Tuesday 6 February 2018

Mrs Judy Bell and a multi part tart of very fine cheeses

Mrs Bell's Blue

"Hello, can I speak to Katie please?"
And I am singed with excitement. This is Kate Bell; sister of Caroline; daughter to Judy Bell, maker of one of the UK's finest cheeses: Mrs Bell's Blue. Sounds like a jazz ballad, tastes like... minimum ten week matured, ewe's milk. Katie said the quality of the milk they get is very high and they work with their farmer to ensure consistency. Milk obviously varies with the seasons.

Katie and Caroline of Shepherds Purse Cheeses 
This is an exquisite cheese; nothing like a shouty Stilton, this whispers in your ear: cream... nuts... a gentle zing of piquant blue. Follow me, follow me... it sings. Ahhh. Closer to a top quality Roquefort but... even better (and less salty).

I first tried it in Holtwhites Bakery last Christmas (thanks Kate). It was the start of a long relationship. Mrs Bell's Blue with some fruit bread and a dab of plum relish was my festive highlight (all available at Holtwhites).

I rang Katie to check if I could use a picture off their website. She said yes. So this is her and her sister. They make the cheese to their mother's recipe as part of Shepherds Purse Cheeses up in Thirsk, Yorkshire, the company they now run. Mrs Bell's is one of seven. Six of which I've not tried. However... Joy! They also do a complete mail order service so we can soon all be unwrapping our septuple of truckles.

Blue cheese tart
I wanted to make a tart to celebrate the cheese. Why a tart? Cooking a blue convinces many a reluctant guest to try its dairy goodness. I especially wanted to serve it with pickled pears and a hazelnut salad. I've now fed this to over 50 friends and guests and NONE have disliked it. This includes at least ten of the 'not keen on blue' brigade. All loved it.

Trouble is, if you churn blue cheese into a tart mix, you tend too get grey tart. Not cool. Especially this particular 'you really should throw those pants out now Steve' shade of grey. So I decided to make a cream cheese tart and then layer the blue on the top in thin slices. This also preserves the cheese's distinctive appearance. Of course, top loading like this means you can use different cheeses easily. Hell, you can even use two or three in the same tart. I've tried this with small cubes of Ticklemore goats cheese. Works well too.

Mrs Bell's Blue Tart
Serves 10 (so long as some don't mind t'ends)

First the pastry. This is most of the faff. I make a cheese and thyme, egg enriched shortcrust, using a food processor. This is robust, easy to handle and crisps up well. You can of course do this by hand and let's be honest, if you do, you'll probably know more about pastry than me.

Cheese and thyme pastry.

In a food processor add: 125g cold unsalted butter to 250g of plain flour. Blitz to breadcrumbs. Add a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, picked off the stalks, 30g of finely grated parmesan and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz until incorporated. Add one beaten egg. Pulse until incorporated. Now dribble in 40ml of cold water as you pulseuntil the mix starts to ball up. You may not need all the water. You may need slightly more. It should be a stiff dough. Don't add salt by the way. The parmesan does that job.

Remove the dough and knead a little to make it elastic and smooth. Not long. Flatten in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or more. You can also freeze it.

T'tin for t'tart
I use a loose bottomed 23cm oblong tart tin with sides of about 3cm. Obviously you can use a round one.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry until thinner than a pound coin/Euro. No idea what that is in the USA. Sorry. Drape into the tin and gently push the pastry into the corners. overlap the pastry on top. Don't cut it yet as the tart will shrink down the sides and you'll have something more akin to a big cracker than a tart. Prick all over the bottom with a fork (of the pastry you fool!). Line with greaseproof paper (easier if you scrunch it up first) and fill beans/rice/coins to bake blind. Bake for 18 minutes at 180°C. Then remove the blind filling and bake open for another seven minutes. The inside base should be crisp and browning. I can't bear pallid pastry. Now brush the insides with egg wash and bake for another three minutes. The case should now be light and crisp. The egg wash helps waterproof the pastry preventing any unwanted sogginess.

While the pastry is still warm, trim the edges with a knife.

Cheese filling.

The filling is a doddle.

Beat four egg yolks with 200ml double cream and 250g of cream cheese and a good pinch of salt. Note: If you're making a goats cheese tart, you may want a huge handful of finely chopped chives. 

Pour this into the tart case. 

Finely slice up 200g of Mrs Bells Blue cheese (or some other cracking British blue) and lay over the top of the mix. You should be able to completely mosaic the surface.

In the middle of the oven, bake at 180°C for at least eighteen and up to maybe twenty five minutes. I don't know why it varies so much. You want a little wobble; a sexy judder, when you excite the tart. DON'T bake it firm. The filling will set. It's all cream cheese and egg yolk remember.

Remove and allow to cool. Serve it warm or at room temperature. It won't cut well when hot. 

This demands some acidity and crunch which is why I went for a pickled pear and a roasted hazelnut salad, with a dressing made from the pear pickling liquor and some good quality, nutty rapeseed oil.

This is the Ticklemore goats cheese. See the little chunks?

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