This is a story about cheese rolls.
Whilst in Dunedin last month, Maths dude and I attempted to seek out the best coffee and food in town (I don’t mean to say that like I just make casual trips to Dunedin all the time, I wish I could though). We rolled up here and I was a snotty mess so I ordered soup with “cheese rolls”. Cheese rolls sound pretty nondescript, right? Like they could just be grilled cheese buns, or something pastry-based, whatever. What came out were these pieces of white sandwich bread, rolled up, and grilled and filled with melted, oniony cheese.
Weird, I thought, as I dipped them into my soup. Weird, but tasty.
Then I noticed them cropping up everywhere: in cafes, bain maries… there was even a “cheese roll fundraiser form” sitting on my cousin’s dining table. It made no sense, because I thought I knew about *every* bit of kiwiana food that exists. But these were something completely new to me, and Google confirmed that they are indeed one of those rare New Zealand culinary artefacts that are found ONLY in the south of the South Island. But I think Ben explains their obscurity a lot better:
In fact, word of the cheese roll hasn’t even crossed the ditch between New Zealand’s North and South islands. It has barely even made it over the line dividing Otago and Canterbury. This is some seriously localised stuff; it’s like haggis, only without the gruesome bits of sheep innards.
I even checked with my mum, who grew up and lived in New Zealand for a lot of her adult life, and she had never heard of them.
Obviously, the cheese roll is something that is just not to be messed with. The innards are made of melted supermarket block cheese, Maggi onion soup mixture and evaporated milk. No, it’s not sophisticated, but there is no way I am going to try and transform the cheese roll into something different on this blog. Hoooooo, no. In fact, I imagine that many Otago residents feel the same way about their cheese rolls as southerners feel about their pimento cheese. For example, it appears that mustard, malt vinegar, cream, and diced onion are acceptable additions to the mixture. Vegetables and other seasonings and condiments are apparently contraband when it comes to cheese rolls – wait, not even contraband, just never considered by anyone, never, ever. And I’m okay with that.
Maths dude still thinks that cheese rolls are a bit odd, but I like ’em. When I eat them, I feel like I’m taking part in some secret ritual that even many New Zealanders themselves don’t know about. I think, though, unless you live in Australia or New Zealand it might be hard to get your hands on the Maggi onion soup powder that is required to make this recipe. It’s one of those foods that is exported to Australia with things like “the great kiwi onion dip” written on the front of the packet and found in the international foods section of the supermarket.
I made this easy tomato soup to go along with the cheese rolls. This has been one of my favourite soups this winter. If you have some chilli powder on hand, it goes really well with the lime and smoked paprika flavours! It feels a little like spring is in the air this week: sunshine all week, cool mornings, mild days, YEAH, BRISBANE. This is absolutely the best part of the year here!
- 1 brown onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 stalk of celery, diced
- 1 kg tomatoes, quartered
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- Juice of ½ lime
- 250 ml / 1 cup vegetable stock
- Salt to taste
- 10 slices thin-sliced white sandwich bread
- 250g block cheese (such as cheddar or tasty)
- ½ packet Maggi onion soup powder
- ½ can evaporated milk
- (double these quantities if you want more cheese rolls)
- Place all of the cheese roll ingredients in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave in one minute bursts, stirring in between, until melted and smooth.
- Spread around 1½ tbsp of mixture over a slice of white bread, and roll it up. It should stick together quite easily. Place on a baking tray. Repeat until all the cheese mixture and bread has been used up.
- Place a stovetop casserole dish or large saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove. Once hot, add a tbsp of oil, the onion and the celery. Cook for two minutes until the onion is beginning to soften. Add ¼ tsp salt, a pinch of pepper, and stir to combine.
- Add the tomatoes, and cook for a few more minutes, until the tomatoes are breaking down and releasing their juices.
- Add the smoked paprika, sugar, garlic, lime and vegetable stock. Add additional salt if desired. Turn the heat down to low, and cook for 10-15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
- Blend in the blender or with an immersion blender until smooth and keep on a low heat while you grill the cheese rolls.
- Grill the cheese rolls until crispy (you can also place them in a flat sandwich press - I actually think this would yield a better result but I don't have one). Serve the soup with the cheese rolls. I just sprinkled some pepitas over my soup, but you could add any toppings you like, such as fresh coriander, yoghurt, chipotle sauce, various nuts, etc.