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Viva Gastronomica

Few things are more exciting than getting the latest copy of Gastronomica in the post. For the uninitiated, Gastronomica is a journal of food and culture, and always has fabulous articles written by academics, food journalists, and writers from across many genres and disciplines. The photographs are stunning, too- in the Summer 2009 issue check out the photo essay by Pinar Yolaçan- a series of portraits of women embellished with what Americans call "variety meats". I got hooked on Gastronomica when I read an article about where Fluff comes from- yes, that gooey, nutritionally vacant marshmallow goo commonly eaten with peanut butterin the classic "Fluffernutter Sandwich". Who thought an academic approach to Fluff was possible?!
In the latest issue you can read about Eating with Your Hands, How The Carrot Got Into Cheese, and A Lamentation for Shrimp Paste. In the words of Gertrude Stein, "Nothing is more interesting than that something that you eat."

I heart cheese

I'll soon be off to the World Cheese Awards, to take my place on a panel of esteemed judges and cheese fanatics. The event is like the Olympics, Miss Universe and the Oscars all rolled into one cheesy ball of fun. This year the event is being held in Gran Canaria, and last night a little party was held to get us all in the mood. Iberica, a stylish Spanish temple of food and culture, was the venue. The menu was a showcase of award winning cheeses from past World Cheese competitions, and matched with Spanish wines.
You may wonder why the World Cheese awards are being held in Gran Canaria this year- a place not *particularly* known for its cheese, right? Wrong! The 2008 Supreme Champion (also known as THE BIG CHEESE) was Queso Arico Curado Pimenton, a mature goats cheese covered in paprika made in the Canary Islands. I suppose this makes the World Cheese Awards similar to the Eurovision Song Contest, too. The cheese itself is sweet, nutty and lightly spicy, slightly crumbly and infused with the goodness of goats raised on herby grass. It's so delicious you'll want to thank the goats personally.
Anyway, the highlight of the Tasting soiree was meeting Mary Quicke from Quickes Farm in Devon. Mary and her family make muslin wrapped cheddar, hard goats cheese, butter and all sorts of dairy goodies that regularly win awards, and are flippin' amazing. Mary was an oasis of calm in the party melee.
Here I am with Nigel Barden, he of Radio 2 foodie fame. Nigel and I are buddies from the glory days of GLR radio...we swapped cheesy stories of old times over a morsel of creamy, mild and crumbly Colston Bassett Stilton, winner of the 2008 Best English Cheese, and a glass of 30-yr old Oloroso. Life is good, eh?


I am a proud and recent convert to the delights of the oyster, and quite frankly the start of the native season has come not a moment too soon. I can't believe there was once a time when I didn't eat, I can't get enough! You either love 'em or hate 'em...and there are even some unlucky folk like my friend Allegra who are highly allergic to this enticing bivalve...what a pity!

Many think oysters can only be eaten in a month with an "r" in it (ie, never eat an oyster in warmer months) However this only applies to the native oyster, which spawns and reproduces in the late spring and summer. We all need a bit of R & R, even oysters. Rock oysters can be eaten year round; but believe me, the natives are worth waiting for. Nutty, sweet, salty and rich, they are the pearl of the oyster world! My tip: ALWAYS chew, never just swallow.

The start of the Native season was celebrated at Bentley's in London with lashings of Champagne (what else?!) and oysters from Maldon in many varieties- Rockefeller, deep fried with HP sauce (surprisingly tasty), sweet & hot Vietnamese style...and of course au nature, with just a squeeze of lemon. Delicious!

Filippo Salamone from Bentley’s and Sebastien Torres from Mon Plaisir faced each other in an oyster shucking competition, and Filippo came out on top in style and quantity. Lucky for us, we got to eat his winning oysters; his top tasting tip? A squizz of lemon and crackle of black pepper. Here I am presenting Filippo with his prize, a bottle of vintage Champagne, alongside Bentley's head chef Richard Corrigan

You can read more about my Galway adventures in oyster eating in the writing section of my website.

Tomorrow: reportage on cheese, so stay tuned!