“On the Eighth Day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eight Maids a-milking”
This one is easy. What would a food song be without cheese? Cheese, as Clifton Fadiman said, is milk’s leap toward immortality. It is one of the oldest ‘made’ foods in the world, and of infinite, wonderful variety. Only vegans can resist, and I truly don’t know how they do it.
Very few of us make our own cheese - it requires the time, space, attention, and constant environmental conditions that are all but impossible to achieve in the modern home. It is easy enough to make the yoghurt ‘cheese’ or labneh beloved of the Middle East; there are only three steps (1) place yoghurt in a sieve lined with muslin, or one of those thin disposeable cleaning cloths, or a coffee filter, (2) leave until the whey is mostly drained out, and (3) eat.
It should be possible to go a little bit further and make the little French cheeses called angelots at home. I have selected these for their angelic name, being suitable as it is, for the Christmas season. The name of the cheese comes, they say, from them being stamped with a gold coin called an angelot, whose name is a diminutive of angele, the French word for angel. The coin was originally struck by Louis XI, and got its name from the image it bore of St. Michael (of All Angels) and the dragon. Here is a seventeenth century recipe for this angelic cheese. You don’t have to embark on any great odyssey to find rennet - old fashioned junket tablets (the unflavoured ones) contain the same enzyme, and some supermarkets still stock them.
To make angellets.
Take a quart of new Milk & a pint of Cream, & put them together with a little Runnet, and when it is come well [ie curdled], take it up with a spoon & put it into the Vate softly and let it stand 2 days till it is pretty stiff, then slip it out & salt it a little at both ends, and when you think it is salt enough, set it a drying, an wipe them, and within a quarter of a year they will be ready to eat.
A True Gentlewoman’s Delights, 1671.
“On the eighth day of Christmas,
my good friend gave to me
Eight cheeses ripening,
Seven fish a-swimming,
Six eggs a-poaching,
Five golden fruits,
Four keeping cakes,
Three boiling hens,
Two chocolate tarts,
And a partridge in a pear tree.”
P.S. If you want to read further, an earlier story showed How to make Cheshire Cheese.Tomorrow’s Story …
The Ninth Day of Christmas
Quotation for the Day …
Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love. M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1942)