Monday, 25 April 2011

Butler's Cheese - Lancashire

Cheese - loved by many, loathed by the boy, obsessed over by me.

I remember the day I actually fell in love with cheese: I was three years old and my parents had laid out a classic 'bits and pieces' (basically a Saturday night off cooking for my Mum so we had a pic-nic in the lounge - blanket and all) and unusually for small village Wales there was a very ripe, creamy, oozing Camembert included in the spread.

My Dad, being a Dad and rather unmannered in my Mum's eyes, dipped his finger into the oozing cheese and thrust it into my little mouth (said same mouth that until that moment had only eaten Dairylea, Red Leicester and Cheddar) and I was in love - full blown obsession in fact. (Note: this evening was also the evening I fell in love with kabanos, hummus and tomatoes and developed my life-long hatred for rollmop herrings).

Although I loved cheese, my love for the blue stuff didn't come for a very long time. I may have eaten myself through all the hard and soft cheeses that the United Kingdom, France and other parts of Europe could churn out (slight dairy-ish pun intended) - but it wasn't until a cheese rolling competition on behalf of Stilton that I became addicted to this mouldy, smelly milk derivative.

When I first moved to Manchester I became aware of the North's fine cheeses, mostly helped along by visits to the old Love Saves the Day delis (remember them?) and it was here I first tasted Blacksticks Blue - much to my delight this is no longer a cheese confined to delis; but instead has won both critical acclaim (indeed Glyn Purnell just used it on the Great British Menu) and the love of the masses too and can now be found in the cheese aisle of the larger supermarkets, along with other Butlers stablemates.

Blacksticks Blue is an unusual cheese - it's blue yes, but it's also not creamy white, but a rich amber colour. The taste is subtle to start, with a soft and creamy mouth feel, then the nutty flavours start to creep in and by the end of the mouthful you have a delicious tangy punch and are begging for more.

My recent cheese feast inc Blacksticks Blue, Blacksticks Creamy and Creamy Lancashire

Blue is a cheese that makes a wonderful addition to a cheese board - it's a wonderfully unusual colour, doesn't stink the house out and has a sharper, tangier flavour than some of the conventional blues on the market. My favourite way with Blue is usually just on it's own snaffled out of the packet, but it's equally good on oatcakes or paired with fresh apple (a sweeter one) or even pear.

If the thought of a tangy blue cheese isn't your thing, then Butlers have jigged about with their original white blue cheese and brought out Blackstick's Creamy. This cheese has an even softer and creamier mouth feel than the Blue - it's almost decadent how the cheese melts on your tongue. Once again the flavour of the cheese creeps through, but there is no punchy tang, rather a sweet flavour that caresses your taste buds. This is the Butlers cheese to add to sauces, or to toss through pasta, add to salads and melt in the tops of frittatas (very good actually).

You don't just have to cook with Creamy; the cheese also lends itself well to the cheese board and is again great with fruit or even celery. There's nothing I like more than squashing Creamy into the middle of a stick of celery and crunching my way through it (it's got veg in it so it's one of your five a day!).

Butlers isn't all about blue cheese (though it is what they're famous for) - on my travels to my local retailer (read Tesco) I picked up some Butlers Creamy Lancashire - it certainly is creamy; it's also buttery and very smooth. This wouldn't be a cheese I'd usually eat as if I'm going for a hard cheese I tend to opt for a Cheddar that's going to blow my head off, but this made a welcome change. Unlike other low strength hard cheeses Creamy Lancashire still has plenty of taste and isn't a watered down cheap version of something, but a quality product in its own right.

