Cheese rolls and their overlong absence

01:12, Jun 20 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.

Good 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.

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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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