The Little Island Kitchen: Cheese

At the risk of disagreeing with Jane Austen, poetry is not the food of love. The truth is far more simple: food is the food of love. We gather around tables and break bread together to do more than fill our bellies. Eating helps us commune and share with each other, creating understanding, friendship, and sometimes romance. This month I’m sharing a couple of recipes starring local gouda cheeses that can really bring people together, be it a relaxed bite with friends or an intimate dinner for two.

PEI has been drumming up quite a reputation when it comes to its locally produced cheeses. Many have been a popular choice on cheese boards from Tignish to Souris for years and are winning awards internationally. Glasgow Glen Farm has been producing superb PEI gouda for years since taking over from The Cheese Lady, and I love working with the varied flavours they’ve got on offer. Gouda is a semi-firm cheese with a nutty and slightly sharp flavour that is also great for cooking. It melts well, and is just funky enough to come through with other ingredients.

First up is a super simple fondue that puts a twist on the classic Swiss mix of Gruyère and Emmental. I’ve swapped one G-cheese for another, and the result is a clear winner. Fondue is the perfect party food for a small group of friends. Gathered around the pot of warm cheese and wine with social nibbles alongside, it’s hard not to stir up some giggles, especially if you follow the old fondue rules of play. Dropping your bread in the pot means you’ll be puckering up to the person on your left, as does putting your lips on your fondue fork. Arrange your seating plan accordingly.

My second offering is a cheese soufflé that could not be easier to master. Soufflé’s reputation as a dish to be feared by all but the most experienced professional chef is completely unwarranted. If you approach them with a steady and gentle hand, you should have fluffy, gloriously puffed soufflés to present to your date. The essence of a good soufflé is a light-as-air texture combined with sumptuous flavour. The slightly nutty and sweet notes of the sheep’s milk Gouda is a great choice for this versatile dish, which can be a light supper or impressive starter.

*How to rescue a fondue: If your fondue has split from overheating during the melting of the cheese, you can emulsify it by creating a slurry of ¼ cup white wine with a heaped tablespoon of cornstarch and adding it bit by bit to the cheesy mixture, beating with a whisk until it comes together.

*How to rescue a soufflé: If your once fluffy soufflés have fallen, there is no remedy other than to dig in and call it frittata!

photo credit: Paige Matthie

Garlicky Gouda Fondue

Serves 4-6 / 30 minutes

1 garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise
300 g herb and garlic Gouda, grated
150 g Emmental, grated
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp kirsch (a clear cherry brandy, optional)

Dippy bits: cubes of baguette, baby garlic pickles, sweet pickled onions, charcuterie, boiled waxy potatoes

Special Equipment: fondue pot and skewers or, alternatively, a slow cooker with a warm setting, some forks, and a standard pot for cooking (Note: the inside of fondue pots get notoriously banged up, so be gentle with your slow cooker so as not to scratch the finish)

Prepare your dippy bits. Once the cheese gets going you won’t want to be messing around cutting the bread or laying out the pickles.

Toss the grated cheeses together with the cornstarch so that each shred is just coated. This will help keep the mixture emulsified once heated.

Rub the inside of the fondue pot (or a cooking pot) with the clove of garlic and set the remaining garlic aside. Add the wine to the pot and heat until steamy over medium heat. Make sure it doesn’t come to a boil.

photo credit: Paige Matthie

Add the cornstarch-coated cheese one handful at a time and whisk to integrate. Stirring constantly is key here as is keeping the temperature to a medium or else the fondue can split. Keep adding the cheese until it is all blended, then add the lemon juice and kirsch and stir to incorporate.

Double check the seasoning of the cheese mixture at this point, and feel free to adjust with a bit of salt or pepper to taste.

If not using a fondue pot, pour your cheese into the slow cooker (set to warm) and dive in! One note on the slow cooker is that it will carry more heat than the fondue pot, so you’ll have to stir it frequently.

photo credit: Paige Matthie

Sheep’s Gouda Soufflé

Serves 2 / 1 hour

1 tsp + 2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 tsp all purpose flour
½ cup milk
1 cup sheep’s milk Gouda, grated
pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
pinch of salt

Special Equipment: 2 ramekins or small oven-safe mugs with straight sides

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your ramekins with 1 tsp of the butter. Coat the butter-rubbed ramekins with the breadcrumbs and tap out the excess.

In a saucepan melt the remaining 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat and add the flour, stirring for 1 minute and not letting it take on any colour. Add the milk and whisk constantly until the milk boils, appearing bubbly. Remove from the heat and stir in the Gouda cheese until melted. You may need to set it back on the burner, with the heat turned off, just to warm it enough for all the cheese to melt if it’s being difficult. Sprinkle in the nutmeg and stir until incorporated. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time and set aside.

In a very clean metal or glass bowl (plastic holds on to too many traces of oils even when clean) whisk your egg whites with a pinch of salt until you achieve stiff peaks, or until you can turn the whisk upright and the little tail of egg whites stays pointed to the sky.

Scoop out a quarter of the egg white mixture and gently stir into the cheese sauce to loosen and lighten it so it doesn’t drown all the lovely air out of the rest of the whites. Fold in the remaining egg whites very gently with a spatula. Be careful with this step, or you’ll lose your fluffy soufflés already!

Divide the mixture between the two prepared ramekins and bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately alongside a peppery green salad of arugula, nuts such as almonds or walnuts, dried fruit like apricots or figs, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Talk about romance.

Note: Once the soufflés have baked, ensure you are gentle while handling them as setting them down on the counter abruptly can smack all the air out of them in an instant.