Cooking with cheese: a chef’s top tips
When it comes to cheese, we all enjoy eating it when it’s on a platter with simple accompaniments, using it to top off a dish like lasagne or for making a killer toastie. But what about incorporating it into dishes as the hero ingredient? It isn’t as hard as it might seem. And no, we’re not talking fondue here. Karl Thomas, the Head Chef at Portside restaurant at the Sydney Opera House, shares his top tips for cooking with cheese.
1. Selecting the right cheese
The best melting cheeses have the perfect ratio of moisture content, age and acidity. When you’re selecting a cheese to include in your dish, look for semi-firm wedges like Emmental or Gruyère. If you want to use a Brie, always check the ripeness of the cheese by feeling how soft it is. If it’s firm, try baking it in the oven at 175°C for 12-14 minutes until it’s soft and gooey. Already soft? This means it’s overripe, so just add it to the final dish as is.
2. Bring your cheese to room temperature
When using different types of cheeses like soft-ripened, blue or semi-hard cheeses, I always identify what I’m going to be using the cheese for. An example could be if I’m making a Bleu d’Auvergne dip. I’ll take it out of the fridge 20 minutes before I begin to let it come to up to room temperature. This helps the cheese become pliable and easier to work with.
3. Grate your cheese fresh
Some pre-shredded cheeses contain preservatives and additives, which can affect the texture when melted. If you want to grate or shred your cheese, try grating it when it’s fresh to ensure the best flavours are still there and it gives you a silky finish.
4. Don’t overcook the cheese
Cooking cheese at too high a temperature for too long will cause the fats to separate. In other cases, it’ll dry out and lose its velvety richness. If your dish requires a long bake time, I suggest lowering the temperature of the oven and, once it’s done, finish it under a grill.
5. Protect your cheese
Poor storage of cheese will ruin the texture and flavour, so make sure it’s tucked into waxed paper or wrapped in cling film to maintain its freshness, even if you’re cooking with it. You want to make sure you’re enjoying the cheese just as the cheesemaker intended it to be.
Want to learn more?
The Bon Fromage Festival of European Cheeses took place on October 22 to 24. I held a masterclass in which I shared my insights, tips and tricks on all things cheese and grazing platters to help get you hosting your nest gathering like a cheese expert. The festival allows cheese lovers to immerse themselves in a world of French cheeses and experience their sweet and savoury tasting notes, expanding their minds to new and delicious things. If you’d like to learn more about French cheese, check out europeancheeses.com.au and the festival Facebook page, where you can watch all the masterclasses, including mine.
French Brie & red onion jam tart
This delightful tart is accompanied by a fennel and rocket salad. It’s the ideal dish for a picnic, a casual lunch or an entrée. Make sure you choose a quality Brie. Ask your cheesemonger for their recommendations if you’re unsure.
150g French Brie (ripened if possible)
375g all butter puff pastry ready rolled sheets
2 egg yolks whisked in a bowl for egg wash
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
120g brown sugar
200ml red wine
80g red wine vinegar
¼ head of fennel, finely sliced
1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, add the sliced red onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook slowly until soft and reduced in volume. Add the vinegar and reduce by half. Onions should be bright pink. Now add the red wine and sugar and continue to cook for about 10-15 mins or until it reaches a jam-like consistency. Place in a container and refrigerate.
2. For the tart base, unravel puff pastry so the longest side is closest to you. Fold pastry in half from left to right, creating a crease to identify the middle of the sheet, and cut in half.
3. Now you have 2 sheets of puff pastry. Let’s call the one on the left sheet 1 and the one on the right sheet 2. With sheet 2, grab a fork and prick holes all over the sheet to prevent the puff pastry from rising too much.
4. For sheet 1, we’re going to turn this into a frame. Using your fingernail as a guide, cut out a rectangle of puff pastry from the sheet. Now you should have a puff pastry frame.
5. Lightly brush egg wash onto sheet 2. Cover with frame from sheet 1. Place in fridge to chill for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from fridge and brush the non-egg-washed parts of the tart. Place in oven on a lined baking tray and cook for 12 minutes, until it’s golden brown.
6. The fennel and rocket salad is super simple. Cut fennel into quarters and, using a mandolin or a peeler, shave one quarter finely and add to ice water to help crisp it up.
7. Wash and dry the rocket. Remove fennel from water and shake off excess water. Mix it with the rocket, and it’s ready to garnish the tart.
8. To assemble, add red onion jam to tart base, making sure you reach each corner.
9. For the brie, it’s totally up to you how to present it. You can either slice it or break into chunks and place it on top of the jam. Finish under the grill if you want the cheese melted.
10. Garnish with the rocket fennel salad mix and a drizzle of olive oil.