Own a Colour and Help Save a Child’s Life

Thanks to Fuss Free Flavours, I learned about this lovely way of supporting UNICEF by naming a colour.

MK Colour 1

Our perception of colours in the world around us is limited only by the complexity and sensitivity of our eyes.

But when it comes to representing colours on a computer screen, things are much more precise. Helen explains it really well: “computers do things by absolute values and each colour is defined by the amount of red, green and blue it contains on a scale of 0 to 255, making a total of 16,777,216 colours that can be displayed.”

Dulux have come up with a novel way of raising money for children’s charity, UNICEF. For a donation of £1 (or more, if you like) you can choose and name one of these 16.7 million colours. All the money raised will go directly to help transform children’s lives.

The first two colours I’ve picked are the Mamta’s Kitchen logo colours, to celebrate our recent 10th anniversary, not to mention the fun of being featured on the Leon menu. (For those of you who don’t know, Mamta’s Kitchen is the family cookbook website that Pete and I run with my mum, Mamta).

MK logo ladle mini

I’ve called them Mamta’s Kitchen Chilli Red and Mamta’s Kitchen Turmeric Yellow (though eagled eyed among you will notice a missing apostrophe in the yellow – names can be no longer than 30 characters).

MK Colour 2

I am definitely going to choose and name some more colours; it’s well worth a teeny tiny pound for the fun let alone supporting a great cause!

I hope you name some colours of your own. Do let me know what colours and names you choose!

Mamta’s Kitchen Curry Sauce on Leon Restaurant Menu!

I’m very excited to share the news that you can try a delicious Mamta’s Kitchen curry on the new Autumn Winter 2011 menu launching at Leon restaurants today. With both a chicken and a vegetarian option available, we hope the rich, well-balanced flavours will appeal to Leon customers, new and old.

Leon Full leon main dishes
See full menu

So how did Mamta’s Kitchen dishes end up on the new menu?

A year ago this month, I was invited to the launch event for the second cookbook from Leon, the small chain of restaurants aiming to offer food that not only tastes good but is healthy and affordable too. Launched in 2004 by partners Henry Dimbleby, John Vincent and Allegra McEvedy, Leon now has 11 outposts and I imagine there are more in the pipeline.

Leon invited customers to make wishes from which they would choose a selection to grant on the night of the launch.

Leon-3720 Leon-3728 Leon-3722 Leon-3725

“Why not?” I thought, and entered a wish of my own.

It would be great fun, I said, to work with the Leon team in developing a recipe to feature on their menu. Not convinced I had any great creative insight of my own, I suggested we turn to my mum for inspiration, and work on an Indian recipe from Mamta’s Kitchen.

During an initial chat Henry, mum and I decided that the most useful menu item for Leon would be an Indian curry sauce that could be served over either meat or vegetables, allowing two menu dishes to be offered using the same sauce.

And so it came to be that Henry Dimbleby and Toph Ford, the new head of food, came to lunch at my parents’ house. Mum showed them how she makes her basic curry sauce and also two others. And we sat down to a delicious lunch. Henry and Toph left with samples of the three sauces and mum’s recipes for each one.

LeonBighams-0075 LeonBighams-0076

More recently, I accompanied Toph to the Bighams factory site where we tasted and commented on development versions of the basic curry sauce Leon had chosen to take forward, and then watched for 2 hours whilst an enormous Bratt pan of the sauce was cooked from scratch.

LeonBighams-0082 LeonBighams-0083 LeonBighams-0087 LeonBighams-0092 LeonBighams-0096 LeonBighams-0098 LeonBighams-0101 LeonBighams-0103 LeonBighams-0104 LeonBighams-0106 LeonBighams-0112 LeonBighams-0114 LeonBighams-0118 LeonBighams-0120 LeonBighams-0124 LeonBighams-0125 LeonBighams-0126 LeonBighams-0128

I was able to see how closely they had stuck to mum’s original recipe. Cardamoms and curry leaves were used whole, fresh tomato slices were added towards the end to add texture (as opposed to the tinned tomatoes added earlier on) and various spices were added at the right stages of the process. They had made a few minor tweaks, mostly to account for scaling up the recipe and ensuring a consistent and rounded flavour. But the end result really did taste like mum’s curry sauce. To my delight, I was even able to propose a (minor) change to process to better allow the garam masala to combine properly into the curry sauce.


