Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A sweet tisane

Le Menagier de Paris was published in 1393 and contains a wide range of advice and information on almost every aspect of life in the 14th century.
Book 2, article five includes recipes for the ill (Buvrages pour les malades), and one of these recipes is for a sweet tisane.

Tizanne doulce. Prenez de l’eaue et faites boulir, puis mettez pour chascun sextier d’eaue une escuelle d’orge largement, et ne chault s’elle est à toute l’escorce, et pour deux parisis de réglisse, item, des figues, et soit tant bouly que l’orge crève; puis soit coulée en deux ou trois toiles, et mis en chascun gobelet grant foison de succre en roche. Puis est bonne icelle orge à donner à mengier à la poulaille pour engressier.
Nota que la bonne réglisse est la plus nouvelle, et est en la taille de vive couleur vergaie, et la vieille est de plus fade et morte, et sèche.

My translation:
Sweet Tisane. Take fresh running water and bring it to boil, then for every one sextier1 of fresh water a generous porringer of barley, and it is not important if it has husks, and for two parisis2 of licorice, similarly, figs, and then boil it until the barley bursts and then strain it through two or three layers of cloth, and put in each goblet an abundant amount of rock sugar. This barley is then good to give to poultry to fatten it.

Note: that good licorice is the newest, and is in size a bright color and ridged3, and the old is more pale and dead and dry.

The challenging and interesting part of this recipe interpretation wise, for me is the figs. From first reading it appeared that the amount of figs would appear to be the same as the licorice, but as that comes out at less than half a fig, and the recipe clearly uses the plural, that cannot be the case.

One could simply instead say it means “some figs” and randomly put an amount in. But the use of the latin word “item” which does not mean “item” but “similarly” gives me the thought that in fact, we do have some direction as to quantity – that the “similarly” refers us back to the earlier part of the sentence, and the amount of barley. Whilst this may seem a bit of a leap in our modern punctuated sensibility, it does make a lot more sense in quantity. I have therefore used a porringer of figs as well – approximately 7 soft dried figs. I used dried figs, because although the recipe does not specify, limiting this recipe to fresh figs would make it essentially useless for the times of year when people are most likely to be ill – winter! Both fresh and dried figs were commonly available in Europe in the medieval and renaissance.

My recipe

3.7 litres water
160g barley
7 dried figs - chopped into quarters
4 grams licorice – this is the dried stalk of the licorice plant (you might find this in an Indian supplies shop)
Rock sugar

Bring the water to the boil in a large pot.  Add the barley, figs, and licorice stick. Boil gently till the barley bursts (about 45 minutes). Strain through cloth (you might find it easier to do a first draining through a colander) and pour the liquid hot into goblets, into which a small lump of rock sugar has been ground. 

This recipe makes a warming, somehow soft tasting tisane which is both soothing and pleasant.  Give it a try! 

1  In old French a sestier is a measure of wine – approximately one gallon/3.7 litres – I have concluded with research, that sextier is simply an alternative spelling of sestier.

2  A Parisii is a small coin (like a half penny). Searching, I have found that they generally seem to have weighed between 1.6 and 1.8 grams

3  My dictionary of Old French does not contain the word vergaie. I note that another translator of this recipe Jane Hinson (The Goodman of Paris, published 1992) translates vergaie as “greenish”.  The word vergier in old French has a few meanings including young trees, border, strip, cut groove in, ridged and embossed and as good quality reglisse (licorice) has deep grooves along the length of the surface, my decision was to lean towards this interpretation of the word.  I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lassis de blanc de chapon - Le Viandier de Taillevent recipe number 189

Mettez cuire vostre chappon avec trumeauix de beuf, puis prendre tout le blanc de chappon et le charpire ainsi qu'on charpiroit lainne, et prendre des autres membres du chappon et mettre par pieces et les frire en sain de lart tant qu'ilz soient ung petit roux, et les dreciez en platz et mettez par dessus ladicte charpie; puis pelez amendes, broiez et deffaictes de vostre boullon et y mettez du vin blanc et du verjus; et prenez gingenbre de Mesche pare et le mettez en pouldre, et grainne de paradis le deux partz et du succre competemment et qu'il soit douix de succre; puis fault des amendes blanches pelees et les frire en sain de lart ou en sain de porc doulz, et que les amendes soient piquees dedans le potaige quant il sera drecie; et soit assez liant tant que les amendes se puissent tenir droictes; et semez par dessus de l'annis vermeil.

