Well-made cheese is exceptional, deserving of a lit stage and its own course. Cheese of more expensive per pound than any thing else I buy and last a long while. It may be high in fat, but pleasantly high in calcium and protein, so it’s not junk food. I like to think of it as a special treat, and serve it as the French do, after the main meal. If it’s served as hors d’oevres, I can devour cheese like a bag of chips and neither one is very good for me.
Think of each cheese as one of the tiny items on the Tasting Menu at a swank and trendy restaurant. Select three cheeses that are similar but have subtle differences. The smallness of these difference will hone your attention to the unique qualities of each cheese. An ordinary cracker can carry the cheese to your mouth, but these crackers reformat your palette between bites.
Tasmanian Pepper Black Cocoa Crackers:
2 cups flour (spelt is good if you don’t want wheat)
1/2 tsp. baking powder (very little is needed at high altitude)
2 Tbs. black onyx cocoa (from Savory Spice)
1 cup water
2 tsps. Tasmanian Black Pepper, crushed. Reserve for the rolling
1 tsps. good salt. Reserve for the application just before baking.
Mix dry ingredients (reserve the salt and pepper) together with a wooden spoon and then add water until the mixture forms a dry ball. Some bits might not join in, and some flour may still not be absorbed, so sprinkle a few more drops of water on those and pull everything together with floured hands. You may not need all the water or you may need a touch more. The dough should be moist but not sticky. If it’s too sticky add a little flour to the bowl and roll your ball in it.
It’s okay to move the dough firmly to pull it together and work it a little to even out the texture, but you won’t do your crackers any good by kneading them. Work a dough like this as little as possible. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. The cracker dough is happy to have a rest while it heats.
I remember when someone first told me they were making crackers. The whole process felt burdensome, and I sometimes have that feeling, again, when I’m asked to make them. My crackers are so incredible that I am asked this often. But really the whole mixing process takes less than 5 minutes.
Rolling the dough is fun, and I divide this quantity of dough into four parts and roll the dough very thin, tossing on the pepper when I’m almost at the final thinness and rolling it in. Then I put the slab of dough on a cookie sheet. It you can’t handle the dough – if it’s really thin or delicate – just slide it onto the back of the sheet with a big spatula. The thinner the better the cracker, I think.
I spray the surface with a mister and sprinkle on the salt, then cut the dough in pieces with a pizza cutter.
Into the hot oven it goes, set timer and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Roll out the next ball of dough. You can make several flavor by changing the topping at this point if you want.
The cracker has baked long enough, if they will break apart easily. You will come up with a thickness and a doneness that you prefer as you make these and other crackers. After you’ve served them once, you’ll want to make more.
Serve warm, if you can, but they will last for days, just like any other cracker.
The cocoa is unsweetened but works to grab your attention with a subtle, lovable chocolate flavor. The special quality of the Tazmanian pepper is that it numbs the mouth. So, Taz pepper works as the perfect palette cleanser, but also forces you to slow down to enjoy all the other subtle tastes offered by the cheese, the wine that accompanies it and the starchy cracker.
Isolate the bits. Instead of trying to get a sample of each thing in one mouthful. This is a course to be enjoyed with small bites in separate parts. A drink of wine after finishing the end of a cracker. Eating the cheese off the top. There is satisfaction with getting the combos right, and each bite is a new experience.