Our resident chef Mark Hix comes out fighting over his early-season asparagus tips

 
Mark Hix

Last week we received our first cutting of asparagus from the Chin family up in the Wye Valley.

They always seem to be ahead of the game with early asparagus, not to mention their second season asparagus in autumn – to my knowledge they’re the only UK producers working this way.

I often get criticised by so-called aficionados for putting asparagus on the menus too early. Well, I’ve got something to say about that: if a British farmer has worked hard to get the first crop out ahead of the traditional season, I will take my hat off to them and support it (to make matters worse, some of my critics have asparagus on their menus that’s been flown half way round the world, which undercuts British farmers and compromises on flavour).

People act all affronted because it’s been brought on early under polythene, to which I reply, so what? Your foie gras goose has an oversized liver because it’s been force fed, and your farmed sea bass tastes of bugger all! Unlike my asparagus and Black Cow cheddar fondue, which is absolutely delicious.

Asparagus and black cow cheddar fondue

SERVES 4-6

I've used Black Cow cheddar here, which is the companion of Black Cow vodka. The whey is fermented and distilled to make the booze and the curds make the cheese.

Ingredients

  • 500g asparagus (woody ends removed)
  • 30g butter
  • 30g flour
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 250g Black Cow cheese, grated
  • A splash or two of Black Cow vodka
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan, stir in the flour then gradually whisk in the milk to avoid lumps forming. Season and simmer gently (preferably on a simmer plate) for about 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the double cream and continue simmering for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat and whisk in the cheese until melted, then add the vodka to taste and season.

Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes until tender, then drain. To serve, pour the sauce into an attractive heatproof pot, preferably on a table warmer, and dip the asparagus into the sauce.

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