Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup

Though most strongly associated with Christmas - because it is so special perhaps? - Stilton is one of my favourite cheeses all year round. In 1996 it was granted Protection Designation Origin status by the European Commission and there are only 6 dairies anywhere licensed to make Stilton - only using pasteurised milk from local cows in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

Its name comes from the town where it was famous as long ago as the early 1700's - Stilton - but because it is located in Cambridgeshire they can't actually make Stilton themselves. Indeed, they never have. Frances Pawlett, the wife of a Melton Mowbray dairy farmer, is the first to be credited with making this fine blue cheese and it was sold to travellers who stopped at the Bell Inn in Stilton on journeying between London and the north. In 1727 Daniel Defoe remarked on passing through Stilton, a town famous for cheese in his Tour Through England and Wales.

As with many of the finer things in life this cheese is made slowly and with great care - to be sold as Stilton it must be cylindrical in shape, form its own crust, be unpressed and have delicate blue veins radiating out from the centre. Most of all it must have that creamy crumbly richness, its mellowness giving way to a piquant aftertaste. It is a delight on any cheeseboard with crisp celery or oatcakes and is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of fine port.

Sometimes - though in my case rarely - there is a little left over that needs to be used up. It was a situation I found myself in this week and rather than waste it I set my heart on making steaming bowls of cauliflower soup, made unctuously rich with my little treasure trove of cheese. And this is how I did it.

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup

1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbspn butter
1 tbspn olive oil
bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley and thyme
650 ml/ 1 pint stock
325ml/1/2 pint whole milk
1 tbspn cornflour mixed with a little water
150g/4oz stilton, crumbled
salt and ground black pepper

Fry the onion in melted butter and olive oil in a large pan till translucent - about 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower and toss till the little curly heads shine then add the bouquet garni and the stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni and liquidise till smooth - for ultra silky pass through a fine mesh sieve at this point. Return the pan to the heat, stir through the cornflour paste and then the whole milk. Cook gently for 10 minutes then stir through the cheese, adjust the seasoning and serve with thick slices of rye bread.

Good enough for Santa.

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