Swiss Wines: Cornalin

Switzerland is not known globally for its wine – in fact before moving out to here I had no idea that the Swiss even produced wine.   The majority of Swiss wine (about 98%) is still consumed within the country rather than exported.  You won’t find Swiss wine in many shops outside of the country (despite being able to see Swiss vineyards from my balcony I still have to travel into Switzerland to buy Swiss wine as it doesn’t make it to the shops over the border!), but due to the wonders of the internet you can now purchase a fair few different bottles online and as a result its profile abroad seems to be rising slightly.

While there are some common grapes grown (for example Chardonnay and Gamay), many of the grapes are unique to Switzerland or even to certain Swiss Cantons.

One such grape is Cornalin (or Rouge de Pays/Cornalin du Valais) which is grown in the French speaking Valais canton (and is completely separate and different to the Cornalin grown in the Italian Aosta Valley).  The Swiss Cornalin is a cross the Mayolet and Petit Rouge grapes (both from that nearby Aosta Valley) and was grown since the early 14th Century under the Rouge de Pays name until for reasons I can’t discover they changed the name to Cornalin in the 1970’s.

Apparently it’s not the easiest of grapes to grow maturing late and suffering from irregular yields and so needing a lot of love and care throughout the year as well as luck with the weather.  As a result the areas in which it was grown decreased over the last century.  More recently it has been having a bit of a revival, however the area of growth is still pretty small (only 290 acres in 2009).

However hard it is to cultivate that the results are well worth the effort.   An intense and unusual wine, it’s both fruity and floral.  The wine has is a concentrated deep red hue with a slight purple edge, it’s so dark you can barely see through it even when the glass is tilted to one side.

A glass of Cornalin

A glass of Cornalin

It has strong aromas of cherry, red berries and violets.  That violet floral note carries over in the taste as well, sometimes as a mere hint but other times quite strongly present (like in the first Cornalin I ever tasted which was made by Clos de Géronde and had more than a hint of parma violets about it).

Also present are big black fruit flavours and general pepperiness or spice.  It certainly packs a punch but it has very low tannins so it’s still easy to drink when young.   As it goes well with strong gamey meats so this is the perfect time to enjoy a bottle or two.  It also holds up well with punchy cheeses.

I’ve sampled a couple recently; 2012 Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin (CHF13.50 – Coop) and a Maître de Chais Cornalin (CHF26.90 – Coop).

Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin

Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin

The Fleur Du Rhone had an intense floral violet scent coupled with a whiff of cherry.  In the mouth this was revered with the deep cheery flavor taking over and just a slight hint of blossom, along with a little spice, to taking the edge off the intense fruit.

Maître de Chais Cornalin

Maître de Chais Cornalin

The Maître de Chais was spicier than the Fleur Du Rhone and with blackberry flavours and a slight herbal note joining the cherry.  In this wine the violet in the nose only not on the palete.  Both wines were very lively and strong with a long lasting aftertaste.  They were both slightly acidic when drunk by themselves, but worked extremely well with food (one time beef and the other cheese) which seemed to tone them down slightly.

Apparently they ages these wines tend to calm down a little becoming smoother and less boisterous.  As I’ve only encountered young versions so far I can’t really comment on this, but while not for every night or occasion, I like the powerful fruit and floral flavors of the young versions.

October Cheese, Please! Challenge: Etorki, leek and Hazelnut Tart

Etorki, Leek and Hazelnut Tart

I adore cheese (for me it’s even better than chocolate) and I’m always looking for any excuse to consume more or try something new.  After watching from the sidelines previously, this month I decided I wanted to have a go at the Cheese, Please! Challenge (rules here) run by FromageHomage.


Fromage Homage

This month’s challenge is hard sheep’s cheese and for me the obvious choice to use was Etorki, a sheep’s cheese from the Basque region that I love.  Etorki (it means “origin” in Basque) is made from the milk of black- or red-faced Manech ewes in South West France.  It’s a very pale colour and has a fairly “bendy” texture.  It’s not as punchy as a mature manchego, but has a subtle nutty/earthy flavour instead.

Etorki

Etorki

Etorki Cheese

Etorki Cheese

I’ve never cooked with Etorki before, I normally just eat it on bread with membrillo (or just straight from the pack), and so I was intrigued by the idea of finding or coming up with a proper recipe using it.

