If the queues outside Neals Yard Dairy in Christmas week are anything to go by a good cheeseboard is still a festive staple. ‘Good’ meaning diverse and interesting rather than necessarily expensive. What you serve with the cheeses can work wonders in bringing out and balancing their flavours. Dorothy Hartley wrote in her Food in England book of culinary traditions that thickened and sweetened apple and damson ‘cheeses’ – called that as they can be sliced into – used to be popular at Christmas. In the recipe that follows I’ve brought those two ideas together into a set preserve that is a beautiful, sweet, plummy partner for cheese. (Damson season has passed so the plums are understudying.)
Apple and Plum ‘Cheese’
- 500g eating apples
- 1kg small plums
- 500ml dry cider
- 800g caster sugar, plus a little more to dust over
- 2 cloves
- a baking tray approx 26 x 17 cm
1. The apples don’t need to be peeled or cored, just cut them into quarters through their core. Halve the plums and put all the fruit – including the plum stones – into a large pan. Pour over the cider. Cook it all slowly for 30 minutes until the fruit is very soft.
2. Press the fruit through a sieve, really trying to eke as much out of it as you can. Measure the purée and add 150g of sugar for each 100ml of purée.
3. Heat until the sugar dissolves and then cook slowly for about an hour with the cloves added. Stir it often to stop it burning. It is ready when, as Dorothy Hartley put it, “the stiff mixture coats the back of the [wooden]spoon with golden gum”.
4. Grease your baking tray with oil and line with baking paper. Pour the sweetened fruit in and leave it to cool overnight or until set. Then you can cut it up into squares, dust with a little more sugar, and store with baking paper between the layers in an airtight container. It’ll keep for months and get better with age.