Friday, 26 November 2010

Au contraire, mon frere - English wine and cheese is world's best

 The French presume themselves a cultured race.  If the US is the world's policeman, France is the world's critic.  Les philosophes taught us enlightenment and reason; les révolutionnaires brought us liberty, equality and fraternity; and great chefs like Escoffier gave us haute cuisine.  The French have instructed us how to think, how to govern and how to cook.  Or so they deign to believe.

If we think of perceived French cultural superiority today, we think principally of gastronomy and oenology (at least, I certainly do, having lived in Paris in my formative years).  Food and wine.

It in their regional produce that the French proclaim gastronomic pre-eminence.  The world may have become adept at imitating its cuisine but you cannot mimic le terroir.  First growth claret, regal Burgundy, or exclusive, extravagant, celebratory Champagne.  Michelin stars.  Oozing, pungent, lavish, sumptuous cheese: Brie de Meaux, Pont-l'Évêque, Livarot, or Vacherin Mont d'Or.

In their own eyes, no other nation can match them for the quality of their wine and cheese.  Not the Spanish with their manchego and Rioja, nor the Italians with their parmiggiano and Chianti.  Certainly not the English.  The gulf between France and its ancient adversaries, les rosbifs, in matters culinary and vine is as wide as Gerard Depardieu's nose.

Of course it is.  The French could not hope to match England's green and pleasant land for wine and cheese, we have always known that, and now the world believes it too.

The writing was on le mur in 1992 when a blind tasting of West Sussex vineyard Nyetimber's Blanc des Blancs caused a fierce debate about which appellation of France it came from.  Since then, its Classic Cuvée and Blanc des Blancs vintages of sparkling wine (i.e. Champagne) have scooped numerous global awards.  Nyetimber is a three times winner of the 'Best Worldwide Sparkling Wine' at the IWSC competition as well as 'Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines 2009' at the Bollicine del Mondo, ahead of 13 sparklers from Champagne.

This year, the producers of Epernay and Reims could not even better Nyetimber's relatively unknown Sussex neighbour, Ridgeview, whose 2006 vintage Grosvenor Blanc des Blancs was awarded the illustrious 2010 Decanter Trophy for best sparkling wine in the world.

And just as France was recovering from collective cultural miasma, the unthinkable happened.  Not only can French sparkling wine no longer compete with England, nor can its cheese.

Cornish Blue cheese
An English cheese, Cornish Blue from Liskeard, ranked ahead of 2,600 entries from 26 countries to win this year's World Cheese Awards.  A cow's milk cheese, it has "a freshness that is a world away from the briny tang of Roquefort or the aged complexity of Stilton...a wholly different approach to blue cheese."

Former French president, Jacques Chirac, who stands trial for corruption early next year, once said that "the only thing [the English] have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease [and] after Finland, it is the country with the worst food."

It tickles me pink as a Ladurée macaroon to think of Monsieur Chirac, spluttering over his morning croissant as he eats metaphorical tarte pénitente.

Sherlock Holmes' portly companion Dr Watson uttered:
"Even the coeur flottant merveilleux aux fraises, presented with a great flourish, made little impression, for it was no more than what may happen to the simple, honest dish of strawberries and cream once it falls into the hands of a Frenchman."
The craft and complexity of France's soccer skills might still be too much for the English, but as this country is steadfastly proving, when it comes to gastronomy, brilliant simplicity trumps over-elaboration and pretence.

American cartoon comedy The Simpsons, in 1995, labelled the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys".  They're right about the first bit, but in the world of cheese and wine, don't bet on the French believing a word of the hype over England's triumphant offerings.

They won't surrender.  Not one bit.  Their cheese and wine will always be the best.  But after all, the French wouldn't be the French without that endearing belief in their cultural superiority.

Cheer up, mes amis, you still have the Alps, the climate and Carla Bruni.  You can plan the party.  Just leave the catering to us.

1 comment:

  1. This is possibly one of the most unattractive things I could comment. But, I was drinking my "sparkling" Strawberry and Kiwi water and almost spluttered with laughter at "The Simpsons, in 1995, labelled the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys". They're right about the first bit" HA! Love it.

    I can believe that the UK are improving in their wine tastes and brewing. Shame I can't vouch for the Cheese as I am allergic, darn!