How I normally eat Etorki

How I normally eat Etorki

I did not succeed in locating any recipes that called directly for Etorki but after much racking of my brains I remembered a recipe from the BBC that I cooked some time ago for a leek tart with a hazelnut crumb on top that had used Caerphilly cheese (which was originally made with sheep’s milk many years ago but now uses cow’s milk).  I figured that, given its own nutty flavours, the Etorki would work quite well in this dish as well.

It wasn’t all plain sailing but I was fairly pleased with the end result.  The final recipe I used is here.

A slice of Etorki Leek and Hazelnut Tart

A slice of Etorki Leek and Hazelnut Tart

My original plan involved using a hazelnut shortcrust pastry to further enhance the nuttiness, however it turned out that I only had 20g of ground hazelnuts left in my cupboard (this was a Sunday evening so there were no shops open to get more).  I did incorporate what little I had left into the pastry I made, but I don’t think it did any more than giving it a slight grainy appearance, I certainly couldn’t taste it in the finished dish!

Blind baking without beans because I had lent them to a friend

Blind baking without beans because I had lent them to a friend

Having never cooked with Etorki before I wasn’t sure how it would react.  The cheese inside the filling worked fine, it just oozed into the egg and tasted delicious.   However, while the cheese in the topping still tasted great, it didn’t look terrible appetizing.  As you can see it puffed up, rather than melted and so ended up looking more like toasted sweetcorn that pieces of cheese.  The texture worked well though, just a shame about the appearance!

Etorki, Leek and Hazelnut Tart

Interesting Cheese Lumps!

So that’s my first ever entry to the challenge.  Thinking of a recipe using Hard Sheep’s Cheese was a tricky task and I don’t think fully mastered cooking with Etorki yet, at least from a visual point of view!   I enjoyed my tart though, it was very tasty and it also tastes just as nice cold (I have been eating the left overs as lunches in work).

Road Testing a Future Present – Spices in the Post

Searching for a birthday present for my brother I came across a company called The Spicery who sell lots of interesting (and sometimes unusual) spices, blends and spice kits which are delivered to you (free in the UK, £3 to Europe) all weighed out and ready to use along with recipes.  The particular option that caught my eye for my brother was their Friday night curry packs which sounded like a great idea. 

Once a month they post you all the herbs and spices to make a different curry and selection of side for four people.  You just have to supply the rest of the ingredients (e.g. the meat and the rice!) and actually do the cooking.  There are different options to choose form if you prefer traditional curries, something a bit different or you’re a vegetarian.  There’s also a world food option if you don’t fancy a curry.

As my brother likes cooking for friends I thought this might be a fun and stress free way for him to try some new dishes.  Figuring that I ought to see if they were any good before I bought them as a present I decided to treat myself to a “Lucky Dip” in which you get 2 recipe kits and two spice packs and I also grabbed some of their mix for making chilli and apple chutney.  I was really pleased with how quickly my spices turned up (so many things ordered from Britain seem to take an age to reach me) and also with the contents of the box. 

The contents of my spice box

The contents of my spice box

The two recipe kits that I received were for making Chicken Paprikas, a Hungarian dish, and Pasteria de Grano, an Italian cake, (both of which I had never heard of before) and the spice packs were a mix for beef burgers and another for chicken (or fish).  In addition to these there were also four free spice pack samples: a rose masala, panch pooran, a Jamaican drink and a love blend (some romantic spices to add to desserts!).

The first thing I made was the chilli and apple chutney.  It said it made 3 jars which is more than I fancied right now so I halved everything (and only used half the pack!) and it still made one huge jar and one little one!  The spice mix contains four different chillies (which I had also never heard of before – lots of new things for me) along with ginger cloves and other lovelies – a pretty heady mix.  I just had to supply some apples, onion, sugar, vinegar and raisins.  This was really simple, just chop the apple and onion, chuck everything in the pan and cook. 

Ingredients for the Chili Apple Chutney

Ingredients for the Chili Apple Chutney

Finished Chili Apple Chutney

Finished Chili Apple Chutney

When set the chutney is pretty solid and a little difficult to spread (I’ve ended up just placing lumps on cheese) but I really like the flavour.  The first thing you get is the sweetness but then the deep chili flavour starts to build.  After about 3 or 4 bites it’s actually quite intense but it’s never quite burning hot.  It would overwhelm some things, but with a robust cheese I really like it!

Next up was the chicken paprikas.  The pack supplied two different types of paprika and some caraway seeds and was enough for four servings.  The recipe was clear and easy to follow and was pretty simple to make.  I really enjoyed the result, tasty yet creamy, and (as I have a fair few paprikas stashed away in my cupboard) I will probably have a go at making this again!

