Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Snacks’

Plastic Free Cookery: Nice bit o’ cheese (and crackers)

Despite my devotion to Sunday Baking, I actually far prefer savoury options, and especially cheese. The cheese is even better when it comes atop a cracker, but both are regular sources of plastic in my rubbish bin, and that’s something I would like to change.

Cheese came to New Zealand with the European settlers, who had strong cheese cultures at home. Cheese is an excellent way to preserve milk, and is portable, long-lasting, a source of protein, fat and calcium. Predating human history, cheese’s origins are a bit of a mystery (like many things food), but a study of trace fatty residues on Croatian pottery that may indicate that they were used to strain curds from whey, or to store fermented milk (source: academic & approachable). There’s arguments about the study, but as similar findings dating back to Neolithic times illustrate: cheese has been around a long, long time.

Organic residues preserved in pottery vessels have provided direct evidence for early milk use in the Neolithic period in the Near East and south-eastern Europe, north Africa, Denmark and the British Isles

nature.com

As Europeans migrated to New Zealand they brought their cheese with them: This advert from 1840 advertises a rage of imported goods, including vinegar, mustard, pickles and cheese.

An early advert for a shipment of food, including cheese. New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 18 April 1840

A cursory search for New Zealand cheese history brings up thebigfoody.com claiming that brie and camembert have been made in New Zealand experimentally since 1911, and with successful commercial production from the 70s. And apparently New Zealand’s first blue cheese was made in Taranaki in 1951, but this is not backed up in the post so I take it with a pinch of salt.

I’ve made cheese once before, in a blue cheese making class under the watchful eye of an expert. Thanks to the post-lockdown hangover, there were no classes running nearby, so I pulled out my copy of Curd & Crust by Tamara Newing and decided to have a go myself. I won’t supply a cheese recipe here as I am not an expert in cheese making, but hey, did I have fun!

The cheese is aging in our fermentation fridge – usually reserved for beer – and sadly isn’t quite ready for eating, after the steriliser I used on my hands inhibited the mould growth on the edges as I turned the cheese. I also salted it too much (left it too long in the brine), so it’s saltier than camembert or brie you’d fins in the shops, and also firmer. Therefore, I would like to announce that I have made fetambert – a salty cheese with a white mould. You read it here first, folks.

A gratuitous mould shot. Look at that fluff!

I also had a try at crackers, making some under the sweet name Crickle Crackle” from The Victoria League of Auckland’s 5th edition of Tried Recipes. These were simple, plain crackers with an easy-to-handle dough. Rather than roll them into disks as suggested, I rolled larger portions of the dough out and cut into haphazard squares with a ravioli cutter.

I’m yet to try making them with cheese in the mix, but they wold be yummy with cheese added, or some minced garlic and sprinkled with salt. I lost count of how many I made, but there were over 50 of them, which sat happily for the two weeks they lasted in an air-tight container and some recycled silica sachets to help prevent them from going stale.

And so here we are: at the end of Plastic Free July. I didn’t get through perfectly, but it’s freshened my awareness of the pervsiveness of plastic, and how satisfying and tasty it is to make your favourite foods from scratch. Chips are now a treat, pasta isn’t intimidating but relaxing, and I’m planning on making more cheese this weekend. Challenges like this are good: they remind you that even in this age of convenience it is possible to make do and mend, and that you actually can make what’s now industrialised. And that has to be a very good thing.

Plastic-free Cookery: wanna chip bro?

Here in New Zealand, we love our chips. According to Potatoes New Zealand, 71,914 metric tonnes of potatoes were turned into crisps and a further 282,446 metric tonnes of potataoes were turned into chips (meaning french fries and thicker). That’s an insane quantity of snacks that Kiwis have troughed through.

Crisps are a modern phenomenon: a little too complicated for the home cook to waste time and oil over, perfect for street vendors to sell, and when packaged in plastic, the ideal thing to sell to the consumer in supermarkets, dairies, petrol stations, and just about anywhere you could find yourself hankering for a snack. Two of the most recognisable brands in crisps in New Zealand are Eta, founded in 1955; and Bluebird, established in 1953.

In 2016 stuff.co.nz asked New Zealanders to vote for their favourite chip flavour as an influx of new and interesting flavours came to tantalise our tastebuds. Salt and Vinegar and Ready Salted ranked the highest, but some surprises were in store – we were acquiring a taste for chilli, or even along the lines of caramelised onion. My biggest surprise was to see Barbeque poll lower than Chicken flavour, but as you can read in the Spinoff’s ranking of chip flavours, everyone has Opinions.

Poll results for popular chip flavours. As you can see, I’m a fan of Ready Salted.

But it’s crunch time – I made my own crisps. It required purchasing a mandoline and three varieties of potatoes, to test floury against waxy and ‘all purpose’. This is my experience.

Finely slice your potatoes with a mandoline, rinse them, and soak to remove excess starch before drying each individual slice before frying. It’s really important to dry the chips, because water expands explosively in hot oil and can cause bad injuries.

I fried my crisps in canola oil in a deep cast iron pot. They took longer than I expected to cook, around 3-4 minutes per small batch. The absolute success went to the agria potatoes, which fried evenly and had great body to them. The Desiree potatoes were a flop – they absorbed the oil, wouldn’t crisp up (even with ‘drying time’) and became slimy discs of dissatisfation. I was so discouraged I decided against even bothering with the Nadine – the dumb blonde of the potato world – and added my slices to soup the following night in place of noodles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find any historic recipes for potatoes in my small collection of cookbooks. They’re a pain to make. The legend of the potato chip/ crisps creation harks back to Saratoga Springs in New York, in 1853 where, as the story goes, a fussy customer kept sending his potatoes back to the kitchen, demanding thinner slices until the chef, George Crum, in a fit of spite sliced them so thin and fried them so crisp that he inadvertently delighted his finicky customer. This story has been claimed to be a romanticised lie, with several key facts not aligning. Like many foods, the origins of the potato chip are obscured in time, and likely contributed to and refined by a number of cooks.

The question remains over whether I will quit my chip habit due to their plastic packaging. Proper Crisps now sell a small range in home compostable bags, which I often choose. But while making your own is fiddly and fills your home with the smell of hot oil, I might make a habit of making crisps (outside) for special occasions, to impress my friends just as George Crum is said to have done 150 years ago.

Agria crisps, salted and gobbled up before I could get a pretty picture. Frankly, can you blame me?