My translation

Cook your capon with a knuckle of beef, then take all the white capon and shred it as you would card wool, and with the other members of the capon pull it into parts in parts and fry in good lard in the manner till it is not at all pink, and arrange on a plate and spread the shreds, on top, then peel almonds and grind and mix in with your boullion and put into it white wine and verjuice, and take ginger of Mesche and pare it and then make a powder, and grains of paradise in two parts, then take fine sugar and make sweet with sugar; then take peeled white almonds and fry them in clear beef or pork fat, and take the almonds and prick them into the potage so they will stand upright, as the sauce is sufficiently thick so that the almonds can stand upright, and sprinkle over with the red anise.

1 chicken (cleaned)
1 ½ cups beef stock
lard for frying
2 cups blanched almonds (plus a handful extra for decoration)
2/3 cup white wine (I used a “fruity classic white”)
1/3 cup verjuice
1 gm pared then ground fresh ginger
2gm grains of paradise
1 tsp sugar
a pinch of ground star anise

Cut the chicken into large pieces. Simmer in beef stock for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked. Strip off the white meat of the chicken and shred it. Take the rest of the chicken pieces and brown them in lard. Place them on a platter and spread with the shredded white meat. T

Grind two cups of almonds and mix it into the stock with the white wine and verjuice. Spice this sauce with ground ginger, grains of paradise and sugar. Pour over the chicken and then stud with blanched almonds that you have lightly browned in lard. Sprinkle with ground star anise and serve.

A few notes on the recipe and some of the decisions made:

Anise: For this recipe, the interesting question for me lies with the anise. In French, generally “Anise” refers to the anise plant (Pimpinella anisum ), which produces aniseeds. This is a green plant,with some similarities in both appearance (and flavour) to fennel, and is common in period in eastern Europe. However, in no way shape or form is it red. Could the text potentially be referring to star anise? Star anise (Illicium verum) is red. In modern French they call star anise 'badiane', however I have found no references within period to it being referred to as 'badiane'. Star anise was growing in south east China but it is believed not to have travelled to Europe until the 16th century. However, I hypothesise that this reference to red anise may well be proof that that star anise was in fact found in Europe much earlier than is generally understood.


Capons: One of the sad limitations of living in Australia is that you cannot purchase capons (I gather that it is an animal cruelty issue - apparently it is less cruel to kill baby cocks and throw them away than to desex them and let them grow up and then eat them). So this recipe uses chicken.

Knuckle of Beef: I have also used beef stock rather than cooking the chicken with an actual knuckle of beef. I also broke up the chicken into pieces before cooking – this is not indicated in the recipe but is a sensible thing to do to fit the chicken in a pot!

Wine: The sweeter choice of wine blended perfectly with the verjuice and the finished sauce was seriously tasty.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just a photo so you know I am still thinking of you!

I was made a member of the Order of the Panache and made Royal Pie Baker while living in Drachenwald.

So when attending my last feast in the Kingdom, I thought I really should make a pie for their Majesties.  So....

This is a soteltie I created of a dragon - it is made from a whole rabbit, stuffed with dried fruits, medieval spices, almonds and bread.  It was then wrapped up in a salt dough (so the legs are where the dragons legs are) and baked.  It was tasty tasty tasty!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Jance Sauce - du Fait de Cuisine and Le Menagier de Paris

Du Fait de Cuisine: 

2. A jance: and to give understanding to him who will make the said jance let him take a great quantity of fair and good fine white bread according to what he wants to make and make it into crumbs well and properly on a fair cloth; then let him take a fair, clear, and clean pot and pour in fat broth of beef and mutton, and let him check that it is not too salty; and then let him take eggs and mix them with the said bread and then put this gently into the said broth while stirring constantly with a fair wooden spoon; and also let him put in his spices, that is white ginger, grains of paradise, and a little pepper, and saffron to give it color, and let him flavor it with verjuice; and let him put all this to boil together and then dress it for serving.

As with all such recipes, as many questions were raised as answered as we attempted to cook this sauce.  The "we" in this case is myself, my squire and his wise and lovely wife.

