RECKON the French lead the world when it comes to cheese and wine? Think again.
A British-made Brie called Baron Bigot has been voted best in the UK, with critics shocked it was not from France.
Meanwhile Cotswolds-based vineyard Woodchester Valley’s Sauvignon Blanc was awarded best in the world in a blind taste test.
Cheesemaker and food lover Alex James tried them both – as well as other leading British food and drink brands that have taken inspiration from trips overseas.
And his conclusion?
We Brits do it best.
Woodchester Valley Sauvignon Blanc, £21.95
THIS Gloucestershire wine scooped a top gong last week at the Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters Awards and has been making headlines ever since – so much so it’s become quite difficult to get hold of and is selling out everywhere.
There’s now even a waiting list on Woodchester Valley’s website. Pale gold, like January sunlight, it has got a lot to say for itself – you can smell it at arm’s length!
I spent ages sniffing away at its gooseberry fanfare but that still didn’t prepare me for the taste – a big swash of lemony sharpness, with just a hint of sweetness.
This would sit nicely on a tasting menu at any restaurant but would perhaps be best enjoyed with fresh fish and chips on the beach.
Cobble Lane Cured charcuterie, £35 for signature selection box
UNTIL recently cured pork charcuterie was hard to come by around here, while everyone was tucking into the stuff across the Channel in France, Spain and Italy.
We don’t have the climate that continental Europe enjoys to dry cure meats, but with curing cabinets and climate-controlled fermenting fridges becoming cheaper and less tricky to get hold of in recent years, it’s easier for small businesses to get going.
I’ve yet to find a dry cured ham as good as a Spanish Iberico but Cobble Lane’s Bresaola is up there with any I’ve tasted.
And the London-based company’s salamis and chorizos would hold their own with any of their continental counterparts.
The Yorkshire Pasta Company, £17.96 for five bags
HOT, buttered pasta is one of the all-time great comfort foods – and a staple of my kitchen since the kids were in nappies. I still cook pasta at least once a week, even now they are teenagers.
I’ve always stuck to the Italian brands and never really shopped around, as there’s no doubt they deliver great taste at a really good price,
However, I have to say this treat from The Yorkshire Pasta Company blew my mind – I think it’s the texture that gives it the edge.
Made using flour milled in Yorkshire – and very little else other than water – it is a triumph of simplicity. Douze Points!
Harrow And Hope sparkling wine, £32
DESPITE the name, it’s thought that champagne may have been invented in Britain before it was ever made in France.
We had better glass that could withstand the pressure of the gas produced by the secondary fermentation in the bottle that gives sparkling wine its fizz – and the chalky, rock outcrops, where champagne vines are traditionally grown, also pop up across the south coast of England.
There are now many little vineyards producing excellent sparkling English wine, but Harrow And Hope is my favourite – I actually went there just before Christmas to stock up.
And English sparkling wine has finally been performing very well at competitions in recent years – with Camel Valley ‘Cornwall’ becoming an all-conquering rosé.
Thorntons selection box, £7
BELGIUM and Switzerland, step aside. We Brits can do chocolate as good as those guys, if not better.
And you don’t even need to spend much to find delicious chocolate in the UK – including classic Cadbury staples such as Dairy Milk.
While many High Street brands have been struggling since the pandemic, there seem to be more and more shops devoted to chocolate, such as Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat, continuing to pop up. We’re definitely a nation of choc lovers.
Dalston’s Cherry Sparkling Water, £4.30 for four
THESE cherry sodas from Dalston’s came highly recommended as an alternative to Coca-Cola.
Coke isn’t just one of the world’s biggest drinks brands, it’s one of the biggest brands of any type – yet Irn Bru has outsold the US market leader in Scotland for more than a century.
I love the odd can of fizzy pop. It’s a fantastic pick-me-up that’s always there in case of emergency – I probably have about one can a fortnight – but of all the things I tried here, this was the least impressive.
Dalston’s seems to be proud they haven’t added sugar – but surely that’s what you want from a sugary drink?
Daylesford Organic vegetable box, £15
BACK in the Nineties, a friend who had a house on France’s north coast used to boast: “It’s only 21 miles across the Channel but everything tastes completely different here – even the vegetables.”
And it’s true.
French tomatoes were grown for taste and British ones were grown for value. Food is the first place people look to save money but it’s one area of expenditure where spending a bit more can make a big difference.
Daylesford Organic, the world’s best farmers, run Britain’s best farm shops and are currently celebrating 20 years in the business.
Their market gardener, Jez, delivers the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Even in bleak January he’s knocking out wonderful cavolo nero and other snazzy greens.
Baron Bigod Brie, 250g, £9.50
FORMER French President Charles de Gaulle famously quipped: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?”
Well, the last time I went to the British Cheese Awards, there were over 1,000 different kinds being made here.
Cheese has been at the forefront of the great British food revolution and it’s getting better all the time. I was on the judging panel when Cornish Blue was voted the World’s Best Cheese a few years back.
Meanwhile, Baron Bigod, a British take on classic French Brie, is winning much acclaim – and I’ve heard Alex James’ Blue Monday, a British take on Gorgonzola piccante, is pretty good too!
Yeast Bakery Croissants, £2.95 for take out, £3.55 to eat in
I WENT on a beginners’ baking course with a master baker a couple of years back and someone asked: “Will we be making croissants today?”
The master baker said: “No, but if you do today’s course, and then do the intermediate one and the advanced one, then you will learn how to make croissants on the one after that. Maybe . . .”
Many of the delicious things I tasted here are simple things done well, but croissants are clearly complicated – perhaps that is one of the reasons they never taste quite the same here as over the Channel. Until now.
These croissants from family-run Yeast Bakery in London’s Bethnal Green are as good as any I’ve tasted. Just wow!