Blacksticks Blue and Creamy - with thanks to Smoking Gun PR

The taste of Butlers Creamy Lancashire is very subtle at first, almost not even there; then a buttery milkiness fills the mouth, coupled with a slight sweetness that makes the cheese dangerously edible (I ate half the block in the first sitting). This is a cheese suited to eating as a cheese, rather than putting in a sauce where the delicate flavour may be lost. I found the best way was with sharp apples or on top of oatcakes and livened up with a small amount of Mr Vikki's Chili Jam (the BEST chili jam in the world - go get some!) or homemade chutney (I make quite a sharp one, I don't think it would pair too well with something you buy at the supermarket as they are usually over sweet). This is also an excellent cheese for butties - I made a very good one with the first of this season's tomatoes and thick slivers of the Lancashire in between some crusty white bread.

I'm glad Butlers are now gaining the success and the distribution that they deserve - hopefully this won't change their careful production methods. According to their website they hand make all their cheeses in individual moulds using milk from their own family farms and those in the surrounding region (within 10 miles or less) - certainly you can taste the care and attention that goes in to their cheeses, let's hope it continues.

Ps - Butler's also produces a sheeps milk blue cheese called Velvet and a goats milk called Silk - I have yet to taste either but will report back when I do.

Pps - Butlers is also running a cheese recipe competition - you can win a break in Lancashire and (more importantly) some of their lovely cheeses! Send your recipes to or check out the website.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Oyster and Otter - Feniscowles, Blackburn

Located just off the M65, the The Oyster and Otter is the newest gastropub to spring up near us, so it seemed a good place to take Mother-in-law on her recent visit.

Rocking up to the Oyster and Otter we were initially taken aback by the modern, Scandinavian look of the building - usually reserved for new Brewyers Faryes and other such establishments, we hoped the food wouldn't be the usual chain food offerings of over-cooked steak and greasy finger food.

Oyster and Otter interior (with thanks to The Oyster and Otter)

Walking in we were confronted by a very busy bar decked out in usual gastropub guise of specials on blackboards, Farrow and Ball paint shades and mismatched furniture tied together with the use of the same fabric recovering their reclaimed chairs. The pub has been very well put together and has a modern, yet cosy feel - they haven't tried to recreate an old style pub as so many gastropubs do and is a welcome change.

Initial success came upon finding that the bar stocked Hendrick's; second success came when they offered cucumber without us having to ask (though we did have to wait whilst they popped to the kitchen to find some).

We were seated away from the bar but still in the main room (there's a back room too) and were impressed by the varied selection on the menu; unusually for a pub menu there's a lot of fish - this comes from the Otter's owners - a one family group with a background in catering, fishing and sourcing quality produce.

We started with  the platter to share, which was a fishy selection of crispy squid, scallop gratin, prawns and hot smoked salmon salad. The calamari was gorgeous, really crispy without being chewy and the prawns were massive, meaty, sweet and fresh. I'm not a fan of cheese and scallops, but the gratin was actually very well executed - a well seasoned and runny-ish sauce with plenty of perfectly cooked, tiny, sweet queenies to be found within.


For mains the boy and mother-in-law took advantage of the hearty pub food on offer (well, we were in a gastropub). Mother-in-law's steak was obviously a well-sourced piece of meat and cooked expertly. The boy's pie (actually called The Pie on the menu) was fully enclosed and hand shaped, hiding an entire cow's worth of oozy, beefy filling - as we all know about the boy's love of beefy pastry delights, you can guess how amazed at having this beauty on his plate.

The pie

I'd gone left-field with my choice and order the pollock and chorizo off the specials board. I was a little apprehensive at the inclusion of chorizo in a fish dish as a poor salami can overpower even a meaty piece of fish with a metallic paprika flavour. I had no need to be worried as the chorizo used was of very high quality and the meaty, porcine, slightly spicy flavours complimented the massive piece of pollock and highlighted the dish's other star ingredient of mussels. The whole dish married beautifully and each piece was cooked brilliantly (take note on mussel cooked Rigalettos).

Pollock with mussels and chorizo

Having stuffed ourselves silly with the generous portions provided we only had room for ice-cream, which I'm so glad we chose. I'm not too happy with the current trend of pubs charging nearly £5 a dish for three scoops of ice-creams, knowing full well that a whole tub of it only costs that much - rant over though, the ice-cream was deliciously creamy and the amaretto flavour rounded off the meal perfectly.

