Malcolm Jolley shares his new year’s scheme for life improvement.
The holidays in my house were extended. We started a little earlier with a family visit, we filled the week between Christmas and New Year’s with some entertaining, and we have more family visitors with us on the other side of the first week of January. So, matters of food and drink have lately been at the forefront of my affairs, even more so than usual. Here are three things I did this holiday seasons that I wish to do more of all year. I’ve made them my resolutions.
1. Buy More Wheels of Cheese
We hosted a dinner party in the week after Christmas. It required a cheese board. My new cheesemonger is my butcher, Olliffe, who have made space for dairy since the sad demise of their neighbouring store in Summerhill, All The Best. Their selection is not vast, but it’s highly curated and it includes artisanal cheeses from Europe, Quebec and Ontario. In the last category, unless they sell out, there is always at least one cheese from Ruth Klahsen’s Monforte in Stratford. I was peering through the glass of the cheese case trying to mentally assemble a cheese board selection on the afternoon before our dinner party when my wife came into the store. She spotted the 12″ or so diameter wheel of Chimey, a beer washed riff on Lombardy’s Telaggio, and said, “why don’t we just get that?” Brilliant idea. Our cheese course that evening was a 1kg wheel of soft, creamy, yeasty of Chimey that fit perfectly on a plate. There were nine of us at the table and we ate about half of it.
I have nothing against a cheese board, but the presentation of a lot of one kind of cheese is its own special pleasure. In The Food and Wine of France, Edward Behr explains that cheese was the mainstay, and the principal source of protein, of much of the French peasantry from the Middle Ages into the 20th Century. I don’t think they picked from a cheese trolley at breakfast, and there’s something anachronistically interesting about imagining a cheese being eaten as it might have once been. (Even if the cheese is a New World, 21st Century creation, based on an Italian cheese traced to at least the 1st Century AD. I also think it encourages one, and one’s guests, to keep going back to the plate for more. And, perhaps most importantly, it gives everyone the chance to really enjoy the cheese and explore its nuances and subtleties. It’s fun.
Finally, what’s fun is that it lasts: that half wheel is still going, although now it’s down to about 100 grams. It has appeared on the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day dinner cheese boards, as well as an accompaniment to Tuesday night turkey soup (see below). It’s fun to see how it stands up and/or eveolves from the first cut. (The Chimey is as vibrant as ever, with very little discolourization on the exposed flesh. There is a little more mould on the rind, but that’s lending it an interesting complexity.)
2. Buy More Cases of Wine
Just before the holidays, my wife and I had a weekend lunch with our kids at our local Terroni. This is not an altogether uncommon phenomenon, and if we think we deserve it (which, we mostly do), we’ll split a half litre of white wine from their by the glass menu to go with our pizzas. Sometimes my wife will precede me at the restaurant and call or text me ask me which wine to order. Terroni prides itself on offering lesser known wines made from esoteric grapes from all over Italy, so the by the glass menu is full wines not easily recognized. My reply is always the same, “It doesn’t matter because they’ll all be good.” It was in this spirit that I picked a very reasonably picked wine from the Colli Tortonesi. My first year Italian led me to believe the wine was from the “Hills of Torton”, but since I didn’t know where Torton was, I had to ask. It turns out the hills are right beside the more famous ones of Gavi, and the wine is also made from the Cortonese grape. This particular wine Bricco Bartolomeo 2015 tasted like a very good Gavi indeed, maybe with a little more fruity oomph than the ones I sometimes get from the LCBO. In any event the wine was good; good enough for me to look it up at Cavinona.
Cavinona is the importing wine agency that sells wine to Terroni (full disclosure: both companies are Good Food Fighters). They also sell to the public, i.e. Terroni customers who like a wine they taste at one of the restaurants so much, they’d like to buy a case. This connection could be replicated at any restaurant that buys wine directly from an importing agency, is promoted by the two companies. So, as soon as we got home I went straight to Cavinona.com, looked-up the wine, liked the price and ordered myself a case. It arrived at my door on Monday.
While the story above is about as seamless as buying wine by the case can be in our regulatory environment, I actually bought a number of cases of wine this year, all from Good Food Fighter agents or Ontario wineries. I am privileged through my job to taste wine all the time, so I get tipped off. But tasting at restaurants is not a bad way to try and find great wines. Even if what your drinking is no longer available, if you contact the agent she or he might have something similar at a comparable price point. It’s worth checking out. This year I will try and identify more by the case bargains, like the Bricco Bartholomeo, and recommend them. Buying a case of wine, even if it’s not to put down, is an extended kind of fun, like buying a wheel of cheese, and an opportunity to get to know a wine all the better.
3. Eat More Soup
Why are soups so good? In the Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin writes, “It is osmazome which gives all their value to good soups…” Osmazone being a kind of umami like trait to liquids rendered from meat. This presaged the more recent fad for “bone broth” and its attendant health claims by nearly 200 years. That fad struck many of us who have been making stock for most of are adults lives as the epitome of bone-headed. Of course, soups are good for you, everyone knows that. So, the real question is why don’t we (me) make them more often?
Or at least that’s what I thought when I had our Christmas 2016 Turkey soup the other day. I had likely put out of mind the struggle that ensue while I tried to stuff the frozen carcass of a 25 pound turkey into my regular sized stock pot. I won, but it wasn’t pretty. At any rate the broth became a simple, nourishing and delicious soup of turkey, kale, shallot and celery. It was dinner, and it’s been lunch. More of it rests in the freezer.
From October to May, in our climate, a warming soup must surely be the best meal. It’s filling but never overly so. It has the right vegetable to meat balance (if it’s that kind of soup: the osmazome kind). So, I resolve to have more soups, at home and out. Watch this space! And happy new year!