We ended up creating four different sauces from this recipe, one of which ended up being vegetarian as we used a vegetarian "beef" stockcube for stock (as my squire is vegetarian).

Right at the beginning, a number of basic questions/choices needed to be dealt with.  These included:

- how white was white bread?
- how runny is this sauce meant to be?
- how big were eggs?
- were the breadcrumbs toasted?
- would the bread be fresh or stale?
- how fine would the breadcrumbs be?  Does it make a difference?
- do you use the crusts?
- how much spice to use?
- fresh or dried ginger

Some of these questions were answered by the cooking experience itself, and others by research and experience.

I had both modern white white bread, and also a light wholemeal bread, which is probably a pretty close equivalent to decent quality medieval white bread - having ground flour with grinding stones myself, I know that you can actually get very fine flour by medieval means.

Ginger in period was grown in Europe in pots in period, so it was entirely possible that the ginger could have been fresh or dried.  In this case we used dried ground ginger. 

Here are the four recipes, with some comments after testing, some of which surprised us.

Sauce Jance 1 (dubbed "white Jance")

350ml stock (2/3 beef 1/3 mutton)
1/3 cup toasted white breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp grains of paradise
1 tsp white ginger
1-2 pinches pepper
10 strands of saffron
1 tablspoon verjuice
1 egg

Sauce Jance 2 (dubbed "wholebread Jance")

350ml stock (2/3 beef 1/3 mutton)
2/3 cup (150g) fresh light wholemeal breadcrumbs
 1/4 tsp grains of paradise
1 tsp white ginger
2 pinches pepper
10 strands of saffron
1 tablespooon verjuice
1 egg

This was spicier with a distinct taste of grains of paradise.

Sauce Jance 3 (dubbed "Vege Jance")

250ml water
1 vegetarian beef stockcube
1/3 cup fresh white breadcrumbs (no crusts)
1 pinch grains of paradise
1 tsp ground ginger
2 pinches ground pepper
10 strands of saffron
1 1/2 tablespoons verjuice
1 egg

This sauce was very balanced, with nothing really standing out

Sauce Jance 4 (dubbed "Strong Jance")

250ml strong stock (1/2 mutton 1/2 beef)
1 cup toasted wholemeal breadcrumbs
125mg/pinch grains of paradise
125mg/pinch white ginger
50mg/1/2 pinch black pepper
12 strands ground saffron
1 tablespoon verjuice
1 egg

We judged that we could happily eat it just as soup! This was particularly delicious served on pork.

General conclusions

  • Whether we used white or wholemeal bread made no real difference to the final sauce. 
  • These would be even better if pushed through a sieve or given some other form of further blending.
  • Grains of paradise are "more like a taste you can smell"
  • My squire said he would add more grains of paradise to the vegetarian version
  • My squire's wife said she would add more ginger to all of them. 

Take the time to play with this recipe and see what you think!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sauce piquant for conies - 3 period sauces from the one recipe

Sauce piquant to put on conies

3 period sauces from the one recipe

Du fait de cuisine” was written by Master Chiquart on the behest of the Duke of Savoy in 1420. In it Chiquart outlines all his knowledge about creating banquets for the 15th century French nobility. The recipes are often on a huge scale – for example, the book starts by listing the amount of meat to order, starting with 100 cattle, 130 sheep, 120 pigs plus 100 piglets for each day and 60 salted pigs for larding and making soups.

So when reading the recipes, one must consider that they are for feasts on a grand scale, and take this into consideration when devising a much more reasonable quantity.

The recipe I have chosen to make is the 14th in the manuscript. Unfortunately the only original French version I have obtained so far is just that – the original manuscript and I have not managed to decypher the writing yet. So I have used the translation by Elizabeth Cook, who's translations have proven in my experience to be reasonably accurate. Here is her translation:

To make sauce piquant to put on conies, according to the quantity of it which one is making take onions and chop them fine, and take fair pork lard and melt it and sauté your onions, and so that they do not burn in sautéing put a little broth in; and then put in a great deal of white wine according to the quantity of sauce piquant which you want to make for the said conies; and take your spices, good ginger, grains of paradise, a little pepper which is not at all too much, and saffron to give it color; and season it with vinegar in such proportion that it is neither too much poignant nor too little; with salt also.

