on a toasted mini-crumpet and crowned with shaved apple and fennel. It was brought together with a simple, classic vinaigrette and light-as-air prune purée, piped artfully about the plate. Every element of this dish demanded a nice old Vouvray, I thought ungratefully, as the red Burgundy, selected for a main course of game, did its best to keep up. Not for the first time, I was reminded that a good cheese course - whether a simple selection or a bit of a confection like this -- deserves a bottle of its own, not the last knockings of what went before.
With apologies to the chef at Beach House, I've subsequently bowdlerised his recipe at home, using, in the absence of the Little Bleat, two softish crottins de Chavignol or a Ragstone from Herefordshire and bigging it up into a supperette by using full-sized crumpets. My version is really more of an assembly job and I don't attempt the prune purée. It was delicious but I have no idea how it was whipped to such lightness. Every good chef deserves his secrets and it's the point of eating out.
The trick is not to let the cheese melt completely, so give it only ten minutes or so in the oven, less on a low shelf under the grill. Watch it like a hawk.
Firstly, make the fennel and apple salad. This quantity is enough to top four crumpets. Remove the tough outer leaves and root of a fennel bulb and either cut into matchsticks or shred on a mandoline. Put it in a bowl and cover with lemon juice. Leave for half an hour or so which will soften it a bit. Now make a vinaigrette with your best olive or nut oil and more lemon juice. Finally, when you are almost ready to serve, peel, core and slice into matchsticks a crisp eating apple (Granny Smith or Braeburn). Drain the fennel, add it to the apple and toss everything in a teaspoon of the vinaigrette to prevent discolouration.
Toast your crumpets on the blind side, then flip over. Pop a couple of wedges of the cheese on top of each and either move your grill pan down a shelf, or lower the heat. As soon as the cheese starts to wobble slightly, remove the grill pan and carefully lift out the crumpets with a broad dish-slice.
Place them on serving plates. Top with the salad, drizzle a little vinaigrette around the plates and serve. Vouvrays with a sweetness code 1-3 should do it.
> View the Domaine Huet archive Vouvrays
Janet Wynne Evans