Whenever anyone asks me what were the high points of our recent trip to Europe I always answer with two simple words – the food. We happily indulged ourselves whenever possible, knowing we would be walking it all off within days and I was pleased to note that I came home carrying no more extra baggage than my shopping.
I was having a conversation about our foodie finds with my friend Kris Lloyd, the hugely talented and multi-award winning Woodside Cheese Wrights, not long after we got back and was waxing lyrical about some butter made from clotted cream (cultured butter) which we had bought on our last day in London. It was part of a significant haul that we took home from London’s Borough Markets (more about that later) for a final feeding frenzy and had made quite an impression. Kris commented that she had recently been “playing around” (her words) with cultured butter, including one which she had washed in whiskey. With the taste of the delicious, golden London lipids still lingering, to say I was eager to try Kris’ efforts would be something of an understatement.
Cultured butter is something of a recent discovery for many Australians, but has been in use for 100’s of years in Europe. The butter which we are used to is what Europeans refer to as sweet cream butter – delicious, but lacking in the depth of flavour of cultured butter. Cultured butter is made in exactly the same way as ordinary butter, but a live culture is added to the cream which is allowed to ripen for some time before being churned, salted (or not) and rinsed. Kris adds the culture to her cream 24 hours before she uses it to make butter, giving the cream time to “clot”. Cultured butter has a richer, deeper flavour which some find somewhat tangy and also comes with a little probiotic boost from the addition of the live culture.
Kris gave me three different batches to play around with – an almost unsalted butter, salted butter and the remarkable whiskey-washed version – and I’ve had a very happy day or two getting to know them. They are all truly delicious and definitely add an extra facet to the dishes I used them in – a Mushroom and Almond Bruschetta with Chevre and Vanilla Poached Oranges with Pikelets. I kept these recipes fairly simple in order to let the ingredients do the talking – there’s no point in using outstanding produce and then smothering it with other flavours and fancy techniques – good food doesn’t need to be tricky. The mushrooms I used came from Marco the Mushroom Man in the Adelaide Central Market and the sublime oranges were in our CSA box from Jupiter Creek Farm – all fresh, local and fabulous. I couldn’t help adding some wonderful Beerenberg Caramelised Onions to the mushroom dish – they finished it off perfectly.
- 500 gms Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 30 gms toasted almonds, ground as fine as your food processor will allow
- 100 gms Woodside Cheesewright chevre
- 80 gms Cultured butter
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 good pinch of salt
- Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
- 2 large slices sourdough bread
- Melt the butter in moderately hot pan, add mushrooms and salt, cook gently.
- When mushrooms begin to soften add the ground nuts and the thyme, continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked to taste.
- Slice bread and toast. (At this point you may/may not choose to butter it with more of the cultured butter. I’ll leave you to guess what I did.)
- Pile the cooked mushrooms on the toasts, sprinkle each with a teaspoon or two of the caramelised onions, then crumble the chevre over the top, serve.
The whiskey washed butter was used in an even simpler dish of pikelets with vanilla poached oranges, but the combination was absolutely stunning and much appreciated by the guests to whom I served it yesterday for afternoon tea. My good friend Meg is very partial to a wee dram or two of whiskey and her eyes glazed over just a little while eating these.
I’m sure everyone can work out how to make basic pikelets. As for the vanilla poached oranges – the oranges were simply peeled, making sure all of the pith was removed, sliced about 10mm thick and gently poached for ten minutes in a syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water and one vanilla bean, split open and scraped – hardly a recipe at all! I cooled them slightly in the syrup, buttered the hot pikelets with the whisky washed butter and layered the oranges and pikelets, topping with a dab of the precious butter. Eat, then swoon.