About Me

My photo
Manchester, United Kingdom
Tyson is a beer hound and cheese addict living in the beery metropolis paradise known as Manchester
If the people are buying tears, I'll be rich someday, Ma

Friday, 29 November 2013

And The Winner Is


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

Mild No More?

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

EU Takes A Bite Out Of Cheese Awards


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

Those Were The Days

 
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


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
The drink of choice in Köln is Kölsch which just happens to be the name of the local dialect. At one time Köln could boast the most breweries of any city in Germany. But although the brands live on, most of the breweries have closed. The remaining brewers each produce a Kölsch subtly different from their rivals and, as in Dusseldorf, everyone will have their favourite. Also like Dusseldorf, the beer comes in annoyingly small measures. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these Stange (pole) glasses are some quirky historical throwback. The old photos showing whole litres being necked demonstrate otherwise. Bizarrely some people actually claim that 0.1L glasses are the correct vessel for Kölsch. Frightening.
Can I have a bigger measure?
Now you're talking
We certainly had the weather for our exploration of Köln. The sun shone down and warmed our pale North England skin and gave us an unexpected chance of al fresco drinking. However, as we spent most of our time cloistered in pubs, don’t expect to see any sunbathing photos on this blog. The obvious place to start is the famous Früh am Dom. This, the main outlet of Früh, is enormous. Look up cavernous in the dictionary and you will find it listed there. A sprawling, multi-levelled affair, you won’t be waiting long before a Köbe (waiter) comes along with his tray of Kölsch. Good luck if you’re looking for someone in here as most likely you won’t get a phone signal, either.

I think it's autumn
Right who's paying for this lot?
Another must visit place is Sion. The beer may come from the Kuppers plant but the pub, modern by Köln standards, is well worth a visit. Leaded glass and gleaming tiles give it a smart, polished look. Malzmühle is a great pub, lovingly recreated from wartime ruins and is an authentic Kölsch brewpub. The beer, however, leans very heavily on the malty side and is the least appealing in the city. Unlike Päffgen which is light and bitter and very refreshing. This is not to be confused with a breakaway part of the family, Pfaffen, which has a nice pub of its own in the Heumarkt.
The Kaiser 1913
The Kaiser 2013
Midnight and the beer's still flowing
Another fine boozer is Peters Brauhaus. Not only can they claim to be one of the genuine Kölsch brewers, the pub itself is a splendid mix of panelling and leaded glass. For a contrast, try the Schreckenskammer. The ‘Horror Chamber’ was destroyed in 1943 and took 17 years to reopen. Situated opposite the Ursula church, it’s very traditional in style and even boasts sawdust on the floor. The Kölsch here is actually brewed at Dom and a visit to their tap proved interesting. The place was deserted when we arrived and yet the bartender was reluctant to let us sit anywhere. After explaining we were only having a quick drink he begrudgingly waved us to a table. After which sitting at, he immediately rushed over and ushered us to an identical deserted table.
2 German CAMRA members
There are plenty to go at in the city centre, but with the integrated transport system being what it is, you really should check the outskirts out. Sünner have a great cellar brewery tap and unusually offer a Hefeweizen as well. For the summer months there is also an appealing beer garden. We tried to get into Töller to sample some Kölsch, but not being diners we were refused seats. Even out pleas to drink stood outside fell on deaf ears with the barman very honestly, if nothing else, telling us they only allow locals to do that. Then there was Brauhaus Reissdorf with the lovely Fräulein who captured Eddie, the eager legal beagle's heart and Gaffel to name but a few. And no trip to Köln is complete without a visit to Papa Joes, if only to watch Schultz and Dooley, the two automatons, in action.