Just a few days later, Toph confirmed that the two menu items they were offering were a chicken curry (serving the sauce over grilled chicken) and a pea and squash curry (serving the sauce with fresh peas and roasted butternut squash).

The new autumn and winter 2011 menu launches today.

We would love to hear back from those of you who try the dishes featuring mum’s curry sauce!

Happy Birthday to Club Gascon

Club Gascon is 13 years old! And to celebrate, owner chef Pascal Aussignac decided to hold a special birthday night during which he offered his original 1998 menu at, wait for it, 1998 prices! I was quick to book a table…

I haven’t been to any of Aussignac’s restaurants but have tasted his cooking (and chatted to him about it) at a food festival last year and I have a copy of his beautiful book, Cuisinier Gascon, which I reviewed previously.

The birthday date duly arrives, and we choose to drive into town for a change, parking in the handy Smithfield car park directly opposite the restaurant, and very reasonable at just £2 an hour. For those who don’t know, Club Gascon is located next to the famous Smithfield wholesale meat market, within the heart of the City of London. Nearest tube stations are Farringdon and Barbican.


The restaurant is traditionally decorated, fairly opulent and much smaller than I expected.


As we are given our menus we are advised that, with the size of the dishes, they recommend 4 courses per person, including a starter from la route du sel or les foie gras, a dish from the section labelled le potager, which would make good side vegetables for dishes from l’océane and les pâturages, and of course something from les douceurs.

As the names match closely to the chapters in Aussignac’s book I immediately understand la route de sel to mean snacks, le potager as vegetable dishes, l’océane as fish and seafood, les pâturages as pastures (which are the landscapes Aussignac associates with poultry, game, pork, lamb, beef and veal). Les douceurs are, of course, sweets.

With some menu explanations from our friendly waiters, we are soon ready to order, deciding to share 8 different dishes between us.


An amuse is presented as duck heart with Dauphinoise potatoes, though when it’s served to a neighbouring table half an hour later, I hear it described as duck heart with Sarladaise potatoes. As Sarladaise potatoes are usually loose and separate slices fried in garlic, the layered cube certainly looks more like Dauphinoise. Perhaps it’s a combination of both? In any case, it’s good, with a crisp top and soft body. The duck heart is intensely meaty, firm but not chewy.

ClubGascon-9947 ClubGascon-9955

Although the very beautiful handmade side dishes have a butter knife on them, I seem to put a spanner in the works by asking for some butter to have with my bread. It takes a while, and I am just about to check whether it’s been forgotten, when a slate appears with a quenelle of Chantilly butter with pine nuts on top and a cube of smoked and salted butter, both of which are very nice indeed.

Our first three dishes come together:


The Farmhouse Jambon de Bayonne is sweet and soft with decent stripes of white fat. Unusually for me, I like the pickled chilli too; it doesnt have any heat but has a distinctive flavour.

ClubGascon-9958 ClubGascon-9961 ClubGascon-9962

The Warm Flan of Foie Gras Bordelaise takes our collective breath away! A light but incredibly rich savoury custard packed full of foie gras flavour in a slightly sweet red wine reduction sauce, it’s truly truly fabulous. We grin at each other over every single mouthful.

ClubGascon-9960 ClubGascon-9963

For me, the Duck Foie Gras Mi Cuit aux Piquillos is nice but only nice. The black lacy crackers are both attractive and give a nice crunch but don’t taste much of anything. And the sweet jelly is good, though again no distinct flavour is obvious. But for me I don’t feel that red chilli peppers are a great flavour match for foie gras. In addition, the foie gras is much softer and more spongy in texture than the usual firm feel of mi cuit.

