Wednesday, 4 December 2013
Do not watch this advert. It will warp your mind. You will lose all grounding in reality and enter some alternative reality.
So say the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) anyway. The advert, part of the Let There Be Beer campaign, funded by the Coalition of UK Brewers, was found guilty on four counts of breaching the ASA's code.. That the ad implied alcohol could contribute to an individual’s popularity, that drinking alcohol was a key component of social success, for portraying alcohol as indispensable and that drinking could overcome problems. Not convinced? Watch it again. You can clearly see that that alcohol accounts for the lad’s confidence when meeting his girlfriend’s father. And alcohol is blatantly behind the office worker’s relaxed attitude to a mountain of work. Imagine the damage that could be done if office workers throughout the land aped this approach.
Now the Coalition of UK Brewers, which represents the ad’s creators AB InBev, Carlsberg UK, Heineken UK, Miller Brands and Molson Coors, claimed that the advert was meant to be an “exaggerated interpretation of the real world”. It also claimed that the scenes attempted to identify situations where beer might be a “credible alternative’ to other drinks. But thanks to the complaint by the snappily-titled Alcohol Concern Youth Alcohol Advertising Council, the ASA saw through this smokescreen and banned this evil, mind-bending, propaganda. And while some might accuse the ASA themselves of living in some alternative reality, I bet that the thousands of people who didn’t complain are secretly pleased.
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
A few eyebrows were raised on the news that the German Brewers Union have submitted a bid to have the Bavarian purity law designated a UNESCO world cultural treasure. Probably because when one thinks of UNESCO and heritage, images such as Stonehenge tend to come to mind. However, UNESCO expanded its remit in 2008 to include things such as customs and traditions. And this is where the purity law, the so-called Reinheitsgebot, comes in.
According to the statue, first enacted in 1516, only water, barley and hops are to be used in brewing. The president of the Brewers Union, Hans-Georg Eils, said: “It is thanks to the beer purity law that Germany, up until today, is unchallenged as a beer nation. It guarantees purity, quality and salubriousness.” Of course this is nonsense as the purity law actually allows for (perhaps understandably) yeast as well as things such as wheat malt, cane sugar and no longer allows the use of unmalted barley.
The measure probably had more to do with controlling what the peasants did with their malted grains than with any concerns about beer quality. And it certainly doesn’t work as a modern quality control. But this hasn’t of course stopped the Reinheitsgebot being marketed for all its worth; and the Brewers Union bid has backing from experts at the University of Bayreuth and the Technical University in Munich.
With each bid taking up to two years, the hope is that the award will be in place in time for the 500th anniversary of the law’s creation. This not might be plain sailing, though; as a bid in 2011 was rejected and other German states are also bidding. North Rhine-Westphalia’s applications, for example, were Beethoven, who was born in Bonn, and traditional shooting clubs (Schutzverein).
If the bid is accepted, then the Reinheitsgebot will join an exclusive club containing such luminaries as the Argentine tango, the French gastronomic meal and, erm, Turkey’s Kirkpinar oil-wrestling festival.
Friday, 29 November 2013
Congratulations to Kaserei Champignon who have emerged victorious at the World Cheese Awards. In an amazing feat their entry, Montagnolo Affiné, a creamy blue cheese, not only scooped first place but second as well. It had been entered into two different classes and when judges re-judged, tasted and voted the final 15 Super Golds, the cheese came both first and second. Now Germany isn’t usually classed as being in the premier league of cheese making; so this award is very significant.
John Farrand, MD of the Guild of Fine Food, organiser of the competition, said: “After 25 years of the World Cheese Awards this is the first time that a cheese made in Germany has won the top honour. Our judges were united in their praise for the Montagnolo Affiné with one judge describing the cheese as ‘visually beautiful with a soft blue grey bloom and melt in the mouth, velvety flavour’. This is a very worthy winner from an accomplished cheesemaker.”
