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I thought I’d take a different slant on St. Valentine’s Day this year…and focus on Goats! Not in a romantic way I hasten to add..…but because it happens to be Chinese New Year on February 19th and we enter The Year of the Goat – with its potential of bringing us more peace and harmony. We can but hope!
“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality”
(Clifton Fadiman, FOUR magazine)
Peace and harmony however were not on the agenda at the Goat & Donkey Fair (La Fiera delle Capre e Asine) held in a nearby mountain village last weekend. We jostled our way through noisy, narrow streets lined with stalls of cheeses, salamis and wine; traditional wooden tools; everything for the home cheese-maker; sturdy alpaca socks; shepherds’ flowing black capes and brass polenta-making pans.
The air meanwhile was being blasted by hundreds of bleating goats and hysterical braying from the donkey section where a race was due to begin. This guy on the right was the main noisy culprit and made it abundantly clear why the left ear of the other was permanently bent!
Of course I loved the fair and enthusiastically bought up loads of goats’ cheese, it’s the least ‘fatty’ of the cheeses and as long as it’s not too ‘goaty’ I can eat any amount of it. I’m using some of it for my ‘stuzzichini’ – Italian nibbles to have with an aperitivo….which being Valentine’s Day will be a chilled bubbly Prosecco.
I’ve adapted a traditional local mountain dish called “Sciatt “– with the unfortunate pronunciation of “shat”! – made from cubes of ‘bitto’ cheese dipped in a batter of gran saraceno or buckwheat and fried.
I wanted to keep things ‘light’ so have abandoned the frying part and substituted the buckwheat batter with a crisp, savoury cracker and the traditional ‘bitto’ cheese (a mixture of cow and goats’ milk) for a light, creamy goats’ cheese.
ROSE PETAL GOATS’ CHEESE WITH DARK BUCKWHEAT CRACKERS
For 2 with Aperitivi
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes (+ 1 hour resting time)
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
(makes 20-30 heart-shaped crackers – if any are left over they’ll keep in a tin for a couple of days)
100g buckwheat flour (the darker the flour the more nutritious the crackers!)
30g stone-ground white flour
½ tsp good quality salt (Maldon or Himalayan)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp mixed seeds (I used mainly pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
Creamy, soft goats’ cheese – I used a small 80g cheese, but you could double this which would probably serve 4 people.
Dried edible rose-petals or any dried flower or herb (e.g. I know you can find edible dried rose-petals and lavender in Waitrose)
Buckwheat, one of the so-called superfoods, is actually a fruit seed not a grain but can be ground into a flour (light or dark – the dark being more nutritious) to be baked.
• Gluten-free (you could leave out the stone-ground white flour I’ve used to lighten it and make the amount of buckwheat flour up to 130g – you will probably need more water to make the dough.
• Regulates blood pressure levels
• Normalizes cholesterol and blood sugar levels
• Rich in fibre
• Reduces hypertension
• 1 cup cooked buckwheat has 86mg of magnesium good for heart and muscle strength
All available roadside stops had crates of apples for sale and we sampled endless glasses of freshly-squeezed and hot ‘mulled’ apple juice at the local ‘masi’ or alpen farms (we now make this mulled juice for our winter and pre-Christmas Feldenkrais seminars: just substitute apple juice for red wine).
For the return trip we munched our way through packets of crisp dried apple chips. The trip turned out to be quite an ‘Apple Fest’!
Arriving home we just managed to catch the tail end of the annual “transumanza” or seasonal animal migration on their way back to the ‘pianura’ after summering in the high pastures of the Alpen Malga.
We happen to live in northern Lombardia near the Pre-Alpine Orobie Mountains with its Valtaleggio valley, famous for cheeses such as Taleggio and Bitto. But my favourite – as much for the name as for the great flavour – is ‘Strachitunt’ (pronounced ‘Strakki-tunt’), a blue cheese made originally in medieval times and still made from crude cows’ milk.
‘Stracche’ means ‘tired’ in the local dialect and because the cheese is made from the evening and morning milk of cows exhausted after their long walk to and from the mountains, it is called “tired cow’ cheese”. Love the name!
So…..here I have wonderful cheese…..I have crate loads of apples….I’ve seen glorious autumn leaves…..and I’m looking for a quick snack lunch, something quick and healthy but not a sandwich. I think leaves, leaves, leaves then I think of pastry leaves or ‘millefeuille’ and then I think of apples again…..and then…this ‘oh so simple’ apple-cheese-sandwich substitute came to mind!
Serves: 1 or 2 apples per person, depending how hungry anyone is
Preparation time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking time: c. 2 hours
Preheat oven to 100C/200F
Apples – 1 or 2 per person
Large piece of Strachitunt cheese – as Strachitunt is hard to find outside Italy, I suggest using something like a not too ripe Cambazola or firm mild Gorgonzola.
Fresh redcurrants (if available) or any other berry to decorate
Leaves to decorate
Wash and core the apples (you could also leave the core in)
Dry well and slice thinly (about 3mm)
Lay slices on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven for about 2 hours – turning them halfway through – until lightly browned and crisp. You may have to cook them longer if still not crisp, it depends on the heat of your oven and how thick the slices are.
When crisp, turn the oven off and leave them for another 30 minutes or so to dry out.
Thinly slice the cheese and layer up the apple and cheese slices
For decoration place on a lightly washed leaf and add a few fresh redcurrants or berries of your choice.
This is also great for kids – plus the dried chips keep well in a sealed container so you can snack on them throughout the day.