Cheese rolls and their overlong absence

Last updated 13:12 20/06/2012

Cheese rolls. I mean, how in the hell was I supposed to know that, with all my faffing about with poncey crap like saffron and sumac, all that I really wanted was cheese rolls - a staple of the halcyon era of "ladies, a plate" and as bizarrely regionally specific as the gentle burr of Southland's rolled "r"? I haven't thought about cheese rolls - or, rather, the absence of cheese rolls - in years. This is not good - no no no no no.

Last week I met with a friend and "consulted" (I'm anybody's for the price of a falafel) on the food for her engagement party (I actually did precious little, other than tell her it all looked good, don't bother with the smoked salmon, and that I would make her some hummus). And there it was on her party food menu - cheese rolls.

Cheese rollsGood Lord, I really haven't even considered those tearoom delicacies in years. And I have no idea why. I mean, it's not as though there is much about the combination of rolled bread filled with oozy cheese, and topped with, um, more cheese that is not to like. They used to turn up at every sports after-match, every afternoon tea - hell, every function I can ever remember attending as a kid, and at the sort of cafés where tea comes with milk and sugar as a matter of course. Love it!

So, rather than waiting for the party this weekend, I decide to make some up. Or, rather, a version of them based on what I have to hand, and how I vaguely remember them looking and tasting. We have, untypically, a loaf of (slightly stale) white toast-cut bread, some very fine Linkwater aged cheddar (Moore Wilson's, again), and some saffron and pink peppercorn-enhanced cheese sauce leftover from Saturday's cauliflower cheese. The planets are all aligning, perfect storm, etc - waste not, want not, and all that.

I remove the crusts (some of them are a bit mouldy, or I probably wouldn't have bothered), spread the cheese sauce on the bread, and attempt, not overwhelmingly successfully, to roll them up, before giving a generous grating of Linkwater, and bunging them on a tray in the unreliable/erratic-temperatured Omni-oven.

After maybe 10 minutes, they have started to bubble and brown, and even look a bit like the cheese rolls of my Southern youth. They taste a little bit foofy/faffy weird (I like saffron, but sometimes it really does remind me a little of the taste of dust), but are actually pretty delicious. Crispy, toasted bread, oozy cheese filling, grilled, melty cheddar on top. Once more, I am momentarily stunned by my own retro-culinary genius.

Afterwards, I am curious as to how they are supposed to be made, and out of what. So I do what generations before us could not - I Google them. (In the past you would have probably had to call a great-aunt. On a landline.)

There seems to be some debate/dispute as to how the iconic snack should be made, exactly, but my favourite recipe that I find seems to be filled with, pretty much, the classic Kiwi onion soup and reduced cream dip, which seems to me like a bloody good idea. A bit of dip, bit of Linkwater, splash of superb Huffman's hot sauce. Bloody good, indeed - that's what I'm going to do next time.

It sets me thinking of all those other nostalgic faves I used to love - lamingtons, Neenish tarts, Louise slice, those little jam-filled "cheesecakes" my grandmother used to make ("don't eat those, I just made them!") It makes me think how well their "rustic"/retro vibe aligns with current food vogues (even if they are not exactly what you would call stylish, or healthy, for that matter). It makes me think of how I am going to improve them for next time...

Cheese rolls - you a fan? How long have you neglected them for - longer than you have neglected going to the dentist!? How do you make yours? And - why do you reckon they are so regionally specific (i.e. native of Southland!)

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erin   #1   01:18 pm Jun 20 2012

moved up from dunedin to wellington a coupleof years ago and love it here. but if i miss anything from the south island, it would be a decent cheese roll and a jimmies mince pie. the north island really does struggle to make a good pie.

Grace   #2   01:18 pm Jun 20 2012

Cheese rolls are amazing. But saffron? Southlanders will probably disown you for that...

Julie   #3   01:19 pm Jun 20 2012

I found a recipe for cheese roll that is just onion dip (reduced cream and onion soup kind) spread on bread and grated cheese, roll up and bake in the oven. Really easy and really yummy.

Nicola Toki   #4   01:24 pm Jun 20 2012

Cheese rolls!!!! you just made me starving for them at my desk. As a born and bred Southlander, i'm a forever fan. When we were kids, Nana used to make them for us (only works with the onion soup/cheese mixture), and we'd slather them with butter.

We'd sell frozen bags of cheese rolls for our school fundraisers, and the first thing I do upon arriving at Invercargill airport when i'm down there for work is order two and wolf them down.

It interests me how regional cheese rolls are... you can't really get 'em properly North of Dunedin. what's that about?

Glen   #5   01:24 pm Jun 20 2012

You have missed the all important generous spread of butter on the cheese roll while it is still warm - a gift from Gore for all of us.

misscheeserolls   #6   01:25 pm Jun 20 2012

This is the one thing I miss about Southland, not the cold weather but the fact that every cafe/bakery you walk into there are cheese rolls! Half the people in the north island have no idea what I'm talking about when I rave about them!

RedRulesAll   #7   01:26 pm Jun 20 2012

I used to work in a large organisation in WG with a number of women in their 50s and early 60s. Quite a few were from the Sth Is originally. While there was the odd morning tea shout, NOTHING came close to the day we/they had a "Cheese Roll Off" . . .ooh, it was competitive! I think the winner in the end was from Chch originally and onion soup mix was the key ingredient ... Yum! Now I want a cheese roll!

CJ   #8   01:30 pm Jun 20 2012

Currently living with a fellow southerner. Between us, we usually make cheese rolls once a month to freeze to go with soups or for a Sunday treat. We have found it's a great way to play "spot the co-workers from the South island" in the office when you bring them for a shared lunch. Erin - I have managed to con a friend who regularly comes to Auckland for weekends, to bring half a dozen Jimmy's Pies in her carry-on for me. The arrangement works well (at least from my end).

Glynis   #9   01:31 pm Jun 20 2012

I was a cheese roll virgin until I married my Southern Man. He has fond memories of many after match functions with the mums turning out trayloads of cheese rolls for the hungry hords. So he was on the phone to his mum, I was sorting what we had & didn't have from the list & now at least once a month it is Cheese Rolls to watch the rugby with, with any left over mix turned into cheese on toast, which is what we had last night. Our standard mix, (it does tend to vary each time we make them) is colby cheese, into which goes heated maggi onion & bacon mix, worchestershire sauce, pepper, dash of white wine if there is any in the fridge & cream or milk again whatever is in the fridge. All bitz in the trusty food processor until smooth & then slathered onto white bread with or without crusts, these are brushed with melted butter & put in the oven until crispy & golden. Absolutly delish & also wonderful with french onion soup as a change. How I survived without I will never know :o)

elu   #10   01:37 pm Jun 20 2012

Well Jeremy, these do sound good, but not like the cheese rolls I grew up on... mix a Maggi onion soup mix with just one cup of water & bring to the boil, then add a whole heap of grated cheese. Spread this on to fresh, sandwich sliced bread, which you have buttered (NOT marge! ugh) on the outside, and roll up. Bake til golden. There were never any of these left, ever.

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