Monday, October 20, 2014

The Best Cheese Spread Ever -- From an 18th Century Recipe

Red Cheshire Cheese

In the 1747 edition of Hannah Glasse's cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain an Easy, there is a delicious recipe for a potted Cheshire cheese.  Never heard of Cheshire cheese?  Here is a little bit about it:

Cheshire cheese is an English cow's milk cheese that has a particular taste because the cows graze on grass in pastures in the Cheshire region of England that contain deposits of salt.  The cheese emerged during the reign of Elizabeth I [1].  It was one of the most popular English cheeses imported into America in the 18th century (along with Double Gloucester). Here is one of many 18th century ads that can be found which show its presence in the colonies; it's from the Maryland Gazette in 1775:

Maryland Gazette, 1775

Cheshire cheeses come in three varieties:  red as pictured above (colored with annatto, a natural food coloring), white (meaning a very young cheese), and blue (a natural mold is added to produce the blue veins).[2]  You can find Cheshire at specialty cheese shops, but also take a look in your local supermarket (I can find it at Giant in Maryland quite often).  If you cannot find it, you can substitute it with a good semi-soft cheese such as Cheddar. It won't be exactly the same but the flavors of the wine and mace work well with Cheddar, too.

Original Recipe:  To Pot Cheshire Cheese
The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, 1747

Take three pounds of Cheshire-Cheese, and put it into a mortar, with half a pound of the best fresh butter you can get, pound them together, and in the beating, add a gill of rich Canary wine, and half an ounce of Mace finely beat, then sifted fine like a fine powder.  When all is extremely well mixed, press it hard down into a Gallipot, cover it with clarified butter, and keep cool.  A slice of this exceeds all the cream-cheese that can be made.

Modern Recipe Adaptation:
1 1/2 Pounds Cheshire Cheese, Grated (you can substitute a good Cheddar if you cannot find this cheese)
1/4 Cup Sweet White Wine such as a Riesling
4 Ounces (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter, Softened
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Mace (you can substitute nutmeg for this if you prefer)
  1. In a medium-seize mixing bowl, combine the grated cheese and the butter using an electric mixer. 
  2. Add the wine and continue beating with the electric mixer.
  3. Add the mace and mix just until blended. 
  4. Pack the cheese in a ceramic crock.  As we have refrigeration now, there is no need to cover the potted cheese with clarified butter, as in the original directions.
  5. Serve with toast points, on crackers, or on fresh bread.  You can also make tea sandwiches with this cheese as a filling.
  6. The potted cheese can be refrigerated for about three days.

Notes
1. LaRousse Gastonomique, The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia.  New York:  Clarkson Potter/Publisher, 2001, p. 268.
2. http://www.britishcheese.com/cheshire

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