(I wrote a handy list of foie gras terminology in a previous post, for those who want to know more).

Next up are our choices from les paturages, along with a side dish from le potager.


The Roast Confit of Duck Creme Forte is excellent. The duck is tender inside with a generous layer of crispy skin. And oh my, that sauce! Very finely diced raw shallots in cream give a great textural contrast to the duck meat. It’s a generous portion too.

ClubGascon-9968 ClubGascon-9969

An Old Fashioned Cassoulet Toulousain is just as it should be. The sausage is the winner in this dish, so meatylicious!


For our side dish, we cannot resist ordering Home Made French Fries and Crazy Salt. We never work out what crazy salt is but these duck fat fried chips are, without doubt, the best I have ever had. Anywhere. And yes I’ve had Heston’s at The Hinds Head.The best!

We are full, but we’re not going to be defeated, we go ahead and order dessert.


Eagle eyed among you may notice that this little beauty looks familiar. Yes, the Warm Flan of Foie Gras Bordelaise was so good, so very very good, that we have ordered a second one to enjoy as a pre-dessert. And it is as magnificent the second time around!


Velvety Praline Ice Cream & Mikado comes in another pretty handmade bowl. The mikado is just a plain pastry stick, a little disappointing actually, would have loved to see it half dipped in chocolate like the boxed Mikado biscuits. But the ice cream is just as smooth as its name promises and intensely hazelnutty.

ClubGascon-9975 ClubGascon-9977 ClubGascon-9978

Having tried the Gascon Mess before, I insisted (with very little resistance, it should be said) that we order a portion of Aussignac’s variation of a classic Eton Mess. The whipped cream is laced with Armagnac, and instead of fresh berries Aussignac uses dried fruits (either prunes or dates, I’m not sure) which are also soaked in the alcohol. It’s reminiscent of Christmas mincemeat though not as spicy, and the pink meringues are a pretty touch. As you can see, we make quick work of it!

Our meal has been marvellous.

Service is warm, attentive and helpful and I particularly appreciate the attention given to refilling our glasses of tap water the moment they are low. The staff work as a cohesive team and, between them, are instantly aware of any customer needs.

And I must comment on the crockery; I’ve particularly loved all the different and pleasingly quirky serving plates and slates; much more interesting than a perfectly matched but boring set.

Before we leave, I have both my menu and my copy of Aussignac’s book (that I brought from home for this very purpose) signed, and am invited to pop down to the busy kitchen for a brief but genuine greeting from Aussignac and his team, focused on feeding their enthusiastic diners. It’s good to be able to wish them a Happy Birthday in person.

As we walk happily back to our car, we both agree that we must come back soon to sample Aussignac’s 2011 menu.

Club Gascon on Urbanspoon

Pete Drinks: Redemption Brewery Tour-In-A-Brewery!


After a year of doing my brewery tours at home, it seems about time that I got off the sofa and did a tour of an actual brewery.

Redemption, based in Tottenham, has the dual benefits of being a fantastic brewery and within a few miles of home, so where better to go?!

I first encountered Redemption last year, when I was invited by a friend to join a CAMRA visit to the brewery. I hadn’t really appreciated until then just how much the London brewing scene was exploding, and I leapt at the chance to see what was, at that stage, my closest brewery – a title which has now passed to The Bull in Highgate, until I can persuade Kavey to let me open the Barnet Brewing Company!

I popped back for a second visit more recently, this time with Kavey in tow; partly for a more extended chat, but also as an excuse to sample some more of their excellent beer and take some more pictures.


Located in a small industrial park in the back streets of Tottenham, Redemption is a fairly unassuming establishment from the outside – the first time I visited I wasn’t sure we were in the right place; it didn’t look like any brewery I’d visited before.

Once inside, the wonderful beery, malty, hoppy smell of a brewery hits you, along with the warm welcome that the ever-friendly Andy Moffat, owner and brewer, extends.

