“It was once in our DNA to know and understand where our food and drink came from. Can we claw it back again?”
“Can you see the food in our view, John?” asked a charismatic Spanish hotel owner as we stood on his terrace looking at the Picos de Europa National Park and on to the Atlantic Ocean.
A little contrived, possibly, but well-meant and backed up with genuine knowledge of his terroir. He therefore got away with it.
July saw me considering two contrasting gastro-views. And I do mean actual mountains, hills and green stuff, not opinions. One was on a sunny day in Gloucestershire, at the launch of Happerley England.
Here, Happerley’s Matthew Rymer told us why he is on a mission to get food producers embracing traceability and the provenance of every ingredient listed on their labels.
The high-profile launch (see page 11) included a panel discussion where I was the least famous or sensible: Adam Henson (farmer turned Sunday night TV fixture), Phil Vickery (the rugby one) and senior dudes from the Co-op and Clydesdale Bank.
Then, at the end of the month, Tortie and I were whisked to Oviedo in Spain, where that ‘seeing the food in the view’ thing was actually real.
We were taken into the caves in those mountains at Cabrales (a Roquefort-bashing blue cheese), the hotel was harvesting everything from the land and the sea in that view, and we took part in a tutored cheese-tasting given by a 23-year-old lady freshly qualified from the Slow Food university. She was unfazed by the Asturian dignitaries and eminent cheesemakers that were in the 30-strong delegation.
Was it the heady mixture of the excellent local ciders at that tasting (where there is amazing cheese there is normally quality cider), the number of protected-name cheeses in this region when we have so few, or the fact that I was pretty travel weary? I’m not sure. But suddenly I was in a grump.
Awareness of local food is instinctive in much of Europe. Maybe we’re getting it back, but I resented the need for folk like Matthew Rymer to go on a worthy campaign to expose cases of style over substance.
It was once in our DNA to know and understand where our food and drink came from, whether it was safe to eat and whether it tasted great.
Can we claw it back again and see the food in our own view?