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Friday, 14 August 2015

Cooking with Cheese - The Great Lactalis McLelland Cheese Challenge

Anyone who knows me even vaguely will be aware I have more than a passing interest in dairy products, and in fact consider cheese to be my very favourite food group. I very rarely get round to cooking with it though, unless I can count cheese on toast; instead, my preferred modus operandi when eating cheese is to consume it standing up, in chunks, every time I pass the fridge, or - if I'm feeling particularly exotic - to pop it on a cracker.

Exciting, then, to be given a bag of cheesy goodness by Lactalis McLelland and instructed to come up with a recipe making use of some of their products. You may think you haven’t heard of the French-based Lactalis Groupe, but they are actually the largest dairy products group in the world and produce a whole range of dairy goodies, many of which you are likely to have had in your fridge at some time or another. The bag included some Brie and some butter from the Président range, Galbani Mozzarella and some products from the Seriously Strong Range (Extra Mature Cheddar, Vintage Cheddar and the Spreadable, which I have already consumed slathered over toast - presumably this does not strictly count as a recipe though). The cheddar has been used to make mac & cheese, but as my recipe of choice belongs to the Drunken Butcher I won't even try and pass it off as my own; instead, here's one I *did* make up myself!

Buttered Summer Veg Risotto with Red Wine and Brie

This came about from a fortuitous combination of items I had that needed using up - some of my mum's homegrown vegetables, herbs from my own garden, and an open bottle of red that had somehow failed to be consumed on the first pass. I would, in truth, have used white wine had I had some handy, but red also works really well and lends a pleasing colour to the whole arrangement. I ate this all to myself but it would feed two if you added a bit more rice.

So, I started by finely slicing a leek and gently sautéing for a few minutes in a frying pan with a good knob of the Président butter before adding a handful of arborio rice and turning the heat up to toast the rice a little. I then poured in a good glug of red wine and allowed the alcohol to bubble off before starting to gradually add my vegetable stock. You do have to keep stirring as you add the stock, but this is actually very therapuetic, particularly if you address any red left in the bottle during this time period.

Meanwhile, I thinly sliced some small courgettes and a baby squash into rounds and added half to the risotto pan once the rice had been cooking about ten minutes. The remainder I popped in a small frying pan with a bit more butter and fried gently to go on top of the finished risotto (nothing nicer than butter-fried courgettes in my opinion). Proving that women really *are* excellent multi-taskers, as well as stirring my risotto, adding more stock, and keeping my eye on the courgettes, I also popped out to the garden and cut a sprig of fresh tarragon. Towards the end of the risotto cooking time (which will vary according to which rice you've used - mine took about 20 minutes, but keep tasting to check when the rice is cooked - you'll also notice the rice grains fattening out once it's nearly ready), I chopped the tarragon into the rice along with a good handful of frozen peas and a little cubed Président Brie and continued stirring - the cheese should melt into the risotto and make the whole thing beautifully creamy and thick. Check for seasoning - I usually add quite a lot of pepper but not much salt, as the stock and cheese will have added flavour.

Serve up in a bowl, topped with the fried vegetables and a little more Brie, thinly sliced. And yes, I know this isn't the most precise recipe you've ever seen, but the whole point of a risotto is that you can add whatever you have to hand - as long as you keep stirring, and adding stock when the rice has absorbed the previous amount, you won't go far wrong.

And the rest of the Brie? I'd like to say I made something else with it, but unfortunately it was discovered by a hungry boy and devoured with crackers in front of the TV - proving once and for all that cheese really is the most versatile of ingredients.

- I was given the ingredients free of charge by Lactalis McLelland but I do regularly buy some of these products anyway, including the Brie and the butter that I have used in this recipe.

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