Andy is an inspiring character – I imagine he’s not the only man to have dreamed of opening a brewery (or is that just me and him?) but rather than just dreaming he left his city banking job and in 2010, with no commercial brewing experience, founded Redemption. Since then, he’s been brewing wonderful beer as fast as he can sell it.


It’s a small plant – 12 barrel capacity, or “big enough to climb in and clean” with enough fermentation and conditioning tanks to maintain a good range of 4 or 5 beers available at any one time. Sadly that means I probably can’t persuade him to brew the Fellowship Porter year round, but that’s not too big a price to pay as it means there’s 4 or 5 other great beers to enjoy instead.


The backbone of the range is their Pale Ale, a floral hoppy, sweet 3.8% golden ale; and Urban Dusk, a darker, sweeter, altogether ‘bigger’ 4.6% bitter with more malt to it. My personal favourite is probably the Fellowship Porter, deep, dark at 5.1% with wonderful, rich coffee overtones – not only on the nose but also, unusually, carrying over into the taste – but now I’ve said that, I feel bad to have left out Trinity, a much lighter, summer ale at 3.0% which goes down with dangerous ease.

I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures for you; every time I find any of their beers on tap the evening ends up lasting longer than intended and my photographing skills become rapidly … blurry. My tasting notes become even less readable than normal and the drunkenly scribbled “yummm!” notes end up beer stained.

Suffice to say, I am always thrilled to see their beer on tap (despite the impending hangover that usually indicates).


The fantastic news is that Redemption will finally be arriving in bottles next month, which means I’ll soon be able to stop cursing my useless local pubs for not stocking them, and keep an emergency supply of their beer in my cupboard (right next to my other London staples, Kernel’s IPA Citra and Windsor & Eton’s Windsor Knot).

I was lucky enough to get a couple of test bottlings of the Pale Ale and it’s as magnificent in the bottle as it is in the cask – sweet, gentle hoppy bitterness with light fruity floral notes and an impressively ‘cask-like’ carbonation. I also managed to snag one of their collaborations with Kernel, which manages to blend their two styles magnificently – the heavy, somehow ‘oily’ hop punch from Kernel but moderated by Redemption’s easier-drinking style. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t manage to get more of it.


That collaboration highlights one of the things I love about the crop of new London breweries – there’s never a sense of competition between them. It’s more like they’re siblings than competitors; yes they try and outshine each other but they’re always supportive, respectful and often in each other’s breweries cooking up something special and wonderful for those of us lucky enough to get hold of the results.

I’ll leave the last words to Andy; apologies for the occasionally terrible camera work. In my defence, he did pour me a generous glass of Pale Ale before we started and it would have been rude to let it go warm during the interview!

Redemption beer can be found around (especially North) London pubs who are sensible enough to stock them, beer festivals smart enough to order them, and occasionally elsewhere if you’re super lucky. Also bottles from next month – hopefully from at least one of my regular online suppliers. If your local doesn’t stock it, tell them to contact Andy!

Farewell Ice Cream Wednesday, For Now…

Every Wednesday, throughout the summer, I’ve been enjoying sharing posts about ice cream.

But now that the last breaths of summer have made way for the golden light and amber leaves of autumn, it’s time to turn towards thoughts of hedgerow harvests and onwards to winter warmers.

For those who want to hear the chimes of the ice cream van one last time, here’s a reminder of all the #IceCreamWednesday posts. Enjoy!

  • Store Cupboard Ice Cream Recipes (including Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream Sorbet, Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream, Chocolate Liqueur Ice Cream, Peaches & Cream Ice Cream and Apple Cinnamon Ice Cream)

Thank you to all my generous guest posters for sharing their lovely recipes.

Mamta’s Kitchen Cookery Class – Pescetarian, Vegetarian or…?

In our previous Mamta’s Kitchen cookery classes we’ve made a selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes which proved very popular with our students so far.

