On cheese tasting and Covid-19

A little over a week ago, I had cause to head into London for work. As may be imagined, this does not happen regularly nowadays. However, The Guild of Fine Food had a lot of Asturian cheeses to share from a rainy part of Spain, and so off I went. How does one turn down such nice cheese and kind invitations?

It was a masterclass in cheese tasting during pandemic times – separate plates brought out, we selected attendees sitting at tables of two, temperature taken and all thoroughly hand gelled. It felt quite safe, which is all you can do right now in this country, where the government has decided to open up everything as of 19 July, despite rising infection rates.

It was lovely to see people in person and not on Zoom, as John Farrand pointed out at the tasting. Mary Quicke and Catherine Mead, in real life. It was almost too much to take in. My personal favourite was the Perazola, a sheep’s milk blue cheese that collected a slew of awards. Although you can’t turn down the elusive Cornish Kern, which is often sought but not often tasted. It is worth tracking down.

It was odd, because I sat there with my tablemate from Brindisa and chatted, and thought, just for an hour or two, of a life before coronavirus. It felt almost normal.

One day before, I met up with our esteemed board member Jenny Deeprose in Borough Market, which is just outside London Bridge. She was in town for another tasting, this one cider. It had been cancelled because one of the staff had tested positive, so she wandered around drinking coffee and enjoying the scenery until I met her for lunch. I got into town and thought, ah.

So many young people were around, wandering the market in advance of the semi-final being played at Wembley that night. I’m not sure what your feeling are on the subject, but this pandemic has made me very wary of crowds.

However, inside the restaurant, there was nobody there except us. It was just opening up, we took our seats, ordered food and enjoyed some industry gossip – along with a pretty fine charcuterie plate, at Bedales of Borough Market. I was just contemplating what type of coffee to have when the apologetic waiter came over and told us to not rush, but they were closing because one of the kitchen staff tested positive. Didn’t come into contact with any customers, but they closed as a precaution. Ah.

We got more bread, finished our food and drinks, and then they presented us with a reduced bill and a voucher for a free glass of wine when we return. They were apologetic, as if it was their fault there was a virus raging throughout the world.

We left and went to Neal’s Yard to buy cheese. I half expected someone to say, we are closing because someone tested positive, but instead they sold us some lovely cheeses.

Overall, I did feel a bit chased around by the coronavirus, but currently that’s how we live right now.

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