What is it? Starter
Orders 15-25% of total orders
Cheese and pickles is one of my favourite dishes on the Wild Garlic menu as it gives customers an appealing and interesting vegetarian option that is easily adapted to suit each season. What's more, it showcases pickled vegetables - a common ingredient in our recipes - and has a fantastic GP, which is always high on my list of importance.
The secret behind the popularity of cheese and pickles has to be the way it looks. We take great care in its presentation, which entices customers to want to try the dish as soon as they've laid their eyes on it. When it comes to the taste, there is a lovely balance of strong flavours due to the sweet caramelised cheese and the sour pickles. As a starter, it certainly wakes up the palate and is a great way to safely introduce wild plants to people who might not have tried them before.
As for sourcing the ingredients, most of the vegetables come from a wonderful shop in Beaminster Square called Fruit ‘n' Two Veg. The vegetables change depending on the season, whether it's swede and turnips in the winter, beetroot in the autumn, radishes in the spring or cucumber in the summer. As for the wildflowers and plants, these are mainly picked from my garden or the surrounding countryside.
We use both soft and hard goats' cheese in the dish, which are both bought from the brilliant Brockhall Farm. When it comes to the quails' eggs, we have a great local supplier who consistently delivers top-quality produce.
Mat Follas, chef-proprietor, the Wild Garlic, Beaminster, Dorset
2 medium eggs
1 celery stalk
2 Chantenay carrots
1 red onion
150ml white wine vinegar
150ml white balsamic vinegar
80g caster sugar
250g precooked beetroot
Pinch of salt
100g soft English goats' cheese
150g hard English goats' cheese
Nasturtium leaves and flowers
Place the eggs in a pan of boiling water and cook them for four minutes so they're soft. Take them out, replace the boiling water with cold, gently tap the eggs to crack the shell all over, then place them back in the cold water for a few minutes to cool. Peel them and set aside.
For the pickles Clean, then finely slice across the celery stalk, about the thickness of a £1 coin. Trim and slice the carrots lengthwise - use a mandolin if you have one - you need slices that are about 1mm thick. Carefully dice the onion into 5mm pieces. Pour the vinegars, water and 80g caster sugar into a pan and stir. Add the celery, carrot and onion (not the beetroot). Bring to simmering point, take off the heat, then add the peeled eggs. Set aside.
If you want to keep the pickled vegetables and eggs for longer, store them in a jar - but don't pack tightly or the eggs may collapse - and once cooled, keep them in the fridge.
For the beetroot cubes and purée Finely dice one of the beetroots into 5mm cubes, saving the offcuts. Using the remaining beetroot and offcuts, roughly chop them and place in a pan, add water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and, carefully, using a stick blender, whizz them until a smooth paste is formed, then add a pinch of salt to season. Set aside.
Place a dessert spoon of the beetroot purée at one end of the plate and, using the side of the spoon, make a cheffy swoop across the plate. Crumble the soft goats' cheese around the plate, slice the eggs and place half an egg on the plate, then decorate with the pickles and beetroot cubes. The golden rule for presentation is always use odd numbers: three or five of each in an interesting pattern around the plate would look wonderful. Cut the hard goats' cheese into slices, sprinkle it with a thin layer of caster sugar, then caramelise with a blowtorch or under a hot grill for 30 seconds. Place this on the plate. Finally, scatter around a few nasturtium leaves and flowers.
An interesting dish that fuses earthy beetroot, the savoury funk of goats' cheese and the acid twang of pickles - enough to make a lot of wines lose sleep before the cork is pulled. Throw in some caster sugar caramelised on one of the cheeses, and we're steered away from a classic Loire Sauvignon/goats' cheese combo, needing a lusher, riper wine.
A ballsier style of Savennières would work well; a Mosel Kabinett Riesling could be a cute match; although a curve ball I tasted recently - a Marsanne/Chasselas/Clairette blend called "Swimming Poule" from the Ardèche (imported by Aubert Mascoli) - had an oily richness with enough perky acidity to pull off this match with aplomb.
Zeren Wilson is a food writer and wine consultant who runs restaurant review site www.bittenandwritten.com