MKClass14May2011-11-21-08 MKClass2-9160 MKClass2-9147

For our next class we are considering offering a pescetarian or fully vegetarian class instead.

This will depend on demand.

The date has tentatively been scheduled for the 5th November.

Please email me as soon as possible if you are interested in attending and have a preference on whether the class should be as previous, pescetarian or vegetarian.

From our first class, we made a donation of over £200 to the Khushboo Welfare Society. From our second class we donated approximately £250 to the MS Society. Once again, we will choose a charity and make a sizeable donation from the proceeds of this third class.

For information on future courses you can also subscribe to our email mailing list. (The list will only be used to send you information about Mamta’s Kitchen Cooking Classes and nothing else).

My Beautiful Fruit Tart with Blackberries, Golden Raspberries, Bananas and Chocolate

The yellow raspberries I harvested from the allotment recently were so beautiful I wanted to make something pretty enough to do them justice. Having filled a couple of tubs with blackberries too, a fruit tart seemed an ideal way of putting both to good use.

I’ve peered through the windows of countless patisseries, admiring the artful creations – fruit oh so neatly arranged over crème pâtissière, in little pastry cases. I’ve eaten a fair few too. But until now, I’ve never remotely considered making my own.


A quick Google revealed thousands of recipes, but I liked the quick and easy nature of a James Martin recipe for French fruit tart, which I used as a starting point.

Blackberry, Golden Raspberry, Banana and Chocolate Fruit Tart

Adapted from a James Martin recipe

packet ready-rolled puff pastry (approximately 400 grams)
1 egg, beaten
50 grams dark chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170 ml double cream
170 ml fresh custard
small punnet blackberries
small punnet raspberries
1 banana, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced
4 tablespoons plum jelly (I used some I’d made a week or so earlier, from allotment plums)

FruitTart-9824 FruitTart-9827 FruitTart-9828


  • Preheat the oven to 200 C.
  • Divide the ready rolled puff pastry according to the size and number of tarts you want to make. I divided my sheet into two.
  • Lay the puff pastry rectangles on a baking tray covered with either a silicon baking mat or baking paper.
  • Using a sharp knife, score a frame around the edge, making sure you don’t cut the pastry all the way through and prick the base of the tart (excluding the border) with a fork.


  • Brush the border with a wash of beaten egg.


  • Bake the pastry until golden brown and crisp (20-25 minutes).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool.


  • Once cooled, gently press the centre of the pastry down to leave a raised frame around the edge.

FruitTart-9834 FruitTart-9836

  • Melt the chocolate using short bursts of 10-20 seconds in a microwave, or using the traditional bain marie technique.
  • Brush the melted chocolate over the bottom of the pastry. Be delicate as a heavy hand will cause layers of the pastry to come loose and shift.


  • Leave to the side to allow the chocolate to set.
  • In the meantime, mix the vanilla extract into the double cream and whip to stiff peaks. Fold the custard into the whipped cream.

FruitTart-9829 FruitTart-9830

  • Spoon and spread the cream mixture over the pastry base.


  • Arrange the fruit on top as you like.


  • Heat the plum jelly and, using a pastry brush, glaze the fruit generously but gently.


  • Allow the tart to set before serving.


The tart was magnificent, if I do say so myself, and by far the prettiest thing I’ve made, even though I know it looks messy next to the work of skilled patisserie makers, amateur and professional alike.

I was particularly happy with the invisible chocolate layer which added both a thin layer of solid bite and a lovely flavour too.

And the plum jelly worked better than I could have hoped for as a thick, protective and glossy glaze.

I was a little too free-handed when adding the custard (hence the amounts above). I’d adjust the ratios slightly back in favour of the whipped double cream, to give a slightly stiffer texture to the finished cream filling. It tasted fabulous but was a touch runnier than ideal.

Other than that, I can’t wait to make these again with whatever berries and fruits I have to hand.

