Cheese is not an ingredient that inspires much invention in my kitchen, but not because I don’t like to cook with it. Quite the opposite actually, I love adding cheese to my food and use it a lot… just in the most predictable of ways. I know what I like: cheddar grilled on toast, mozzarella on pizza, feta in salads, parmesan on pasta, camembert or brie to nibble on. I was more than satisfied with my stock standard approach, but then the team at Comté Cheese decided to get me in the kitchen and prove to me the error of my ways. Their motto is that ‘Everything is Better with Comté’ and they have their cheesy little hearts set on convincing everyone that this is the case!
But we before we donned our aprons, we had a lesson in comté – where does this cheese come from, what makes it so special? I’d already brushed up on my knowledge during a comté cheese and wine pairing, but for those of you who aren’t as familiar with it; it’s a unique variety of cheese made from raw milk from around 2,700 family farms in the Jura Massif of France, under very particular circumstances. Though it’s all classed as one variety, the cheese comes in many different flavour profiles from sweet and creamy to rich and nutty, determined by both the age and the season in which the milk was produced.
Today marks three years since I arrived in London with my suitcase in one hand and a certain someone in the other. In that time I’ve fully embraced the challenge to explore London’s restaurant scene, but London itself? I haven’t attacked that with as much zeal. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve visited no more than a handful of the many museums and galleries, and I don’t snoop around new neighbourhoods as often as I would like to. I put it down to the ‘it’ll still be there next week’ mentality; the landmarks and attractions aren’t going anywhere, whereas that quirky pop up will be gone in a flash, which explains my prioritisation logic!
However this year, that logic is going out the window because while the landmarks and attractions might remain in London forever and a day, I might not. We have no concrete plans but I have a feeling we might only have another year or so in this fine city and as a result, it’s time I started playing tourist a little more. The first attraction I’m ticking off the list? The London Eye. It’s on almost every tourist’s London bucket list but I’ll confess, it never really tickled my fancy because the queues are always huge and knowing my luck, I’d end up riding it on a particularly grey day. So I just never bothered.
Until a certain someone met me, I’m not sure he ever considered food markets to be a legitimate tourist attraction. Who in their right mind would want to spend any part of their time in a new city wandering through food markets or supermarkets? Me. What’s the point of browsing the stalls or aisles when you don’t need to buy anything? Er, no point necessary. And by golly, does the long-suffering certain someone know that now.
I could waste hours pacing up, down and around the aisles of food markets and I get embarrassingly excited when I see new produce or speciality local ingredients. My mind usually oscillates between devising ways to smuggle things home and imagining what my weekly shop would consist of if I were a local. It’s not as weird as you (and a certain someone) might think, I’m sure there are others who do the same…
I never appreciated quite how much the people in my life like cheese until I mentioned that I was going to a cheese tasting event. My colleagues’ eyes lit up, my friends sent me text messages of jealousy, and this was before I had even mentioned the wine part. I like cheese, but my tastes are simple – melted between two thick slices of white bread, on top of pizza, or some of the softer variety smushed onto a cracker – send any of those my way and I’m a happy girl.
When I explained this to anyone who cared enough to listen, it was met with mutterings about how the cheese would be wasted on me… When I went on to say the cheese was Comté and the wines were from the Jura region, I swear some people shot me daggers. As a cheese novice, I had never even heard of Comté until earlier this year and as for Jura? Let’s not embarrass each other by asking me to locate it on the map. But given the popularity of both amongst those in the know, I knew I was in for a treat even before I stepped into the beautiful Chandos House!
Normally, I would answer, ‘yes’. I think it suits my complexion quite nicely, so much so I’ve just bought a coat in that colour. But normally, I wouldn’t be standing in the beautiful dining room of 28°-50° Wine Workshop and Kitchen on Fetter Lane with a lot of people who are very familiar with Burgundy, as in the region of France and the wine… not the colour. So I played it safe, and stuck with a sheepish ‘not really’ and reached out for another salt cod canapé.
I like to consider myself a wine enthusiast. I’m very enthusiastic about drinking it and learning about it (especially after my trip to Bordeaux) but the people in this room were the true enthusiasts and connoisseurs, they actually knew a thing or two about the tipple. We had only been served the first wine of the evening, a glass of Chablis, Le Basde Chapelot, Vocoret 2013 and the room was already abuzz with excitement. There were still three more Burgundy wines to come, each paired with a dish, and all punctuated with expert food and wine commentary… Bottoms up!
I have a long history with cake and photoshoots. The earliest record of our connection dates back to 1987; I’m chubby, fairly bald and celebrating my first birthday by being photographed next to a cake with a tiger on it. I don’t remember what it was the next year but my third birthday saw me posing with a giant cake shaped in the number three completely bordered by chocolate fingers… and so on, and so on it continued. Me, cake, photos.
Flash forward to 2016, and almost thirty years later from that first photo, the tables were turned. I wasn’t in front of the camera with the cake, but rather behind the camera and taking photos of just the cake. No one cared about me looking pretty or smiling, it was all about how the cake was going to look… this role reversal took some getting used to.
When recently asked about my plans for the evening, I almost told a little white lie for fear of ridicule. Before you start chastising me, the thought might have crossed your mind too if you were in my shoes and remembered that time a colleague of a similar age was teased for admitting he makes chutney. But I didn’t lie, and as expected some eyebrows were raised. A pickling class?! For clarity’s sake, vegetables were getting pickled, not the attendees – this was not some advanced masterclass in sustained drinking.
I could tell my colleagues were still far from convinced when they said they were sure it’d be fun while exchanging knowing looks between them. Well they were right; about the fun part – it was! And as a genuine pickle enthusiast, it was quite a tasty class too. I might be going out on a limb here but I think pickles are making a comeback… I’ve noticed pickled elements popping up on restaurant dishes across the spectrum of styles and cuisines, and I am a fan. So my theory is, if it’s good enough for the Michelin star kitchens, it’s good enough for mine.