First, get your hands on a small round soft cheese called Vacherin Mont d’Or. It is a seasonal French or Swiss cheese, which means that you can only have this kind of meal between mid-September and March – like asparagus, it makes it all the nicer as a result.
Preheat your oven to 200°C and take the cheese out of its little wooden box. Remove any waxed paper and sit it snugly back into the box. Tear off a sheet of tinfoil and scrunch the tinfoil around the box to make a nice nest so that nothing can flow out in the oven. Prick the top rind of the cheese with a fork and then, using a spoon, scoop enough of the rind sideways enough so that you can push a small bunch of thyme and a couple of cloves of garlic into the heart of the cheese.
Open a bottle of decent white wine – you’ll be drinking this with your dinner later on (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a good option) – and pour a generous splash of it over the rind. Land the cheese into the oven for 25 minutes.
You can use this time to lay the table with two plates, a selection of apples from your garden (if the winter stores haven’t already been used or gone rotten), some pears, a dish of walnuts that you bought in a Berlin market, the rest of the wine, crusty bread and a good green salad. A simple bowl of floppy butterhead leaves, dressed with a mustardy balsamic dressing will be perfect. When your cheese is warmed through and happily bubbling, serve it up and eat by candlelight, dipping your bread into the cheese and alternating with the nuts, fruit and salad. The molten, creamy unctuous cheese is like fondue in a box – with none of the hassle.
It’s a very filling meal so you can get away with making no desert although, if the mood should take you, you could stretch to a few squares of ultra-luxurious Valrhona chocolate or, even closer to home, some of Cocoa Bean‘s exquisitely-flavoured dark chocolate bars – star anise and ginger or orange zest would both be particularly good contrasts to the richness of the cheese.