David Gremmels of Rogue Creamery in the USA, one of the final judges, described the Montagnolo Affiné as “a brilliant blue”. “You get a sweet, creamy flavour, a medium spiciness from the blueing, and the rind melts beautifully into the paste.” Louis Aird of Canada’s Saputo Dairy Products said it was a blue for people who don’t think they like blue cheeses. “We are blue cheese producers ourselves, and I would love to be able to make a blue like this. As soon as I put it in my mouth I thought, ‘Wow, this is a champion’.’’The cheese beat two English Stiltons that also made it into the final 15. To reinforce just how tough the competition is, third place this year went to a Le Gruyère AOP Premier Cru from Cremo Von Muhlenen, which was just one point behind Montagnolo Affiné in the final voting. Now Le Gruyère AOP is the only cheese to have topped the World Cheese Awards on three occasions. So the winner must be some cheese and I look forward to trying some
Thursday, 28 November 2013
In a riposte to yesterday’s bad news cheese story, it was good to read recently that sales of quality cheese are up while the dreaded “mild” variety is seeing a slump in popularity. Yes craft cheese, just like craft beer, seems to be winning over a new generation of fans. Mild cheddar, that polythene-wrapped monstrosity of rubbery-blandness, has long been the cheese of choice for the casual buyer. But figures from Mintel show that it has seen a 6% fall in sales over the last year. It now accounts for just £161m of the total £2.6bn cheese market. Over the same period, sales of extra mature have risen an impressive 12% (hooray) while blue (14%) and continental (10%) have also seen impressive rises.
So what lies behind this switch of allegiance? It seems that customers are simply seeking more flavour. Just as Mexican is tipped to become the nation’s top cuisine of choice, cheese buyers are also becoming more adventurous. Fewer than one in five of those questioned by researchers said a mild flavour was important. Shoppers were found to be more daring when buying cheese than just about any other product and Mintel also found that a strong/mature flavour beat even price as the most important factor. John Spencer, of the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, explained it thus: “People want less quantity, but more quality and taste. It's not about filling bellies; it's about enjoying what they eat.”
Of course there are plenty of proper cheddar or cheddar-style cheeses around. Tickler can be found on the supermarket shelves and has a lovely nutty tang. Other ones to watch out for are Keen's Cheddar, Wookey Hole cave-aged (one of my favourites), Quickes Vintage and West Country Farmhouse from Barber's. These are all top-draw cheeses that can be found in discerning restaurants throughout the country and deserve-and hopefully will-to be on the discerning cheeseboards of the populace. Morrisons has responded to this demand by stocking a wider choice of British cheese while Tesco says sales of French cheeses such as Chaource, Comté and Langres have risen by 350%, 180% and 160% respectively.
But if you are a fan of the plastic-fantastic mild and shudder at the thought of craft cheese, do not despair. One of the best and well-known of its kind is Joseph Heller who are based neat Nantwich in Cheshire. Their mild is aged for around three months and even though they have seen a drop in sales, they don’t believe the end is nigh for mild just yet. They have been sending it to the Caribbean, where it is used in macaroni pies, and to restaurants in the Middle East. They also expect sales to develop in China. Manager David Wells said: “Children like it and lots of people like it for things like grating on a baked potato, where it creates a lovely creamy texture," he says. "There will always be a demand for mild cheese too."
My point is a simple one. Whatever your cheese of choice: relax and enjoy it.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Today marks the start of the World Cheese Awards. Held annually as part of the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC, it’s a true box of delights for the dedicated cheese lover. Over 1000 square metres of display encompasses nearly 3000 entries, 79% of which are from outside the UK. Make no mistake, when they say it’s the biggest in the world; that’s no lie. And with 80,000 consumers expected to try a nibble or two, everything was looking rosy. But no, there looks to be a fly in the curd that threatens not only this year’s event but future ones as well.
