London is a city that sometimes only grudgingly reveals its secrets.
One minute you’re strolling through thronging commuter traffic along an unassuming street near Borough Market, the next you’re deep into the tranquillity of history and a world you never would have discovered without a fortunate invitation.
So it is that Local Food Britain finds ourselves passing the stately court room of The Worshipful Company of Vintners, one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London, with a glass of the finest English sparkling wine from Greyfriars Vineyard in our hand.
The eminent cheese and wine aficionado and flavour fanatic, Francis Gimblett, who you may remember for his recent 100 cheesemakers in 100 days adventures, is presiding at the 17th century Vintners’ Hall and has invited us to a showcase of his latest Taste of the Vine food and drink experience.
If the invite is to be believed, we’re going to be trying our hand at cheese making while tasting the Greyfriars wine range and enjoying top class nibbles by the catering team from Searcys. A dab hand at both eating and drinking, Local Food Britain admits to being a little concerned about our ability to balance a flute glass and a cheese mould while consuming canapés. But hey, we’re game to give it a go and it’s all in the name of research after all.
Cheese and wine
An evening of bonhomie ensues with light-hearted networking and curd creation, as 10 tables of cheese making novices do their level best not to redecorate the walls of the Livery Hall while sampling the award-winning wines from the Surrey vineyard, Greyfriars.
As the room we’ve been trusted with dates back to 1671, it’s fair to say there are a few apprehensive glances at first but the mood quickly lightens as we get to grips with rennet and milk and flocculation (the chemical process which helps ingredients become cheese).
All the while Francis is a whirling dervish of wit and wisdom, regaling the audience with the tricks of the trade and that time he almost decapitated the Company’s chairman while performing a particularly impressive sabrage bottle opening.
Greyfriars’ owner Mike Wagstaff is on hand too to briefly share the story of his family’s vineyard, as well as the news that they’ve just picked up the International Wine Challenge’s English Sparkling Rose Trophy for their Sparkling Rose Reserve 2014.
Future cheese makers?
After a little huffing and puffing and occasional swearing (plus a lot of help from the infinitely patient other half of Gimblett Cheese, Pam), team Local Food Britain eventually stands back in satisfied silence to admire the two small roundels we’ve produced.
Who knows, with a little practice (okay, a lot!), we may yet add our own efforts to the British cheese board one day. It’s a start, and we’ve had far too much fun doing it.
With his easy charm, Francis’ passion for what he loves shines through everything he discusses; whether that’s British cheese, English sparkling wine, the world’s best vintage vino or a humble pint of real ale.
As you might expect from someone who has travelled the nation, wild camping in a tent on top of his Land Rover, just to develop his theories on British cheese making, Francis is someone who explores his subjects with forensic detail and his knowledge can seem encyclopedic on many food and drink topics.
There’s no stuffy one upmanship here though, his focus with Taste of the Vine is always on fun, enjoyment, pleasure and flavour, and the event’s informative delivery is always packed full of enthusiasm and good humour. The way good food and drink should always be, we’d say.