We’re in the middle of a mini heatwave as I write so I’m offering you two different, quick, summer-into-autumn recipes. One means turning the oven on briefly, the other doesn’t. They both feature St Jude, a lovely, lactic, soft cheese made here in Suffolk. Other cheeses are, of course, available.
But St Jude is worth seeking out. If, as Monty Python said, cheesemakers are blessed, its creator should move swiftly from beatification to canonisation. Julie Cheyney works from Fen Farm Dairy, where Jonny Crickmore and his team make the award-winning Baron Bigod. I was fortunate to take a tour of both facilities recently with my friend Jenny Linford, who has done so much to champion artisan cheesemakers with her writing and her podcast, A Slice of Cheese.
I’ve written about the mighty Baron elsewhere so please let me tell you about Julie. With her colleague Blake Bowden she makes three cheeses using the raw milk from Jonny’s herd of Montbeliardes. The size and style originated from France’s St Marcellin cheese but St Jude, its washed rind sister St Cera, and Blake’s baby, St Helena, each have distinct personalities of their own.
Julie, formerly a farmer’s wife and shepherdess and carer for a small herd of suckler cows, called her first cheese St Jude because he is the patron saint of lost causes. It was a joke against herself because she was going through a difficult time in her life and her French cheese mentor Ivan Larcher told her: “When everything feels lost St Jude will carry you through.” Ivan’s clearly onto something because Julie took the plunge and moved to Suffolk and she’s now in a very good place indeed.
“Coming to Suffolk was a big step as I knew no-one here, but I went to Fen Farm because of my belief that animals should be respected and cared for as best as we know how, and the grass, the varieties and the maintenance are equally important,” she says. “All this adds up to a great starting point as that is exactly where my cheese, both in texture and taste, begins.”
I love all three of Julie and Blake’s cheeses but as she generously sent Jenny and I home with armfuls of St Jude, that’s what I’m using here. To be honest, it was a struggle to save some to cook with as every time I passed the fridge I dipped in for another mouthful, but I managed a couple of simple recipes. Simple because, honestly, why mess about with cheese this good?
The first is a sort of stuffed mushroom. Take a couple of the biggest flat mushrooms you can lay your hands on, fry them in butter alongside their roughly chopped stalks and a big handful of cherry tomatoes, then pile the toms and stalks into the caps.
Season with salt and pepper, add a few chunks of St Jude and either melt under the grill, or clamp on a lid and allow the cheese to melt in the residual heat. Not for too long, though, or you’ll end up with cheese sauce. Soft cheese, remember?
Scatter with some basil leaves and serve on a round of toasted and buttered sourdough, as a side or cram into a bun with a burger. Heavenly.
The second recipe is a French-style tomato tart. I’ve made this two ways. The first: a circle of puff pastry spread with Dijon mustard and scattered with panko breadcrumbs, topped with thickly sliced fresh tomatoes. Bake at 200C/180 fan for about 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked and the pastry nicely puffed, then add chunks of St Jude and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Throw over some fresh herbs and serve.
The second replaces the mustard and breadcrumbs with a layer of black olive tapenade. Cover with sliced tomatoes and add some pitted black olives. Bake for 15-20 minutes as above, before adding St Jude and cooking for a further 5-10 minutes. Again, add some fresh herbs. I used basil as I have lots, but thyme leaves or marjoram or oregano also work.
This makes fine picnic food but I prefer it fresh from the oven and allowed to cool to lukewarm. Serve with a green salad and thank the saints for artisan cheesemakers.