Ice Cream Wednesday: Salty Snickers Ice Cream Bars

I’ve been so pleased about how much people have been enjoying the Ice Cream Wednesday series on the blog, not just reading my own posts but being inspired to buy their own ice cream machines and get in on the action too!

Kate aka The Little Loaf is a fellow food blogger and a twitter friend, and she has been really supportive of Ice Cream Wednesday. I know she has serious ice cream skillz so I asked if she’d be willing to contribute to the series and I’m sure you’ll agree, she’s come up with an absolute winner.

Incidentally, I just love her blog explanation for her nickname, which was given to her “at the age of two by a great aunt who noticed [her] appetite for bread was considerably bigger than [she] was“. That life-long obsession with all things baked has expanded into a sweet tooth, a love of cooking and an interest in trying new restaurants.

Little Loaf’s Salty Snickers Ice Cream Bars

littleloaf snickers ice creams 003 littleloaf snickers ice creams 005 littleloaf snickers ice creams 007

Do you remember the nineties internet craze of ‘pimp my snack’? People took every day treats and created crazy confections; giant Jammie Dodgers, Cadbury’s Crème Eggs filled with kilos of cream and party rings the size of a dinner plate. This recipe is seriously indulgent, but not quite on that scale.

With more primping than pimping involved, it takes a childhood classic, the Snickers ice cream bar, and makes it into an altogether more sophisticated version, using posh peanut butter, rich roasted nuts, a sprinkle of salt and good quality dark chocolate.

So there you have it, my take on Ice Cream Wednesday: silky smooth peanut butter ice cream topped with a layer of gooey caramel and peanuts, salty-sweet with a pinch of fleur de sel, and cloaked in a rich robe of glossy dark chocolate.

The ice cream is Philadelphia-style, meaning no complicated custard making, which allows you more time to fiddle around with the other elements of the recipe. As long as you make sure the ice cream stays super cold at all stages, you shouldn’t run into any problems.

For the ice cream
(taken from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop)

180g good quality smooth peanut butter
180g golden caster sugar
660ml single cream
Pinch of salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract

  • Line a 23 cm square loose bottomed tin with baking parchment.
  • Puree the peanut butter, sugar, cream, salt and vanilla in a blender until smooth.
  • Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge, then churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Once almost set, spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the top flat and freeze until hard.

For the caramel

115g unsalted butter
1 x 397g tin condensed milk
4tbsp golden syrup
Fleur de sel to taste

2 large handfuls roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

  • Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat for two to three minutes, then add the condensed milk and golden syrup.
  • Beat the mixture well until the butter is thoroughly incorporated.
  • Bring it to a slow simmer then, keeping the temperature even, cook for 10 minutes, stirring continuously, until thickened and light golden-brown in colour (this mixture can burn very easily, so keep stirring and don’t leave the pan unattended).
  • Once you have a thick caramel, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then remove the ice cream from the freezer and pour a layer of caramel over.
  • Sprinkle with peanuts and fleur de sel, then return to the freezer to set hard.

For the bars

350g good quality dark chocolate
170g unsalted butter
3 tbsp corn or glucose syrup
small handful roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

  • Line a large flat board with baking parchment and pop in the freezer to cool.
  • Melt the chocolate, butter and syrup together in a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water until smooth, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Remove the frozen ice cream and caramel from the freezer. Pop the bottom from the loose bottomed tin, then slice the ice cream into bars – I made 14 large bars, but you can adjust to your taste and appetite! Remove your prepared, lined board from the freezer too.
  • Now you need to work quickly. Taking two spoons, drop one of the bars into the chocolate mixture. Turn quickly to coat evenly in a thin layer of chocolate, then transfer onto the prepared board and sprinkle with chopped nuts (optional).
  • Repeat for the remaining bars, returning to the freezer in batches if necessary (i.e. if they start to melt).
  • Keep the bars in the freezer, covered, removing around 10 minutes before you want to eat them so the ice cream softens and the caramel becomes gooey.

If you try this one, do let us know how you get on!