Chicken Paprikas Spices

Chicken Paprikas Spices and Recipe

Chicken Paprikas

Chicken Paprikas

The sample of panch pooran (looked like it was a mix of fennel seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds and something else I didn’t recognize – it didn’t say what was in this pack!) suggested toasting the spices and the sprinkling them over the a curry so that’s exactly what I did.  I added them to the saag aloo I had made for my lunches.  They added a nice bit of crunch, but I’m not sure I could pick out the flavour on top of all the spices in the saag allo itself!

Saag Aloo with Panch Pooran

Saag Aloo with Panch Pooran

The final thing that I have used so far this week is the beef burger mix.  I’ve always been a big fan of homemade burger and love trying out new flavours to add to the mix so I was excited to give this a go.  The pack contained (among many other things!) chili, paprika, oregano, celery seed and cumin.  It was fairy pungent.  I mixed it with beef mince and shaped the patties getting very orange stained hands in the process!

burgers mixed with spices ready to cook

Burgers mixed with spices ready to cook

To eat the burgers, on one I just had tomato and some sauce to try and test out the flavour and on the other some blue cheese and fig jam!  I normally use flavour to enhance the beef but in this case the beef was swallowed up whole by all the spices.  The flavour while quite strong was not unpleasant, I just couldn’t have identified what the meat was at all if I was given this blindfolded.  That said it was lovely with the simple tomato and still worked with the fig and blue cheese so not bad overall!

Burgers cooked

Burgers cooked

All in all I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got in this box.  If you go for the normal subscription you get a bit more control over what arrives, which is a really nice touch, but I’ve actually enjoyed the adventure of using whatever happened to turn up (luckily there’s not much in life that I don’t enjoy eating so the chances of getting something I won’t use are pretty small).  I was really pleased with the quality of the recipes and of the spices themselves so I’m going to order it for my brother and maybe some more for myself as well.  Hope he likes it!

Fruity Gins

There was a time when sloe gin was not mainstream, when it was homemade and found only at fetes and fairs rather than on supermarket shelves.  However over the past 5 years it’s become fairly common to see a sloe gin version of most popular brands in the shops, especially once the weather has started to turn cooler.  While these products taste okay, they are not a patch on the deep fruity deliciousness that you get with the homemade versions.

When I lived in Britain I knew a place where you could go and pick sloes and used to enjoy making sloe gin in the winter.  Unfortunately, despite much hunting, since moving out here I’ve been unable to locate any sloe trees (or Prunus spinosaif you’re posh).  Last year I overcame this hurdle by bringing some sloes (kindly picked by my parents) back over with me after a trip home.  While quite squashed and bashed these well-travelled sloes worked a treat and I had a delicious drink for Christmas.

Sloe Gin from 2010

Sloe Gin from 2010

This year I’m not heading home till Christmas – far too late to grab any sloes or make the sloe gin – and so I thought I’d test out some alternative fruit gins instead.  After a bit of internet research is appears that you can make a fruit gin with pretty much any berry or stone fruit, the options are endless.

Inspired by the possibilities I set off to forage for some blackberries.  This turned out to be least successful foraging trip ever.  After about half an hour I finally managed to find some brambles, but the only blackberries on there were rather dried and shriveled.  I appear to have missed blackberry season by quite a few weeks!

The dried up blackberries

The dried up blackberries

Undeterred I decided to pop down my local veg shop to try and get some there.  There were no blackberries, but there were some lovely looking damsons from the Loire so I bought a load of them along with a Poire William to go with my elusive blackberries should I find any.   After visiting three supermarkets I did eventually manage to locate some blackberries, and I also grabbed some raspberries for good measure (and gin) while I was at it.

Fruits and Gin

Fruits and Gin – Ready to Start

And so, with this magnificent haul of fruit I set to work using these recipes.  First into the bottles was the fruit.  The damsons go in whole and needed to have their skins pricked first to allow them to infuse with the gin.  The raspberries and blackberries just needed to be pushed into their respective bottles, but as they were pretty soft and the necks of the bottles were quite narrow this turned out to be a bit trickier (and messier) than I expected.  Finally I sliced the pear into fairly thin slices and popped these in with the blackberries.

Next up was the sugar.  Even with the funnel I managed to get this everywhere!

Pouring in Sugar

Pouring in Sugar

Finally I topped up the bottles, sealed them and gave everything a good shake to mix it all up.