There are thousands of variations that can be made from any one original recipe. As I am ever curious about medieval cuisine and frequently make 10-20 versions of any medieval recipe, I decided to do three sauces from the one recipe, varying the type of wine, amounts, and the amounts of spices and onions. For the first two, I have made sauces that are quite thin. However with the third, I made the decision to make something that would be thicker and with a lot more onion, almost a spicy relish rather than what we would classically think of as a sauce.

The methodology was the pretty much the same for all three sauces, so I will describe that once, and note the differences after the ingredients list for each variation:

  1. Chop the onions finely
  2. Take a saucepan and melt the pork lard in it
  3. Add the onions and sauté until soft, adding broth a spoonful at a time if the mixture starts looking dry
  4. Add the wine, keeping on the heat (the original recipe does not specify but as the wine is added to the onions which are on the heat, it is a logical conclusion that it would stay on the heat)
  5. Add the ground spices – the saffron was ground with a tiny touch of broth to release the colour before putting into the sauce.
  6. Simmer for 15-20 minutes
  7. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, then season to taste.
Sauce for Conies Version 1.

1 onion
1tsp lard
2 tablespoons chicken broth
2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
12 threads saffron
1 pinch ground Grains of Paradise
1 tsp ginger
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 pinch of ground black pepper
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

I chose Sauvignon Blanc as a wine variety that existed within period, in the south of France, so accessible to the Savoyard chef.

Sauce for Conies Version 2

2 onions
2 tsp lard
2 tablespoons chicken broth
2 cups Chardonnay
3 pinches grains of paradise
½ teaspoon ginger
8 threads saffron
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 pinch of salt

Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, in the mid-eastern part of France and would also have been accessible. The oak matured citrus notes of the chardonnay seemed to be appropriate for a piquant sauce. I chose to use more grains of paradise than ginger to make a less obviously spicy sauce.

Sauce for Conies Version 3
3 onions
3 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1 and a half cups McGuigan classic white wine
12 threads saffron
½ tsp Grains of Paradise
1 ¼ tsp ginger
a good pinch of black pepper
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

I chose this as a reasonably generic white wine, without any dominant flavours.
I decided that this version should be more like a sort of chutney - a thick rich condiment.  With this much lard, it certainly is rich - but the fat is balanced well by the wine and vinegar.  Of the three redactions, this one is my favourite.

A short comment on cooking methods

The sauces in this recipe would most likely have been made in a large cauldron hung over a fire. While many cooks claim that this means that there was little control over the heat and cooking processes in a medieval kitchen, I challenge this claim.

An experienced cook, especially one of Chiquart's credentials, had a very good idea of how hot or cool the fires were on which he cooked. By changing from cooking over flame to embers, stoking, adding wood, removing wood, raising and lowering pots from above the fire-grate, a great deal of control can be made to the cooking process.

While modern cooking appliances are easier, stoves, whether gas or electric, still only have a range of numbers on them, so the cook is still left with decisions to adjust and change the heat on their cooking.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lait Larde - Part 1

I will start with a warning to readers - this is a long post!

Because I have done a rather hefty bit of documentation for this recipe, I will start by giving you the final product, and then go on to the background. That way if you just want to try making it, you can do so. If you want to know where the recipe came from, read on, and if you want to know more about the history of the ingredients etc. read on further.

What can you do to cheese to make it even better? Add bacon, and fry it!

On the stove, curds separating from the whey
  • 24 threads of saffron
  • 250g smoked speck pieces
  • 2 litres of whole (NOT lowfat) milk
  • 1 cup of verjuice
  • cloves
  • pine nuts

Take milk, and put it in a pot, and put it on the fire to heat up. Add the lardons, and ground saffron and gradually raise to boiling temperature. Take off the heat and add the verjuice to curdle the milk.

