There are a lot of recipes for a cheese or custard pie in medieval cookbooks. Almost every medieval culinary manuscript in Europe has at least one. Eggs, milk or cream(cheese) are the base ingredients for these pies. Simple recipes usually did not include more ingredients than those few. The recipe down below comes from a 15th century manuscript from Ghent and is the perfect example of these simple cheese pies.
Sometimes several herbs and spices were added to the recipe for a savoury taste. And there are versions with sugar, spices and, from the 16th century onwards, rose water for sweet cheese pies as well. Of course, they also made combinations of sweet and savoury. It is not uncommon to have a cheese pie that combines sugar and herbs in the Middle Ages. The medieval recipes do not mention which kind of cheese they used, unfortunately. So, we will have to guess for ourselves.
Cheese in the Middle Ages
There were many different kinds of cheese in the Middle Ages. There were very young cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta, but also very old ones like Parmesan cheese. Cheeses like blue vein cheeses and white crust cheeses were also known. There are even modern cheeses that still carry their medieval names, like ricotta, Parmesan, Roquefort, brie, cheddar and Cheshire. Medieval people did not only use cowmilk for their cheeses, but they also used milk from goats and sheep.
Usually, I choose a pie that includes lots of delicious herbs and spices but this time I chose a very basic pie recipe to share with you.
This particular pie has a very rich dairy flavour, and it also lacks a bit of flavour in my opinion. I like to imagine that the cook used to add some herbs to it as he went along, maybe depending on the season and his budget. I chose to add a pinch of long pepper, salt and some herbs to my second recipe. I went to my small garden at home and just picked whatever I felt like: some parsley, sorrel, a handful of burnet, 2 sprigs of lovage and a few mint leaves. You can add whatever you have available in your kitchen or garden.
250 grams flour
125 grams cold butter
Pinch of salt
A few spoonfuls of cold water
4 egg yolks
400 grams firm cream cheese
50 grams of butter
3 tbs flour
1 royal tsp salt
1 tsp long pepper
A handful of fresh herbs
Put the flour and the butter in a bowl and chop up the butter in small pieces using a knife. Add the salt, eggs and water and knead into a firm dough. If the dough is too dry you can add a little cold water to it. Let it rest for an hour at a cool place.
Whisk the eggs and do the same for the cream cheese. Put them into a bowl and melt the butter. Add butter, flour and optional herbs to the cheese and mix well.
Grease a baking tin. Roll out the dough into one big slab and use it to line the tin. Use a fork to poke small holes in the bottom. Put the filling into the tin and smooth it out. Bake the pie in a preheated oven at 200 °C for 30 minutes.
Of course, I forgot to take a picture of my own version. The picture above is a cheese pie we made during the historical cooking week in Tuscany in May 2019. It is beautifully decorated with edible flowers from the garden.