In a monthly series, Ed Smith shares his tips on food to feed friends, family and self with minimal effort, using little but the best of Borough’s carefully grown and procured produce. This time: vacherin mont d’Or and cold weather crudités
Image: Ed Smith
There’s something inherently spring-summery about low-effort, minimal-to-no-cooking assemblies—substantial salads and other sharing plates filled with fresh cheeses, raw crudités, vibrantly dressed fruits and vegetables. Indeed, over the last six months or so it’s been no trouble to come up with combinations of market ingredients that take no time to throw together.
But the Market’s ingredients are definitely changing now along with the seasons and, perhaps more importantly, as the temperature is dropping it’s slowly simmered soups and stews that appeal the most. So, we’re going to press pause on the assembly topic for the next few months.
That’s not to say, however, that you couldn’t walk round the Market and put together a platter of autumnal produce to feed a few friends without much notice or work. So, I’ll leave you with an idea that should take you right from now through to next spring.
At the beginning of this week I reacclimatised myself after a fortnight in sunny southern Spain by walking myself around the Market. Though the skies were blue there was a total change in the vibe of the place from two weeks before, not least because the fruit and vegetable stalls look so different. Gourds and squash and mushrooms are out in force, dark green brassicas are resplendent, and I see the bitter leaves are arriving as well.
And yet the seasonal thing that really catch my attention are the pyramids of vacherin mont D’or at Mons Cheesemongers, Une Normande a Londres and The French Comte. Many Brits will associate this cheese with Christmas time, but its season is actually longer than even the most drawn out festive period, running from October through to around April.
Mont d’Or is made from the autumn and winter milk of montbeliarde or French simmental herds of the Jura region in France, when those cows are brought down below the Alpine snow line to 700m. The result is a rich, creamy cheese that’s encased within a circular wooden box and its own undulating, chalky rind. Break through the rind to find molten dairy heaven—a natural fondue. You can bake it as you would a camembert to enhance that gloop, but it’s not necessary nor to my mind is it better than when devoured at room temperature.
I buy a mont d’Or from Mons knowing that I would be quite happy to lock myself in a room with just this and a baguette from Olivier’s Bakery. With friends coming round, though, I should probably do a little more (and suggest you do too).
Just across from Mons is Chegworth Valley grocers. I head there to pick up a couple of their lovely russet apples and a bag of lemony sorrel leaves, both of which will provide a fabulous contrast to the creamy cheese and savoury bread. (You might need to go with Chegworth’s mustard leaves instead of sorrel later in the year, or perhaps something bitter, like radicchio or chicory once we’re into 2020).
Finally, while I know this series has largely been about not cooking, I find myself thinking that shoving a couple of things in the oven for 30 mins isn’t too far outside the remit. Moreover, if the cheese is at room temperature, then a few warm crudités will be welcome over the colder months.
In fact, I further convince myself that it’s okay when, having picked up the aforementioned baguette from Olivier’s, I walk out of the Market via Elsey and Bent and see a basket of pink fir apple potatoes which roast so brilliantly (I take 500g) and bag of Spanish grapes (can’t quite ditch that holiday feeling). Roasted in olive oil and showered with flaky salt, both of these ingredients will provide additional support for the cheesy centrepiece: the crunch and fluff of the potatoes are ideal vessels for the viscous cheese and grapes will be an intense, jammy, raisiny contrast.
Even though you need to turn the oven on, it’s hands-free and ultimately an easy assembly that you’ll find proves itself to be even more than the sum of its parts.
To assemble (for 4 people)
Unwrap the mont d’Or and leave at room temperature to breathe and warm up a little while the potatoes and grapes cook and you sort the rest of your meal out.
Heat your oven to 220C. Ensure the potatoes are clean and around the size of a large thumb (cut larger ones in half). Place on a roasting tray with plenty of space around each potato, drizzle generously with olive oil and roast for 35 mins. Give the tray a shake after 25 mins, create a bunch-of-grape-sized space, and add the grapes and a little more oil and return to the oven for a final 10 mins.
Meanwhile, place the mont d’or in the middle of the table and cut a hole in the rind so that you and your guests can spoon the cheese on to your plates. Slice the bread and add it to the platter, along with a good handful of sorrel and slices of apple (if you’ve got russet apples slice these at the last minute as they go brown very quickly).
Finally, season the grapes and potatoes with a generous scattering of flaky salt and transfer them to your platter. Dig in.