Allow to cool in the whey. Once cooled, pour it into a piece of straining cloth and form it into a long flat shape. Place a heavy weight on top (I used nested containers and piled up weights on the container on top) and keep in the fridge overnight. The next day, slice into pieces and fry in a pan with a bit of bacon grease. Serve on plates and sprinkle with ground clove and pine nuts.
Serving suggestion: if you strain out the bacon bits after cooking, you will get a more solid cheese, but still with the lovely flavour.
The cheese curds ready to be pressed

The fully monty: Lait Lardé (Larded Milk)

A 14th century French cheese

Recipe source (or... who came up with this idea anyway?)
Le Viandier de Taillevent is a cookbook attributed to Guillaume Tirel (1310 – 1395), who was the cook of Charles V and master of the kitchen stores of Charles VI.
14the and 15th century manuscripts of this cookbook are in existence: in the Biblioteque Nationale (France), the cantonal library of Sion (Switzerland), the Biblioteque Mazarine (France), and the Vatican Library (Italy).
Originally I found a recipe in the book “Le Viandier de Taillevent” by James Prescott. This claims to be a translation of a transcription of the Vatican Library manuscript.

Larded Milk

Take some [cow's], boil it on the fire, lift it down from the fire, put it on a few coals, and thread in beaten egg yolks. If you wish it for a meat day, take lardons, cut them into two or three bits, and throw them into the milk to boil. If you wish it for a fish day, do not add lardons, but throw in some wine and verjuice to curdle it before you lift it down. Remove it from the fire, put it in a white cloth, let it drain, wrap it in 2 or 3 layers of the cloth, and press it until it is as firm as beef liver. Put it on a table, slice it into strips the size of a full palm or three fingers, button them with whole cloves, fry them till they are browned, set them out and throw some sugar on top.

However as the word “Lardé” is fundamental I wished to satisfy myself that this was a correct translation of the original French.

I obtained transcriptions (in French) of the Sion, Mazarine and Biblioteque Nationale manuscripts, and was disconcerted to find that none of them contained the recipe at all. I obtained a transcription of the Vatican manuscript but unfortunately it also did not contain the recipe.

After further research I discovered that in 1893 they discovered a second part to the Vatican Library manuscript which contains 23 additional recipes, including that for Lait Lardé.

Scully's “Early French Cookery” provides the recipe in French:

Lait Lardé

Prenez le lait de vasche ou de brebis, et mectez fremier sur le feu. Et gectez des lardons et du saffran et ayez oeufs (scilicet blanc et moyeaux) bien batuz, et gectez a ung coup sans mouvoir, et faictes boulir tout ensemble. Et apres hostez hors du feu et laissiez tourner; ou sans ouefz les fait l'en tourner de vertjus. Et quant il est reffroidié l'en le lye bien fort en une piece de toille ou estamine, et luy donne l'en quelque fourme que l'en veult, ou plate ou longue, et chargié d'une grosse pierre laissiez reffroidier sur ung drecourer toute nuyt. Et l'endemain laiché, et frit au fer de paelle (et se frit de luy mesmes sans autre gresse, ou a gresse qui veult) et est mis en platz ou escuelles comme lesche de lart, et lardé de giroffle et de pignolet; et qui le veult faire vert, si prengne du tournesot.
And  “Menagier de Paris”, contains an English translation:

Larded Milk

Simmer cow's or sheep's milk and add bits of diced bacon and saffron. Take whole eggs, scilicet the white and yolks, beat well and pour in all at once, without stirring, boiling all together. Remove from the fire and let it curdle; or without eggs, use verjuice to make it curdle. When it is cool, fasten it tightly in a piece of linen or cheesecloth and give it whatever shape you wish, either flat or long, and weight it with a large rock, leaving it to cool overnight on a sideboard. The next day, open it up and fry in an iron skillet – it needs no added grease, but you can add some if you wish – and place it on plates or in bowls like slices of bacon, and stick it with cloves and pine nuts. Should you want a green colour, use tournsoc.

This is clearly a very different recipe from the one written by James Prescott, which contains no references to sheeps milk, saffron, uses just egg yolks not whole eggs, uses wine and verjuice to curdle, and sprinkles the final dish with sugar (omitting the pine nuts). I was glad I spent the time to research and find a more accurate description!

