I had a surge of guilt and panic over the tedious nature of my Christmas present for James. It was a pretty snazzy digital radio alarm clock, but I worried it might seem a little naggy (i.e a ‘wake up, wake up, wake up’ kind of present). So as I was picking up a large piece of Colston Bassett stilton to take home to Scotland, I noticed that Neal’s Yard Dairy do a whole load of cheese tastings and there was one in particular that caught my eye; A Natural Wine and Cheese Tasting. I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to attend that than James and me. So not only did I give him a boring nagging present, but I also gave him a present that was half for me.
I wasn’t really sure what the concept of a ‘Natural Wine’ nor a ‘Natural Cheese’ was and as it became clear through the lecture the boundaries are pretty blurred. They are both natural products and it’s really about what level of chemical interference has been involved in the making of the finished product. With cheese it seems a little more simple to understand – it harks back to traditional methods and is made from unpasteurised milk. Natural bacteria are more freely left to do their work. On the wine side of things, they don’t add sulphur dioxide and the vineyards are either biodynamic or organic and use only wild yeasts. There is a reliance on the grapes doing the hard work, the aim is for them to produce all the elements you want for a delicious wine so as little intervention as possible is needed. This may, for example, mean leaving them on the vine for a lot longer than normal to allow them to become much sweeter. They ultimately want the wine to taste very much of the region where the grapes were grown, so there’s no attempt at tampering with it to make it taste like a certain type of wine. This all adds up to a greater risk factor and can result in some very interesting wines (and cheeses).
It turns out that, little to my knowledge, this is somewhat of a trend. A handful of the places where we’ve been out for dinner (or simply to sup wine) and have remarked at the deliciousness of said wines have indeed been stocking Natural Wines, for example 40 Maltby Street, Terroirs and Brawn (all serve exceptional food too). Well, it must be a good thing then.
The tasting was really interesting and generous in their provision of both components. Some truly delicious cheeses and some pretty tasty wines too. Guiding us through it all were two brilliantly knowledgeable and interesting people (Francis a food and wine writer and Bronwen the cheese buyer at Neals Yard). The only down side of the evening was that once I’d made it through most of my wine I was coming back down the stairs from the bathroom I clattered down the stairs and pretty much face planted at the bottom for all to see. Bit embarassing.
For details of courses at Neals Yard, have a look at their website here. I’d recommend them for delicious evenings of cheesy (and winey) delights.