The Oyster and Otter isn't cheap for a pub, but the food is well sourced and is excellently put together by an obviously competent kitchen. The service we had was very attentive and friendly and it seems the whole team pull together well. The only downer on the whole night was the heat - we got so hot I had to take my shoes off!

Ps - for those local, you don't even have to pop in to the pub - they have a takeaway at the side of the building offering fish, chips and homemade pies.

Price for one sharing platter, three mains, one pudding, three gin and tonics and three pints - £79.50.

Food - 7/10
Atmosphere - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Value for money - 6/10

Total - 28/40

The Oyster and Otter, Livesey Branch Road, Feniscowles, Blackburn, Lancashire, BB2 5DQ -
01254 203200 -

Oyster and Otter on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Rigalettos - Wigan

I'm not one for the beautiful game and I'm not one for rugby league, so I wasn't really excited about the prospect of eating in a football/rugby stadium: let alone one five minutes from where I work. However it was the Scouser's leaving do and I had hopes it may be a la Delia and the whole Canary Restaurant at Norwich City thing.

On pulling up I instantly knew this was no Delia. Rigalettos is located in the base of the stadium so it can be accessed when the stadium isn't open. The sign looked cheap and old and as I walked in the door so did the restaurant. Decked out as a Blackpool re-imagining of a 90s cartoon Italian trattoria - here was hoping that the food would be authentic trattoria. Unfortunately the food wasn't authentic, I wouldn't even class it as food.

We'd opted to keep it cheap and were dining off the early bird menu - even at that price the food was dire. I'd like to try and pick out a dish that at least shone through as a glimmer of hope in the whole evening; but I can't even say that of the drinks, let alone the food.

I ordered the bruschetta to start but was instead presented with two overly greasy pieces of garlic bread, dripping with oil, not tasting of garlic and with an insulting amount of insipid, cotton wool tomato mixed in with large chunks of onion. I won't even discuss the pointless, limpid lettuce on the side. The other Scouser's starter of garlic mushrooms were pale and I wouldn't call putting one in my mouth actual tasting as there wasn't any there.

Bruschetta - well Rigalettos' sorry excuse for one

For mains I'd ordered the seafood linguine and thought for the £1 surcharge I'd be on to a winner. Wrong. The pasta was terribly overcooked and soggy, the tomato sauce was under-seasoned and tasteless - almost as if it was just a thickened can of chopped tomatoes. And the seafood? I've eaten some terrible seafood in my time but this was actually inedible. The calamari was akin to chewing on tyres and the mussels had become hard and chalky; I think there may have been some tinned tuna in there but I really can't say. Needless to say I ate less that a third of the dish.

Seafood linguine - nearly as much as you see in this picture
was returned to the kitchen

I declined to spend the extra pound and order pudding, but in the spirit of gastronomic investigation on behalf of you, dear readers, I nicked some brownie off the Scotsman and all I can say is that the raspberries were nice.

I'm trying really hard to find something positive to say here - but they charged me over £8 for a G+T made with Beefeater and a glass of cheap white, so I'm struggling here. Er - the toilets were clean and the service was alright.

In all I wouldn't return to Rigalettos even if I was starving or needed somewhere to hide out whilst being chased by dissident rebel fighters. Rigalettos needs to make over it's sad, tired image and get someone who can actually knows what Italian food, or even cooking is, in the kitchen.

As fellow blogger Northern Food warned, "you'd be better sticking to balti pies in the stadium," too true.

Price for early bird menu - £8.95 for two courses, £9.95 for three (beware some of the dishes have a £1 surcharge).

Food - 1/10
Service - 6/10
Atmosphere - 3/10
Value for money - 3/10

Total - 13/40

Rigaletto's, DW Stadium, Loire Drive, Robin Park, Wigan WN5 0UH - 01942 774000

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