However, I decided that I should, in fact, attempt to translate the original French myself. I speak some French so a fair amount of the recipe was understandable to me, however to deal with unfamiliar words and to try to ensure that I was making the minimum of linguistic assumptions, I obtained a facsimile of a 1611 French/English dictionary, which I used to translate. While this dictionary is much later than the Taillevent manuscript it seemed to me a closer bet than a modern dictionary.
Here follows my translation:

Larded Milk (translation by Kiriel)

Take the milk of a cow or sheep, and put in a tub [Mect is translated as a tub or trough] and put on the fire to simmer. Cast lardons [this term is also used in modern French, in which it refers to matchsticks of thick bacon – in 1611 it is read as “the little slice or piece of lard wherewith meat is stucke”] and saffron and whole eggs (Indeed [Yay! The hivemind that is my friends have given me the translation of scilicet, confirming to me that I really need that out-of-print latin-french dictionary!] white and middle), well beaten, and cast this in one blow, without stirring, boiling all together. And after lift off the fire and leave to turn, or if you have not added eggs, use verjuice to turn [curdle] the milk.

And when it is cooled, pour it into a piece of toille [voile – translation is actually tuille] or seiving cloth and give it what form you wish, flat or long, and press with a large rock, leaving to cool under a cover overnight. The next day, open and fry on the fire in a pan (and you can fry it without other grease, or with grease if you want), and place on plates or in a porringer like leaves of bacon, and top with clove and pine nuts; and if you would make it green, then use tournsot [I believe this might be tournesoc, a plant commonly used in period for colouring].

There are not many real differences between my version and the previous translation, however at least one of these is significant – the first sticks cloves into the pieces, whereas my translation says to top with cloves, which could be ground instead. I believe this is a much more likely scenario – why waste entire cloves when you are just after the flavour?

Monday, June 17, 2013

The ingredients: Lait Larde part 2

The ingredients
(wherein Kiriel establishes that lards aint lard, and investigates the pH of verjuice)

This recipe contains few ingredients, but the use of them is not as simple as you might assume! So let's go through each one.

  1. Saffron

Saffron was the King of spices in the medieval world. Incredibly expensive, outrageously colourful and equally exquisitely delicate in flavour, these flower stamens remain today the world's most expensive spice. The strands are toasted lightly to dry them out so that they can be ground up and added to dishes. Imitation saffron powder will give a similar colour, however will not give the very specific flavour that real saffron imparts to the dish.

Just as Taillevent cooked for Kings, so I cook for judges deserved of great esteem, and thefore use a generous portion of this precious spice.

  1. Lardons

The 1611 French/English dictionary describes lardons as “the little slice or piece of lard wherewith meat is stucke”. In modern France this remains pretty much the same – lardons are something akin to what we would call “bacon bits”, but in a more of a thick matchstick form.

Whatever form they are in, one thing is reasonably sure – medieval lardons would have been saltier than modern equivalents. Smoking and salting meat was the most common way of preserving meat, as refrigeration options were much more limited for the medieval cook. A well smoked and/or salted ham can be eaten for years – unlike the average slab of bacon you buy in the supermarket now! Try a lovely slender slice of Spanish jamon iberico and be converted forever away from pale and flaccid bacon!

For my initial experiments with the recipes, I tried a supermarket bacon, but it quickly became clear that as one of the fundamental flavours of this recipe, it just did not work.

I tried the recipe again with a mature salt cured speck and the improvement was enormous, but it still was missing the smoky flavour I felt was needed.

I visited two butchers that smoke their own meats and bought a wedge of speck from each. They were very different from each other and both delicious, and choosing which was the better flavour was challenging (oh the sacrifices I make for my cooking, eating lots of bacon flavoured cheese!)

  1. Milk

Milk of course in period was not homogenised nor pasteurised. Homogenisation is the process by which the fats (the cream) in milk are broken up and distributed through the milk, where naturally they would slowly rise to the top of the bottle or carton as cream. Pasteurisation is a process whereby milk is raised to a high temperature to kill off bacteria.

What difference does this make to cheesemaking? Ask any French cheesemaker and they are likely to simply throw their hands up in the air and mutter something along the lines of “Philistine!” at the question. Homogenisation does not in my experience in fact make a great deal of difference at least at the level of cheesemaking in this recipe.

Pasteurisation does make a difference. Hundreds of modern French and Swiss cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk. These cheeses tend to have a far stronger smell than any Australian cheese you will ever have tasted, although surprisingly, often a far milder taste than you expect. Unpasteurised milk is hard to get in Australia – you can sometimes buy it as “bath milk” from organic shops.