Inevitably not all the sugar dissolved first time, so I gave the bottles a good old shake every couple of hours through-out the day and by the evening there was no visible sugar left and it was time to put the bottles in the cupboard where they will stay until December.

Three Fruit Gins

Three Fruit Gins

After all this my kitchen was in a bit of a state, but I can’t wait to see how these turn out and if they are a match for good old sloe gin!

Zürich Geschnetzeltes – a quintessentially Swiss dish

I have been working in Switzerland for two and half years now and despite my best intentions, until this week I had never visited Zürich – the closest I had come was driving around the outskirts on my way to Austria one time.

I’ve managed to fix all that in the past week by visiting not once but twice!  Both trips were flying day visits of only a couple of hours ach with absolutely no time to see the sights or experience anything of the culture or cuisine on the first trip and only time to wolf down some (delicious!) currywurst and glimpse the lake on the second, but hey; at least I actually made it into the city!

Currywurst

Currywurst

As I didn’t actually get to sample it when I was there, I thought I cook myself the traditional dish of Zürich Geschnetzeltes (or Émincé de Veau Zurichoise if you prefer) at home to celebrate finally making it to Zürich.

A long long time ago (or so it seems,) in anticipation of the move out here, I decided to cook a Swiss themed meal for some friends.  My original plan was to have Zürich Geschnetzeltes as the main course, however after searching high and low, in supermarkets and butchers, it turned out it was impossible to find veal for sale and so I had to settle for the rather less authentically traditional (but much more cheesy ;-))option of a fondue.

However there is no such problem over here on the continent, since moving out I have enjoyed many a veal escalope,  it was easy to get hold of some for this traditional Swiss dish.  I scouted around the internet to compare recipes from various sources and to my surprise I found out that the mushrooms are a modern addition to the mix.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen it made or advertised without them so there was no way I was going to leave them out of mine, no matter how traditional!

Picking my favourite bits of the recipes I saw I opted to use shallots rather than white onion as I think the sweetness goes really well with cream.  I also choose to leave out the paprika that some recipes included and tried to stick to just the basic flavours.  A couple of recipes I found called for the addition of cornstarch to the sauce, but I found the residual flour from frying the veal thickens things just fine.  The recipe I used to make my take on Zürich Geschnetzeltes can be found here.

Zürich Geschnetzeltes

Zürich Geschnetzeltes

On my way back from Zürich the second time I also got to something else I had been meaning to do for a long time – eat in the dining car on the train.  It was brilliant.  After a long day and a three hour exam I was able to relax on my own table with a large plate of Swiss cheese and a delicious Valais Pinot Noir.  There was something wonderfully timeless and elegant about the spending the return journey in the dining car, I felt like I was in a movie or some great romantic novel.  I can’t wait to do it again.

Swiss cheese and wine on the train

Swiss cheese and wine on the train

 

Some Simple Speedy Suppers

So this past week I have been revising for an exam (it’s on the 8th October!).  As a result I haven’t been able to devote much time to cooking, or anything at all much in fact except revision!   I can’t wait to get this exam over and done with and have some free time again.

However, no matter how much work and revision I have to do, I still need to eat eventually!

After a long day in work and a couple of hours revision at home my brain isn’t up to much but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to eat something tasty.  While some nights I have resorted to the easy/lazy option of sticking a frozen pizza in the oven, I’ve also been whipping up a few quick and easy meals.

As a goats cheese addict, a favourite quick meal of mine is the oh so easy and oh so indulgent figs and goats cheese on toast.

Grilled Fig and Goats Cheese on Toast

Grilled Fig and Goats Cheese on Toast

This has only four ingredients and takes just 5 minutes to prepare and another 5 minutes to cook so it’s great for when you don’t have much time.   I personally think the flavour combination is just divine so for me this is the perfect reward for a hard days studying.

Another speedy supper I’ve had this week is salt and pepper squid.  It’s a bit like calamari but with a little more oomph from all the pepper and without a batter.

Salt and Pepper Squid

Salt and Pepper Squid

While it’s quick to cook, this does take a little more time to prepare if you’re using fresh squid, but it’s really speedy if you’re using the pre-prepared ones.

The final dish I wanted to share is chickpeas with chorizo, lemon and roast peppers.

Chorizo pepper and lemon chickpeas

Chorizo pepper and lemon chickpeas

This is such a simple store cupboard dish but it’s full of flavor and the lemon gives it a real freshness it using tinned ingredients.  It works well cold as well as hot and it keeps really well in the fridge so it’s great for packed lunches (which is how I’ve been enjoying it).