Cheeses wept

Cheese is one of mine and Emma’s all-time favourite things. We love the stuff. But how to prove it?

  • Exhibit A: We hold an openly stated belief that a meal is not worthy of the title unless it contains one or more of the following: a shaving of parmesan, a wedge of cheddar, a dollop of brie, a melting of mozzarella or a crumbling of feta. A lack of the aforementioned would lead us to argue that it wasn’t a ‘meal’ at all; more a precursory snack before the real food arrives-  biscuits and cheese. We’ve refused to pay for meals that have not contained enough cheese.
  • Exhibit B: It’s so important that we have cheese in our diet/lives that if we’re counting the calories and can’t stretch to a bite, we will take a block of Wensleydale from the fridge and simply lick it for 15 minutes.
  • Exhibit C: When I’m feeling generous, or need to make up for something that I’ve done wrong  then my go-to act of penance would be call in at the supermarket and buy a couple of ‘danger cheeses’ to accompany some wine.

    ‘Hey Em. I’m sorry, I accidentally broke your favourite handbag. But to make up for it, I’ve got a present for you. I got you 100g of Blue Jersey, an ounce of Reeking Pontefract and a truckle of Bolivian Otter cheese’

  • Exhibit D: On our first Valentine’s day together, I told Emma I was going to get her a cheesy card. I bought the biggest card I could find, with the soppiest message on the front (it was a teddy bear saying ‘I wuv you’ or something); then inside the card I wrote down the name of every single cheese in the world, and stapled a few slices of plasticky American burger cheese in the middle. It took me around 4 hours. The burger cheese is still in perfectly edible condition, over 5 years later.
  • Exhibit E: If you cut us, we’d bleed runny Camembert and we call the withdrawal symptoms you get from a few days without cheese (bad temper, insomnia, heavy sweating) ‘Going Cold Tezacki’

Before I go on, I will admit that I made all of the above up, apart from one which is completely true. If you are reading this on a long car journey, why not crack open a wheel of Edam and see if you can guess which.

So, if like us you love to munch on a bit of manchego, how easy is it to get your cheese fix in China?

Cheese isn’t anywhere near to being a staple in China. Curiously, China is the 3rd largest milk producer in the world, but large numbers of the Chinese are allegedly lactose intolerant (no official figures exist but some studies show high numbers of Chinese adults suffer from lactose malabsorbtion), and locally-produced milk isn’t high on consumers’ preference lists (it’s perceived not to be as pure as imported milk ). Anecdotally, in a supermarket/store the milk you see is almost always imported from Japan, Korea, Australia or Wales (?!). Soy milk and yoghurt seem to be much more common than milk as a drink on its own – especially for breakfast.

Given the massive supply and the less than obvious demand, I have no idea where all that surplus milk goes (Thirsty cats?), but there’s little likelihood it’s going into cheese production.

Mostly, we keep our blood/cheese levels topped up by eating western foods like Pizza or boutique salads and sandwiches. That said, occasionally peoples’ lack of cheese-awareness shows through. I bought a Chicken & Parmesan sandwich from a normally capable local deli. The chef evidently had no idea that Parmesan (the firm salty Italian cheese) and Primula (a semi-liquid mild cheese packaged and designed to be squirted into the grooves of celery) were different.

You can buy cheese in it’s purest form in import stores and high-end supermarkets, but it can be eye-wateringly expensive. Feta is easily 5-6 GBP per 200g block – which makes it about the same price as copper; a good chunk of good cheddar can easily approach 8 GBP, while Buffalo Mozzarella is like white, creamy, melty, gold dust.

To summarise;

  • Cheese is available, but expensive
  • Chinese food doesn’t contain a lot of cheese
  • We like cheese

Without further ado, let’s look at some tasting notes….

Yunnanese Goats cheese

Yunnanese food is terrific, as mentioned in one of our earlier blogs. It’s where most of China’s fruit, veg and flowers come from and one of the only types of Chinese cuisine I’ve come across that has its own cheese. I found 2 types so far.

