Black pepper is something we take very much for granted but it is a special ingredient, which comes from a flowering vine that grows in tropical regions. When harvested the small green fruits are briefly cooked and this turns them black. They are then dried and exported around the world. My speckly apple cheese is a wonderful way to celebrate this wonderful spice; I love serving it with hand-crafted mature Cheddar.
If you are using you are using small jars or ramekins to shape the cheese, brush the insides with a little oil. If you are using a 10x20cm heatproof dish or loaf tin, line with baking parchment, allowing plenty of overhang.
Rinse the apples and remove the stalks. Half and quarter and roughly chop into 3cm pieces- there’s no need to peel or core them. Put into a roomy pan with the cider, cover and place over a medium heat and cook until the apples are completely soft. Tip them into a sieve or a mouli placed over a bowl and rub through to remove the skin and pips- you should have about 800ml smooth purée.
Return the purée to the cleaned-out pan and place over a medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Continue to cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently and running a spatula around the sides of the pan, until the mixture is velvety smooth and gelatinous and there is a very clear path across the bottom of the pan for a couple of seconds when you drag a spoon across it. Remove from heat and stir in the pepper and salt.
If you like, scatter a little extra black pepper and/or position a few walnuts (flat side uppermost) in the base of the jars and tray, then spoon the mixture into the containers. Seal the jars with lids and allow to cool.
You can store your fruit cheese in sealed jars in a cool, dark, dry place for up to a year; once opened, keep in the fridge. Cheese wrapped in parchment and stored in airtight containers will keep in the fridge for a year.