Saturday, 26 February 2011

Baked Camembert: France 1 - Rachel 0

Baked cheese. What could be better than baked cheese dunked with toast. Seriously, if they don't have fondue in heaven, I'm not going. I had always wanted to try baked Camembert, but my dislike of Brie and my suspicion that they would be similar put me off. All of a sudden, it seemed to be everywhere. Someone I very much respect was swooning over it on Twitter while it bubbled away in her oven, Lorraine Pascale was melting one on her baking show and there just seemed to be little indications everywhere that the time had come.

I nervously placed a Camembert in my grocery order and hoped for the best. What's the worst that can happen? It's a very inexpensive cheese and at least I end up with a pretty plywood box at the end. A week went by and I was starting to get complaints about the "ripe" smell coming from the fridge. After Googling for descriptions of how the cheese might taste and finding it was similar to Brie but stronger, I wasn't so sure this was a good idea. Mentioning it to a few people and watching their nose crease as they recalled their own Camembert experiences didn't help either. Still, I could put it off no longer.

I picked the absolute worst day to do this. I was running on four hours of broken sleep and felt like I'd just flown from the other side of the world. I hadn't. I'd just stayed up most of the night to watch a live wrestling show. Foolish, I know. I was the kind of tired where you're so weary you have a little weep and you're not even sure why. In conclusion, this was a bad day for a stinky cheese experiment, but even this bleary eyed state did not shake my determination.

I ran various Internet searches trying to find the best 'recipe' for baking the cheese. Considering the strength of the smell coming from the fridge, I decided to stuff it with garlic and rosemary, and cover the top with honey. The buzz word running around in my head seemed to be 'masking'. Time to take the wrapping off and give this thing a good sniff.

Wow! I wish smell-o-vision existed. I removed the cheese from its packaging, returned it to the box and was punched in the face with the smell of ammonia and over-boiled cabbage. Now I understand the nose creasing. How am I going to eat this? Is it safe to eat ammonia? And when I say 'ammonia' it's not the kind of smell you get from strong hair dye. It smells much less sanitary than that. You get where I'm going. I stuffed the cheese, drizzled the honey and prayed that intense heat would cause some kind of chemical reaction that would remove the odour activating my gag reflex.

In to the oven it went. I made some toast and tweeted people to ask for their support. Clearly I should have attempted this with a companion. Some time passed and the cheese was beginning to bubble in the box. I added more honey for safety's sake and shoved it back in the oven, hoping the longer it was there the greater the effect of the alchemy. When the box started splitting I couldn't wait any longer. Out it came.

It looked incredible and, to my surprise, the fausty smell had reduced in strength significantly. This was excellent news. I dunked my toast into the thick, molten cheese and braced myself. The first taste wasn't nice. I could only focus on the flavour I didn't like. But then it got better. As I dug down below the mouldy crust and mixed the honey, garlic and rosemary into the liquid cheese, it improved. Maybe this was one of those things I'd learn to love. Like the first time I ate an olive. Part of me loved it, part of me wanted to spit it back out. Now, I cannot sleep well without olives in my fridge. Maybe this is what Jay Rayner talked about in his Whiff of Death piece in The Observer last year. Wait....I think I'm enjoying this. HOORAYYYY.....Oh no. This isn't good.

Breaking through to the centre of the almost soupy cheese had indeed made it palatable. What I hadn't planned for was what would happen when the cheese began to cool. The astringent aroma that had practically stripped the inside of my nasal passage before cooking was returning with a vengeance. It was like when you're dreaming and having a lovely time. Then you realise that a dream is all it is and you desperately try to stop yourself from waking up so you can stay in that moment. For a brief, fleeting moment I enjoyed eating baked Camembert. Then it was gone again and the harsh, chilled reality of that stench smacked me round the face again like a wet fish. I couldn't continue. I had to admit defeat.

It was a such a shame. I'm tempted to try again, pegging my nose and slicing off every speck of that white, smelly mildew. I've a feeling that might make it edible. I'll let you know if I actually do that. The bottom half of the box had to be destroyed. Even wrapping it in two plastic bags didn't help and I eventually had to take it outside to the large rubbish bin to clear the air. The top of the box is holding a few pieces of jewellery on my dressing table. I've also kept the red gingham wrapping as a memento (sprayed with a substantial drenching of perfume). France 1 - Rachel 0.

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