It was in the words of one distinguished guest, a long expected party; the 140 pink cloakroom tickets had sold out quicker than Facebook shares on May 18th 2012. Described as “the greatest social happening since the fall of the Berlin Wall” the Cheese & Wine society’s inaugural evening lived up to expectations as all 108 bottles of fine wine were poured out and a staggering 17 kilos of cheese reduced to mere crumbs.
In terms of wine, the bottles had been carefully selected by the committee in order to offer the mass of attendees with a wide breadth of variety to quench their mostly virgin palates. Inspired by their beloved leader and President, Victor Croci, a Frenchman and notorious cork teaser, there was an understandable continental bias when it came to the 9 different reds on offer. In order to play it safe, two thirds of the wine on offer was of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape with the remaining third consisting of Merlot, Tempranillo and the odd touch of Shiraz for good measure.
Naturally, like most events where the demographics are heavily inclined in favour of women, the white wine went first. Yet it did so with flowing grace and so at around 10.45pm, when the pianist stop playing, every single drop of zesty Sauvignon Blanc, buttery Chardonnay and even the somewhat piquant Pinot Grigio was gone. Interestingly enough, the selection of white wine mirrored the fact that a great many distinguished guests present hailed from the new world. Australia, South Africa and California were amply represented and the Italians present were satisfied with the Pinot Grigio’s performance too.
Turning towards the dairy component of the evening, what exactly does 17 kilos of scrumptious cheese look like?
Well it takes up three entire tables and necessitates over 10 bunches of grapes to get through without mentioning the ridiculous 2000 cream crackers, cheese biscuits and the dozen baguettes.
“I couldn’t possibly name all the cheeses which were wheeled out of the Queen Brie, a fabulous cheese shop in the Arndale food court, and onto the three large tables. There were simply too rich a variety”, replied Thomas Lalaurie, vice-President of the society, in a thick French accent. Any Francophile could tell you that he could sense the Camembert and taste the Brie de Meaux, but there were more surreptitious cheeses originating from the land of Charles de Gaulle, croissants and general strikes. Comté and gruyere, both salty and mellow, were two such examples of many…
Incidentally, England was comfortably represented and did not fall short of great expectations. Spicy cheddar is, to quote one member present “a gift from the gods”, it is simply phenomenal and as you sink your teeth into it and unleash a flare of chili flavour in your mouth, you realise that there is something beyond the banal stereotypes of British cuisine. It came as no surprise then that there was a fair deal of extra strong mature cheddar to pick from and even sticky toffee cheddar. And of course for those with little or no taste buds left there was a decent-sized slab of mild available. Traditional Blue Stilton provided ample banter for those who adhere to the noble continental lie that blue cheese found further than Calais is simply passed its sell by date by a month or two.
The feedback on the night was largely positive although two recurring motifs which did crop up like wind farms in Holland was the need for the cheeses to be labelled and the somewhat tricky question of door security. In the case of the latter, the second XV Sale Sharks rugby team has been made a generous offer to turn away students who, having failed to acquire a ticket, believed they were still entitled to the Lottery’s winnings.
All in all, the event was widely saluted as huge step forward for the swathes of students who refuse to accept the culinary exile imposed on them by Britain’s tax rate on wine and the scarcity of affordable decent cheese available in supermarkets.
It comes as no surprise then that the Cheese and Wine Society was founded in the clandestine nature of Gaff’s basement where, by candlelight, a handful of culinary revolutionaries with strong continental sympathies and ties raised their glass in a vote to create a popular movement capable of circumnavigating the dreadfully bland and flavourless wines which stock most supermarket aisles these days.
Judging by this evening, they succeeded.