Other things that also made a difference in period, and in some countries continue to make a difference is the season, and the feed the animals eat. The amount of fat and lactose in milk changes according to the season and the taste and properties of the milk change dependent on the diet of the animal – Vacherin Mont d'Or for example is made from a mixture of milks – one part from when the cows eat spring grasses, and one part from when they eat hay – oh and only from one particular mountain in France. 

I might as well do a bit of myth busting while I am on the subject of milk.
You are sure to have seen in the shops "Permeate free milk" advertised as if permeates are some evil chemical. Well in fact permeates are a mix of  milk-sugar (lactose), vitamins and minerals that are found in milk.  Because the qualities of milk from the cow change seasonally, adding (or not) permeates allows dairies to have consistency in milk across the year, which among other things means that they don't have to make a different nutrition label for every batch of milk, and means that the milk you buy today will have the same qualities as the milk you buy tomorrow. No evil, just consistency.  Whether you feel you want consistency in your milk is another question that I won't get into here.

I tried this recipe with both homogenised and non-homogenised milk, achieving the same results.
You do need to use whole milk though, not skim or non-fat!

I made the decision not to use sheeps milk a) because I couldn't find it and b) I thought it best to try and get a more familiar taste in the cheese.

  1. Verjuice

I started this experiment trying both verjuice and wine (as per the James Prescott version of the recipe). With new white wine, the milk refused to curdle. With verjuice it refused to curdle. A few days later the same wine (having sat on the kitchen bench) mixed with verjuice did curdle. I also tried with red wine which worked excellently:

But of course then I discovered that my recipe was wrong, so had to abandon the whole wine experience. I tried again with verjuice and again it failed. I tried with verjuice mixed with lemon juice and had much greater success. So   I decided it was time to investigate the properties of verjuice a bit further.

Verjuice is unfermented grape juice produced from early season grapes – picked before they are fully ripened. But the acidic qualities of verjuice differ from grape to grape, and within the season Menagier de Paris states that “in July old verjuice is very weak and the new is still too sharp. After this time, during the harvest, a mixture of half old and half new is best”. (recipe 279).

It was common in period too, to have substitutes for verjuice, since its unfermented nature meant that it did not preserve well. In the Italian period cookbook Libro della Cocina, it is advised that you could use lemon juice, orange juice or rosewater as substitutes. Menagier de Paris even provides a recipe for a sorrel based verjuice.

I concluded that the verjuice I had (Maggie Beer) was probably a bit more sophisticated and less acid than period verjuice. To test the acidity of my verjuice, I sought out testing strips. After some searching I had to settle on purchasing a set of strips to test swimming pools and spas. Unsurprisingly the acidity of lemons is rather off the scale compared to that of the average swimming pool but it still provided some useful data. 


I compared Maggie Beer verjuice, Anchor verjuice, (squeeze) lemon juice, and later, vinegar.

The Maggie Beer tested slightly differently to the Anchor verjuice, which showed equivalently to the lemon juice in both alkalinity and pH. Interestingly the Anchor showed very low traces of free chlorine, and the vinegar's pH test result was outright bizarre.

So from then on I used the Anchor verjuice, to much better effect. The taste of verjuice in the cheese is quite different from lemon and very pleasing.

  1. Cloves

Freshly ground cloves – ah that smell, redolent of mulled wine and easter buns! An absolute staple in every sophisticated medieval kitchen, cloves were among the most prized and necessary spices. Every cook would have a pouch of cloves and they were an essential ingredient in the classic medieval spice mixture, powder forte.

You may feel wary that something as spicy and strong as cloves would overwhelm this dish, but have faith... there is something magical that seems to happen when you combine cloves and speck...!

  1. Pine nuts
There are many species of pine that produce edible pine nuts. As an ingredient in my research I have seen them mainly being used in period Italian and French cookery.

A brief mention of tournsoc:

This is Gozophoria tinctoria, a lichen – it is naturally blue but turns red in acid situations and blue in alkaline – presumably the combination of it and saffron creates the green mentioned in the recipe.

Le Viandier de Taillevent – Vatican manuscript
Le Viandier de Taillevent – Sion manuscript
Le Viandier de Taillevent – Mazarine manuscript
Le Viandier de Taillevent – Biblioteque Nationale manuscript
A dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave

Early French cookery – Scully
The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages – Terence Scully

Le Viandier de Taillevent – James Prescott *I do not recommend using this!