1: a slightly rubbery, salty cheese that is sliced up and shallow fried. It’s basically Halloumi, though very slightly fluffier than the Cypriot sheep cheese. A restaurant near us serves it with a Yunnanese jam made from roses. It’s essentially the cheese equivalent of one of those renowned juxtapositions of sweet and savoury, like sea salt & caramel, peanut butter & jam, Ivanka Trump.

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Components of the dish; Top left, Rose Jam from Yunnan; Right, shallow fried goats cheese from Yunnan; Bottom left, curly Parsley garnish from the 1980s.
If you’ve completely lost all sense of value and perspective, in the store next to my favourite Yunnanese restaurant you can actually buy Halloumi, imported from Australia for 6GBP a pack. 

2. The second kind is more unusual. I don’t know what animal milk it’s from – let’s assume Goat. While warm it’s flattened into some large plates and then fried. It looked a little bit like a dog chew, but tasted like an Emmenthal flavoured Chewit, beaten into a thin sheet.  Imagine you were eating the tongue of your dress shoe but it was made of was made of crispy-fried cheesy toffee. Not at all bad if you can deal with the texture.

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True, it doesn’t look appetizing- like a poppadom used in some botched clinical trials. But you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Unless the cover is bound in the above leathery cheese material, in which case you should judge it delicious.

Cheese and Red Bean Ice Cream

I can and will write a whole blog on ice cream. This blog is about cheese. This was a

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Cheese and Bean ice cream.  Think of tutti fruiti, but where there is only one fruit; and it’s not a fruit but a bean.
cream cheese style ice cream, studded with little red beans. Until I came to China, i’d never had beans as a dessert food. Until now, i’d never tasted cheese and beans together without them being on a baked potato.

It’s very common to get beans in dessert, but it’s still an acquired taste. You normally get either red or green beans and they really can appear on anything, with the result ranging from ‘delicious’, to ‘violating interntional human rights convention’.

 

My Cheese and bean ice cream was definitely in the former camp. It was very well balanced, the bean gave it some intrigue and texture, and the bean flavour didn’t overpower the subtle creamy cheesiness. Categorically a winner.

Unlike….

Cheese Fish Sausage

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As soon as Em pointed this out to me in our local convenience store, it was inevitable I was going to buy a pack. I’ve missed the opportunity to have a local friend translate/explain the packaging, but my favourite part is the proclamation that it is ‘Cheese: 4.59%’. I have no idea what the remaining 95.41% was made from, but it seems a little misleading to lead with Cheese. Though, obviously they sold at least one pack (to me) so maybe that is the point.

This is one of the stranger foods I’ve had. I don’t really know why it exists, or what it’s meant to do. It was sausage shaped (about the size of a thin marker pen), and it was wrapped in celophane but with one of those little metal rings to seal it, like at the end of a Chorizo. You had to open it by snapping it in half, which squished the sausage a little as the texture was somewhere between a mild dutch cheese (like edam) and soft tofu. Firm enough not to disintegrate to the touch, but not hard enough to do some damage if it landed on your head after being dropped out of a plane.

It tasted ever so slightly of cheese, maybe 4.09% Dairylea, 0.5% mild Emmenthal. By far the strongest flavour was the fish (Mackerel? Sardine?). While uncommon, I know that you can mix cheese and fish (Tuna & Cheese Melt or Salmon & Cream-Cheese being two obvious examples) – but it’s not exactly a dead cert (though if a ‘cert’ was a kind of fish, this would taste like a dead cert). When I see a product like this, especially one that tastes like a by-product of cat food production, I like to imagine what kind of market research process they went through. What must the earlier versions have tasted like? What flavour combinations did they reject? Are the creators now in prison?

Cheese Tea

One day while exploring, I felt simultaneously adventurous, thirsty and peckish. At that precise moment, I passed a shop with this sign.

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Red Tea with Cheese Milk Foam. Topped with little bits of actual cheese.

By now, you know I love cheese, but let me assure you, I also love tea. I really love tea. Had this company found a way to combine two delicious things, perhaps succeeding where Mr Cheese-Fish-Sausage was sadly found wanting?

I was telling this story to someone (let’s say Emma), and they (she) said:

‘That’s stupid. It sounds foul. Why would you assume it would taste anything other than stagnant pond water, that someone had thrown some cheese in once?’