Discover the Origin of Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a recent post about Parma ham, I explained about my invitation to learn more about the production of two of Parma’s most famous products – the ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano, parmesan cheese.


You can read a little more about what it means to have a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, in that previous post.

Below are some images from the parmesan cheese producer we visited; a visual walk-through of the production process.


Making Parmesan Cheese

Parma-8399 Parma-8434
Parma-8412 Parma-8415

Fresh raw cow’s milk is delivered to the cheese producers daily. A whopping 600 litres of milk is needed to make a single 38 kilo wheel of cheese!

The PDO regulations cover raw ingredients; the cows that produce milk for Parmigiano-Reggiano must be fed on a regulated diet of fresh grass, hay and grains.

A starter of natural fermenting-whey is added to the milk, which is stirred regularly and slowly heated to 33°C.

Parma-8418 Parma-8413
Parma-8425 Parma-8428

Calf rennet is added to the milk.

The curd that starts to form is broken up into small fragments using a sharp-edged tool known as the spino (thorn-bush), a spherical metal cage on a stick.

The temperature is raised to 55°C.

Parma-8426 Parma-8443

I love this cheeky image of the head cheese maker in his shorts. Hygiene is critical to the cheese making process.

Parma-8549 Parma-8550 Parma-8551
Parma-8553 Parma-8555 Parma-8556 Parma-8557 Parma-8566

With practised skill that is mesmerising to watch, the curds are enclosed and lifted into a cloth, using a large paddle. Two men then carefully tilt and roll the curds within the cloth to form a rounded mass, which is then tied to poles and left hanging within the vats, which are drained of the remaining liquid.


Even with most of the whey drained away, what I can’t see is the bell shaped bottom of the copper vat which sits below ground level where it is heated and cooled by steam and water.

The whey by-product is used to make ricotta or fed to pigs, with a small batch retained and allowed to ferment, for use as a natural starter for the following day’s production.


At this stage, the warm loosely-packed fresh cheese tastes very bland, just like home-made paneer, actually.

Parma-8600 Parma-8603
Parma-8447 Parma-8453 Parma-8588 Parma-8450

Using a crane, the individual masses of curd are lifted out of the copper vats and carefully placed in fascera (circular moulds) for pressing, enclosed in fresh white fabric. A plastic forma is slotted in to line the moulds, imprinting the soft curd with all the relevant information about the producer and date, plus the familiar Parmigiano-Reggiano repeated around the circumference of the cheese. The moulds are tied and pressed using wooden blocks and ropes that can easily be tightened.

Parma-8604 Parma-8608 Parma-8610

Bar code information, printed onto disks made of casein, is pushed against the surface of the cheese and batch information is written by hand onto each wheel.


The cheeses are turned and allowed to set for a few days.

Parma-8458 Parma-8456 Parma-8473 Parma-8459 Parma-8462
Parma-8475 Parma-8461

Next, the cheeses are soaked in salt water for 20-25 days. The salt within the brine penetrates the cheeses very slowly, and continues to work its way to the centre during the next several months.

Parma-8497 Parma-8487 Parma-8490
Parma-8499 Parma-8526

Finally, the cheeses are transferred into the cascina (maturing room) for a minimum of 12 months and as long as 30 months.

Parma-8517 Parma-8527

Cheeses are checked regularly. An inspector uses a special hammer to tap all over the surface of the cheese. Imperfections reveal themselves by a change in tone, that practised ears can easily detect.

Cheeses which pass inspection can be branded with the official logo of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano (a consortium that authenticates the production and standards of the cheese, represents all the producers, assists with marketing and trade and of course, defends the PDO status).

Those which have not ripened evenly are scored horizontally around their circumference, to mark them as having failed to meet standards. These cannot be sold under the Parmigiano-Reggiano name but there is a strong demand in Italy for the younger, softer cheese which is sold as Mezzano.

