[A]: Since the festive season is upon us – Thanksgiving followed by Christmas and New Year, I thought I should talk about this great starter dish that gets people together. Although it is quite an easy dish to make, there are quite a few things to remember when buying the cheese.
Camembert comes from the northern part of France – Normandy, very close to the English Channel. I have been to Caen, a big city in Normandy, a few times and every time I bake this cheese it reminds me of the creamy-yellow Jurassic limestone buildings that line the city streets. Normandy has huge historical links to the rest of the world, especially to the World War veterans and their families. The one thing that every visitor enjoys is the beautiful northern French cuisine. I found Caen to be a real foodie city with restaurants offering not just traditional French dishes, but also many experimental new dishes influenced by food from all over Europe and beyond.
Back to the things to remember when buying and preparing the Camembert:
(1) This cheese is a soft cheese which is meant to be made from unpasteurised milk. There are variants available now which are made from pasteurised milk, but these are not good for baking. The cheese from pasteurised milk will coagulate and will not produce the gooey centre we are after.
(2) I do my baking in the wooden boxes that this cheese comes in. If you are planning to do the same, ensure that the wooden box is not joined using glue. It should be stapled together. The glue usually melts when heated and would not work as a stable baking container. If you can not get hold of the cheese that comes in these wooden containers, you will need to use a Camembert baker.
(3) The instructions for baking this cheese is quite simple. But make sure you follow the temperature and baking times carefully. The cheese doesn’t melt further if you keep it longer in the over. Instead it starts to solidify. Hence it is not possible to rescue the gooey centre once it is spoiled. It is the same reason why re-heating doesn’t work for this cheese.
(4) There are two options for preparing the cheese. One could be to cut off the top rind. However, I consider the rind as part of the cheese and prefer to keep it. So I prefer the second option, where I cut through the top rind making diamond shaped deep cuts.
A box of Camembert cheese
Few sprigs of fresh thyme, preferably lemon thyme
Sea salt and black pepper for seasoning (optional)
Clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Take the cheese out of all the packaging and place the cheese on the wooden box. Cut the top of the rind with a sharp knife going deep enough to cut through the rind in straight lines so that there are diamond shaped cuts when done. Insert the garlic slices and thyme through the cut in the rind. Sprinkle the olive oil over the top along with the sea salt and pepper (optional).
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, depending how brown you want the rind. The centre should be gooey when done.
Once out of the oven, let the cheese cool for a couple of minutes. Sever it with crunchy vegetable batons. I prefer carrot, celery and radish. You can also serve it with breads that can scoop up the gooey cheese – fresh ciabatta, baguettes or bread sticks.
This tastes best with cider. The other option is some acidic white like chenin blanc or sparkling white/champagne.