If you haven’t been to Köln, then you need to go and if you have been, you need to go again.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ratinger & Wuppertal


Saw this and thought of you
Let's go in here
And what about here
Nice and dry
As above
Ratingen is a town located just 7.5 miles to the northeast of Dusseldorf. Fun fact of the day: it’s twinned with Cramlington, Northumberland. But its main appeal lies in two areas; one is that having suffered very little wartime damage, it retains a number of interesting old buildings. The second is that it’s a virtual microcosm of the Dusseldorf beer scene, with several of the breweries having pubs here. As always, Ron Pattinson has been there first and you can read his review here. One amendment to note is that the Diebels am Markt now appears to be a Lowenbrau outlet but is still worth a visit. There is the Ratinger Brauhaus but common consensus was that the Schlüssel Brauereiausschank "Zu den drei Königen" was the best. This is a smart, well run establishment where you can sit at the bar and chat with the very amiable Serbian barman.
Welcome to Wuppertal
Fancy a swim?
I like it
Wuppertal. So good they named it once. To be fair, it’s surrounded by greenery. However, the city itself looks quite dismal and seems to have the architecture of 1970s Albania. It wears its chemical-industrial roots on its sleeve. After all, this is the place that gave the world Aspirin and heroin. These days it’s more famous for its suspension railway, the Schwebebahn: as ridden by Michael Portillo. Unfortunately on the rainy day I went, it was kaput and closed. Perhaps it should twin with the Metrolink? Never mind, you know what the Germans say, Wuppertal is not a one-horse town. Actually that is exactly what they do say. All the action seems to take place at the Wuppertaler Bräuhaus. This is an interesting building that is a converted swimming pool. You can try their unfiltered Helles, a Dunkel or (bottled) Pils. And then get the hell out of there.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf is the capital of North-Rhine Westphalia and a major industrial and financial centre. It’s also, apparently, the fashion hub of Germany. But for our purposes, its real fame lies with its beer. Ok it’s just one beer-no claim to be the craft beer capital of Europe here-Alt. But avoid the malt gloop clones and stick with the quality stuff and a glass or two isn’t the worst way to pass time. And there are certainly some decent pubs in which to drink it. Indeed, the Alstadt in Dusseldorf lays claim to be one mighty pub crawl, albeit not all of them great ones.


German vertical drinking
Yes, I will have another, thanks
We certainly covered all the bases on our weekend in the Fatherland. A good starting point is any one of the four Dusseldorf brewers still producing a distinctive Alt. Ueriga is a very famous one and their brewery tap is well known and not just because Auf Wiedersehen Pet used the back room for filming. It’s what you’d expect from a German boozer; think olde-world Sam Smith charm with plenty of character. And characters. I’m actually more of a fan of their pub than their beer and that pleasure was only increased by the discovery that the smoking ban has finally reached this neck of the woods. A very welcome move that even the locals who had been opposed to it, admitted had not affected trade.
Honest advertising
This looks nice
This doesn't
The other three Alt breweries also have pubs that are well worth a visit. The best in terms of beer, I found, was Schumacher. Not only is their ordinary alt rather pleasingly bitter, I was lucky enough to come across their anniversary beer: 1838. This 5% marvel was hoppy in the traditional IPA style and its eminently drinkable quality made it the best beer in town for my palate. Schlüssel and Füchschen, the other two Dusseldorf Alt specialists of course need trying and everyone will have their favourite. However, you may need to pick your drinking spot carefully during busy times: I gave up waiting to be served outside Schlüssel and waiting for your bill can be another pain.
A typical German enjoying his Alt

There were two other oddities of note. Brauerei Kürzer is the new upstart on the block when it comes to Alt brewing. The interior, promisingly modern at first glance, reveals itself to be rather plain post-industrial chic on closer inspection. I arrived here after the main party had already decided to leave on a customer relations-or rather lack of-point but a taste of the beer was enough for me: poor, with a malt gloop undercurrent. Much better was Schalander which is the worth the trek out of town for. This was comfortably modern with a great downstairs snug-like room. By German standards they serve an unusually large selection of different beers. Recommended.

Dusseldorf is a great place to drink in. But if you get tired of short measures of Alt, which you may well do, you can always sit back and watch the football with 500ml of Jever in the Irish bar.