The underlying cause, according to the organisers, is a new Brussels directive. They have appealed to the Food Standards Agency to help overturn the EU ruling that prevents Japan, South Africa and several countries from South America, including Brazil, importing cheese to compete in this year’s Olympics of cheese. But the real problem may simply be DEFRA, which is following the strict letter of the law of the EU directive. The directive follows recent concerns about animal health and the safe handling of milk. Which seems rather stupid given the universal failure to tackle the horsemeat scandal.
Bob Farrand, chairman of the World Cheese Awards, said: “This is extremely sad for several hundred artisan cheese makers around the world. The World Cheese Awards is their global event but these EU regulations are preventing them from entering. Many small rural businesses benefit enormously from winning at the Awards and this country benefits from much needed overseas revenue. It shows yet again the total inflexibility of people in offices in Brussels.”
Warming to his theme, he went on to say: “For more than a decade we have applied for, and have been granted, permission by DEFRA to import artisan cheeses from outside the EU and we have a strong track record of following the correct procedures, including incinerating (what a waste!) all the cheeses after the event. As an organisation we are immensely supportive of British farming and would never entertain any action that placed it at risk.”
|Kilimanjaro Cheese from South Africa, which won Silver at last year’s World Cheese Awards but has not been able to enter this year’s awards|
Clearly he is not a happy chappy and who can blame him? According to Mr Farrand: “The ruling prohibits entry of cheeses from Japan into the EU and yet last June I judged at the Mondiale du Fromage in France and tasted several Japanese cheeses. Clearly other countries don’t kowtow to Brussels in quite the same way we do. It means we’ll have to think seriously about taking the World Cheese Awards abroad in future.”Hopefully common sense will prevail. If red tape did cause this event to be moved out of the UK; that would be an injustice to cheese aficionados everywhere
*This gives me the second opportunity to use the label 'cheese Nazis'
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Mass Observation was a social research organisation founded in 1937 to record the minutiae of daily life in Britain. Its army of around 500 volunteers kept diaries, answered questionnaires and, somewhat controversially by today’s standards, recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in and out of work. A bit like the NSA, really. This went on until the 1950s when it was discontinued and then restarted in 1981. Although methodologically dubious: its surveyors were hardly representative of the populace as a whole, it does offer some fascinating insights. Its archive resides with the University of Sussex and it has recently moved to a custom-built, climate-controlled centre called The Keep.
To commemorate this move, several snippets were made available to the press. One immediately caught my attention. In 1938 one of the questions they wanted the answer to, for reasons lost in time, was what was the average supping time for a pint? One could only imagine that this was at the behest of a 1930’s Tyson the Beerhound. The result showed that in November in Brighton, the average per-half-pint was 7.3 minutes. Altogether pub surveys were conducted in Bolton, Blackpool and Brighton and it will probably come as no surprise to learn that Tuesday evening saw the slowest drinking; while Friday evening saw the quickest.
Sadly the modern Mass Observation is conducted by email and, as yet, I have not been invited to give my opinion on any of my specialist fields: beer, cheese, pizza and curry.
Monday, 11 November 2013
Cologne: so good they named it twice. Köln, as the Germans insist on calling it, is a bustling city. Still scarred from the effects of WW11-the rebuild seems never ending-it boasts a famous cathedral and, no doubt, some other cultural highlights. However, the important question is, as always, is it worth visiting? That means, of course, what’s it like for a drink? The good news is that it scores well in that regard. Yes, I like Köln. If Dusseldorf is the older, steady brother, then Köln is its slightly rebellious younger sibling. Of the two, I’d prefer to be having a nightcap in Köln rather than facing another Alt in Dusseldorf.
|The Torture Chamber|
|Not so tortuous inside|
|Can I have a bigger measure?|
|Now you're talking|
|I think it's autumn|
|Right who's paying for this lot?|
|The Kaiser 1913|
|The Kaiser 2013|
|Midnight and the beer's still flowing|
|2 German CAMRA members|
If you haven’t been to Köln, then you need to go and if you have been, you need to go again.