‘Ah but’, my logic went, ‘I’m pretty sure that if you went back to medieval France and told them that it would be possible to combine cheese with cake, they’d have skipped the water trial and burnt you immediately as a witch. Nowadays, its’ commonplace to have cheesecake. What if CheeseTea will be the 26th century’s hottest drink? Do you want to be a leader or a sheep?”

Besides, I also reasoned that if a company was so confident in their product that they made it the subject of their biggest sign, then the odds are it will be good.

Sweet cheeses; I owe my tongue an apology. And Emma.

I’d expected a kind of sweet creamy foam and a mild, fruity tea. I wasn’t totally wrong about the tea, it was a redbush style – no issue there. I was totally wrong about the cheese foam. It was the flavour of welsh cave aged cheddar; tangy, salty, savoury and foamy. It would have been delicious on some mushroom soup, but it totally ruined the tea and made me almost vomit.

guy F
Above; Guidov’Guy’ Fawkes’ normal autograph, 1605.  Below; Guy Fawkes’ signature after drinking a cup of cheese tea
If i’d have been given a cup of builders tea with a stick of cave aged welsh cheddar stuck in it, i’d have been able to have removed the cheese, and enjoyed it separately. In foam format it covers the surface of the tea like japanese knotweed and every sip you take to the very end is ruined.

It was so unpleasant that the mere memory of it means I can’t think of a satisfactory way to finish this blog.

– Matt

You are what you drink

One morning last week, feeling exhausted and faced with a full day of important meetings, I needed a pick-me-up to carry me through to lunch. There are 4 coffee shops in my building, and a further 3 in the mall next door; but I have been drinking a lot of coffee lately, and while the onset of coffee-boredom would usually prompt me to switch to a strong cup of tea, in China the tea doesn’t give you that strong caffeine uppercut that you need on such a day.

So I opted for an energy drink. You can get quite a lot of energy drinks here; normal sized red bull, the small phials of concentrated super red-bull that they use to resuscitate unconscious race-horses, and quite a lot of herbal alternatives containing Jujube fruit. Fortunately it’s impossible to buy those huge cans of Monster that you often see decorating bus-stops in the UK.

I chose this shiny silver bottle of energy:

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I was attracted by the possibility of experiencing the kind of hardcore, vibrant energy that you often see plants exhibiting. Plus, I understood that Maca was a kind of Peruvian plant root powder that you could add to smoothies if you wanted to make them more expensive.

I cracked it open hoping that it would be utterly disgusting. Somewhat disappointingly, it wasn’t. It tasted a lot like a flat red bull, but slightly less artificial.

Quenched, I then hopped on the tube to head in to work. It was fairly crowded and a few people bumped into me; quite normal for rush-hour in Shanghai. The bustle doesn’t normally bother me, but on this occasion I lost my cool. A middle aged gentleman backed into me, trod on my foot and in retaliation I lent over and bit him on the shoulder. As an angry mob started to gather, appalled at my behaviour, I quickly apologised and left the tube at the next station.

When I reached the office I got in the lift to go up to my floor. There was a woman insisting on holding the door open for others who kept arriving. Just as the door was about to close, she’d open it again for some other latecomer. It wasn’t good lift etiquette, so I showed her my frustration and bit her on the arm.

A little later in the day, I was in a meeting where we were attempting to agree our budget with the finance team. Things were pretty amicable, until we got onto the line item about stationery, where one of my colleagues really began to annoy me with his actions. I couldn’t contain my anger and so given he was in the vicinity, I bit him.

I was hauled into a room to explain myself by my boss who saw the whole thing. I said that it was the third time that day i’d bitten someone and that I didn’t know why I was doing it. I was told that it might be better if I went home to cool off.

Reflecting, I couldn’t believe i’d bitten another person, let alone three separate people. It wasn’t at all like me to do so; in fact i’d go so far as to say that it’s totally out of character.I started to think through what could possibly have caused it, and how that day was any different to any other day. The only thing I could think of was that i’d tried a new energy drink rather than my usual coffee. Maybe that had some kind of ingredient that caused this violent reaction in me. So I retrieved the bottle from the bin to see if that could be the case.

Then it all made perfect sense….

 

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