Supper

Supper

By
Jorge Fernandez and Rick Wells
Contains
24 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781784880118

The night ahead

Around 5 o’clock comes a hiatus that is used to take stock and prepare for the night ahead. The counters are cleared and wines brought out and tasted, the boards changed and the lights are dimmed. The cured meats are massaged, the cheeses scraped and the raclette machine fired up. Most importantly, the leg of jamón is prepared and, if needs be, a new one is opened up. By 6 o’clock the change of mood outside on the pavements of Soho is tangible: people dart hither and thither, meeting friends after work, looking for places to settle for a drink or bite to eat.

A less elaborate affair than dinner, supper is nonetheless an important part of the Fernandez & Wells repertoire: where platters of cured meats and cheeses take centre stage, and of course wine, with huge care taken to ensure that it complements the food we serve.

Cheese

At Fernandez & Wells we offer a wide variety of products from around Britain and Europe, all of which are a genuine reflection of our own tastes, but with Fernandez in the name we are inevitably going to be predisposed towards all things Spanish.

So, from the start, it was always expected we would serve manchego, that most ubiquitous of Spanish cheeses from La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote. Jorge, however, harboured strong reservations about manchego’s ability to travel well, perhaps because of his experience of the multitude of mediocre examples generally available locally. Our initial thought was to search for an alternative cheese made nearer to home; this came in the form of Berkswell – a hard ewe’s milk cheese with a deliciously nutty, rich flavour and often a slightly grainy texture. But, as we have become more established, suppliers have increasingly sought us out with samples of manchego to evaluate; and we still had a nagging feeling that we should have a manchego on our list. It was only when our Spanish supplier of jamón iberico, Juan Pedro Domecq, introduced us to a recommended producer of manchego that we both felt we’d found something that was close to satisfying Jorge’s requirements. The gran reserva manchego from Dehesa de Los Llanos was indeed exceptional – so much so it won top prize in the 2012 World Cheese Awards and shortly thereafter they promptly ran out of all their aged stock. Thankfully, over time, this has been replenished.

What this also demonstrates is the painstaking and time consuming way in which many of these artisanal products are made; if it takes nine months to age a cheese, then nine months it has to be.

A company that epitomises this approach is Neal’s Yard Dairy, a ‘sister’ company to Monmouth Coffee by way of geographical location, family connection and ethos. Their range of farmhouse cheeses from the British Isles is unsurpassed, carefully tended and matured so they are sold perfectly ready for consumption. It is no surprise that some of the classics – the cow’s milk Montgomery’s cheddar, Duckett’s caerphilly and Irish coolea; the ewe’s milk Berkswell and Wigmore; and the goat’s milk Dorstone and Tymsboro – were on the Fernandez & Wells counter right from the start.

These types of cheese lend themselves to being cut with a knife on a wooden block and eaten as you might at a market stall, with bread or on their own with a glass of beer or wine.

Another cheese that was with us from the early days was Ossau-Iraty, a sheep’s milk variety of ancient origin from the Basque country in south-western France. Although much better known now, it was then quite a rarity and was brought to us by Jon Thrupp, who worked for Hervé Mons, a renowned French ‘affineur’, skilled in the art of ageing cheese. Mons Cheesemongers in London have provided us with some of the best from France over the years.

One cheese that deserves a special mention is the mozzarella di bufala, sourced by Alsion Elliott at the Ham & Cheese Company. From Paestum in Campania, south of Naples, the dairy is one of the last to use unpasteurised milk to make mozzarella, giving it a slight sour tang to offset the usual creaminess. Described as ‘other worldly and delicious’ when a fresh batch arrives each week, we delight in offering this white ball ‘neat’ on its own, served on a small white plate; we watch for the raised eyebrow of a customer new to the experience and take great pleasure seeing their initial suspicion turn to a smile and a big thumbs up.

On the importance of provenance, it was many years before the advent of Fernandez & Wells that I organised a short trip to Piedmont, in northern Italy. The aim was to taste wine, eat truffles and get to know more about a region whose food and wine had huge appeal. I arranged visits to several top producers of Barolo and Dolcetto and booked places to eat. But the day before leaving I realised to my horror that I had failed to book a hotel and a round of last minute calls proved fruitless. I decided to try one of the restaurants in Monforte D’Alba and having explained my predicament was amazed to be offered the use of a private apartment, ‘non c’è problema’! We duly arrived late at night, after a long drive from Turin in a very small Fiat. On introducing ourselves at the reception, word was sent and after a short while a tall, quite fearsome looking man appeared holding a large knife, a ‘salame’, a hunk of cheese, bread and a bottle of wine, as well as a large key. We followed him in the darkness up a winding cobbled street to an old wooden door, which he opened with the large key, and handing us our ‘supper’, bid us goodnight. We feasted on these simple delights, slept soundly and awoke to open the shutters on one of the most magnificent views over the terracotta roofs of the hilltop town.

Looking back, it was the combination of hospitality and the certainty that those basic timeless products were all that was needed to satisfy us, that stuck with me. And I like to think, when the time came, made it obvious what we should be trying to do at Fernandez & Wells.

Raclette

Raclette is the name of both a cheese and a traditional Swiss dish of melted cheese, which is sizzled until crisp and bubbling under a grill, then scraped (racler means ‘to scrape’ in French) on to a bed of boiled potatoes, and served with cornichons and cured meats. Traditionally, the handsome round of cheese was cut in half and warmed in front of a fire, but ownership of a raclette machine is a more practical option for most people these days. Simple though they are, these machines do need to be maintained and the electrical elements don’t take well to the wear and tear of regular use in the shops, as we have found out to our cost. Still, once fired up there’s something about the transformative qualities of grilled cheese, bringing instant warmth and smiles to a room, that make it all worthwhile.

Sourcing a good cheese is important, and we get ours from French cheesemongers, Mons, in London’s Borough Market. Depending on the season and availability, we always aim to use the best quality raclette, a type which is known as Alpage. This denotes the time of year – spring and summer – when the cows are herded up into the highest pastures to feed on the best grass, mixed with wild flowers and herbs. This fulfils our aim of turning what can be quite a flavourless experience into one with real depth and farmyard presence.

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