Parma-8524 Parma-8530

As the specifications for Parmigiano-Reggiano are very rigid, some cheese producers also experiment with variations, which they brand and sell under different names.

Parma-8584 Parma-8615

As an ardent cheese-lover, I really enjoyed the opportunity to witness how traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano is made, not to mention the chance to sample top quality cheeses of different ages.

The youngest Parmigiano-Reggiano available to buy has been matured for 12 months. You can also look out for red stamp wheels, which have been matured for 18 months or longer, silver stamp wheels which have been matured for 22 months or longer, and gold stamp Parmigiano-Reggiano which has been matured for a minimum of 30 months.

Longer maturation results in a stronger flavour and a drier, crumblier and grainier texture.

I will be sharing some recipes making use of Parmigiano-Reggiano soon.

Sushi Japan in N12

Our little corner of suburbia, up in North Finchley, isn’t as exciting a food destination as many London neighbourhoods but we have a few places that definitely deserve mention. Recently, we’ve made quite a few visits to Sushi Japan, a small unassuming restaurant towards the North end of our high street, opposite the local Sainsbury’s.


Sushi Japan offer an a la carte menu, a £5.90 bento box lunch deal and a £13.80 “Eat as much as you like” deal, which is what we usually order.


We splash out on this for lunch when we fancy having a generous lunch and much lighter dinner. The proviso that you may spend only 1.5 hours maximum puts us off coming for dinner.

The restaurant also reserves the right to charge £5 per person for any food wastage. I think this is reasonable as some of the ingredients are expensive and wastage through over-ordering should be discouraged. We tend to order a few dishes to start and then a few more as and when we have eaten the previous ones.


Agedashi tofu is listed on the menu as fried tofu. I love this, as the tofu is silky soft inside with a light, crunchy exterior and the dashi broth is full of flavour, so much so that I like to save mine and mix it with some rice at the end.


The salmon sashimi set features 3 slices of sashimi, 3 pieces of nigiri and 3 sushi rolls. Simple and fresh, though not as neatly assembled as I’ve seen in some places.

SushiJapan-9121 SushiJapan-9749

The tamago (omelette) nigiri sushi features thin rectangular slices of cold omelette. I think I prefer the contrast, in texture and flavour, of seafood and rice to this egg and rice option. Also available are eel, surf clam, squid and octopus nigiri sushi, above right.


Pumpkin koroke are an incredible snack! Soft, smooth and sweet pumpkin filling with crunchy panko coating, deep fried and served piping hot. Very good indeed.


Chicken yakitori, skewers of small juicy chicken morsels, are tender and have the expected depth of flavour in the sauce.


The standard tempura set includes 3 prawns and 4 pieces of vegetables, usually aubergine, courgette, green pepper and carrot. Personally, I don’t think pepper and carrot are great tempura ingredients. The batter is crisp. These aren’t the best I’ve had but they’re decent. I love the dipping sauce on this one too, and it also often gets mixed in with some rice later in the meal.

SushiJapan-9126 SushiJapan-7999

Gyoza come in chicken or vegetable versions. The chicken ones we choose have always been good, with well balanced flavours inside and a thin, crispy wrapper. Their shape isn’t as neat as the ones expertly folded by Reiko at her Hashi Cooking school but it’s certainly more elegant than my efforts!

SushiJapan-7997 SushiJapan-9127

The chicken teriyaki is soft and tender against the occasional crunch of carrot and red cabbage. The flavours are really punchy and we love this with a serving of soft, slightly sticky Japanese style fried rice.


The fried udon noodles are wonderful, with a sticky sauce that’s gently sweet and sour and savoury. It may not sound exciting in the menu listing but it’s a delicious dish!


Also on the menu are a range of nigiri that can be ordered individually; clam, octopus and prawn sashimi sets (along same lines as the salmon one above); a selection of sushi and uramaki inside-out rolls; edamame beans; miso soup; katsu, kara-age, curry and ramen soup.


All of which gives us an excuse to go back soon!

Sushi Japan on Urbanspoon