Sunday, 13 February 2011

Once, twice, three times a cheeseboard

There was a time when going out for a meal was unremarkable. However, that was before the recession. These days we spend our evenings in our damp hovels, glumly sucking at a thin gruel for sustenance. The only seasoning we've had for the last three years has been the saltiness of our own bitter tears. You say 'Dickensian', I say 'charmingly retro'.

So it was nice to go out last night. We'd quite forgotten what it was like to eat at an establishment that doesn't have a drive-through element to its offering. To not have to wade through ingredients and recipes and washing-up. Quite a novelty, in fact. I'd go as far as to say that we're out of practice when it comes to restaurants.

It started when we were greeted by our waiter. Young? I own underwear older than this chap. And he had this flicky-feathered hair thing going on. So for the rest of the night we referred to him as Justin Bieber. maybe all restaurants have to employ a Justin, to appeal to the sensory-deprived 14-year-old girls that are clearly a major part of the target market these days.

We perused the menu.

"What does this mean?" asked Katie, looking at the starters. "'English Goats Cheese served Three Ways.' How many possible ways are there?"

I put down my pint of Old Hooky and reflected on this question.

"Well," I said, "you could serve one portion cheerfully. The second, with a sense of melancholy, perhaps redolent of times past. The final serving could be served in the style of King Louis XV of France."

"The Sun King?"

"No, that was Louis XIV. Although he advocated the divine right of kings and lack of temporal restraint, he was in fact lactose intolerant. His successor had no such weakness."

"You enjoying your beer?

"Why, yes I am, why do you ask?"

"It's not important. Look, let's order."

And so we did. Neither of us went for the goat cheese.

Some minutes later, we were coming to the end of our respective starters and Justin approached us once more, bearing main courses.

"Is there a chicken here?" he simpered, his voice a semi-tone away from breaking irreparably.

I looked at Katie. Katie looked at me. Her eyes seemed to say: don't be a smartarse. It's a look I've seen countless times before. I heeded the warning and our mains were delivered without further drama. Very nice they were, too.

While digesting my slow-cooked shank of lamb with herb-roasted potatoes I looked at the choices for dessert. I don't have much in the way of a sweet tooth so looked for the cheese alternative. And I saw this:
'Mature Farmhouse Cheeses served in the traditional way.'
This I had to see. Because, as every fool knows, this country has a long and noble tradition when it comes to the serving of cheeses. Especially those that are mature and linked in some way to agricultural dwellings.

Our friends in the Orient have their tea ceremonies; a whole etiquette around the serving of leaf-based hot infusions that speak of centuries of carefully-guarded cultural development. The traditional English cheese ceremony is a similar sight to behold.

A local yeoman presents the cheese for the diner's inspection. You're supposed to 'nose' the cheese before exclaiming three times, "Verily! And forsooth!" Then it is carefully sliced by a flaxen-haired maiden, into wedges of Imperial dimensions, using an oak-handled knife while humming Greensleeves.

These days some establishments try to bling the ceremony up a bit. It's not uncommon to have your cheese delivered by parachute from the bomb-bay of a passing Lancaster bomber. However this plays merry havoc with Stilton, which doesn't travel too well.

Keen to see this tradition unfold once more, I ordered the cheese course, making sure to use the words, "...in the traditional way" to Justin.

Hmm. Apparently these days, "traditional" actually means "on a board, with chutney and celery."

I feel somewhat cheated.

1 comment:

City Girl said...

I can't believe you managed to use the words bling, havoc and Stilton in the same breath.

We are not worthy. ::bowing repeatedly while backing away::

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