Hitting the right note

As I have mentioned many times before, I love cheese – I can’t get enough of the stuff, and I love finding new cheeses and new ways of eating them. I was intrigued when I heard about the cheese plates at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey. There, head chef Skye Gyngell serves one cheese with a carefully selected accompaniment.

Although I have never had the pleasure of eating a proper meal at Petersham, I did attend a Cooking with Tea workshop run by Skye Gyngell there earlier this year. Her food epitomises the very best of seasonal cooking. Skye’s dishes are true showcases of the ingredients she uses and her flavour pairings are truly amazing. So, when I saw this event advertised, I booked a place immediately.

This workshop was focused on cooking with tea rather than with a seasonal ingredient, but Skye’s skill with flavours still showed. We ate tea-smoked quail (which was fantastic and something I hope to recreate and blog about soon), tea sorbet and tea-smoked prunes. Skye paired the latter with a trio of cheeses: Ossau, Tipico and Brillat-Savarin, and the flavours were fantastic when mingled together – both the prunes and the cheeses were able to shine.

After attending the workshop I decided to re-create the tea-soaked prunes at home, as I was keen for B. to experience it and see what he thought. Skye explained during the workshop that they tasted many cheeses before settling on the ones they served. It was important that the flavours of the cheeses were subtle to begin with so that the prunes could take centre-stage, followed by the taste of the cheese.

First off, I made the tea-soaked prunes by soaking Agen prunes in a mixture of English Breakfast and Earl Grey tea (see recipe below), as Skye had done. I left it to cool, then put the tea and prunes in a sealed container and refrigerated for a week (Skye chilled hers for two weeks).

I paired it with was Maroilles, a cow’s milk cheese made in Northern France. It is a powerful cheese with a moist, sticky orangey-red rind and was first made by monks in the 12th century. Maroilles’ flavour develops slowly in the mouth, making it perfect for pairing with the prunes. Maroilles has a fairly complex flavour that develops as you eat it, so it enabled the sweet prunes with a hint of tea to come through first, before balancing the sweetness with its piquant, tangy flavour.

Despite the success of the Maroilles, I must admit it still didn’t marry as stunningly well with the prunes as the Brillat-Savarin did during the workshop, and when we tried it at home, B. agreed. It was wonderful. I had never tried Brillat-Savarin before the workshop; made with triple cream, it is a rich creamy brie-style cheese with a faint sour note to it, which went perfectly with the sweet prunes. The cheese is fittingly named after gastronome and food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who once said: “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

Brillat-Savarin and prunes makes for a fantastic cheese course and one that I will most certainly be serving when I next have a blow-out meal for friends. Although a good cheeseboard is a great ending to a meal, some occasions call for a perfectly chosen cheese plate to hit the right note.

For more about the Cooking with tea workshop at Petersham Nurseries, see the review I wrote for the delicious. website, here.

Tea-soaked prunes

500g Agen prunes
450ml tea: English Breakfast and Earl Grey

1) Make up the tea using 450 ml boiling water, 1 English Breakfast tea bag and 1 Earl Grey tea bag
2) Put the prunes in a sealable container and pour over the tea. Set aside to cool.
3) Once cooled, seal and place in the fridge and use in 1-2 weeks. Eat at room temperature.

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5 Responses to “Hitting the right note”


  1. 1 Helen November 10, 2010 at 8:28 am

    How unusual – I would never have thought of cooking with tea…I love it. Definitely going to explore Petersham Nurseries once are in the area!!

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