Tag Archives: cheese

Jersey reflections

I’ve only been to Jersey once before. That was more than 50 years ago, when Dad was close to accepting a job  on this charming Channel Island. Our lives could all have been so different….

This was definitely Gill’s first visit to Jersey, so close to Gatwick airport that we had barely buckled up our seat belts before we were on our way down again.

We were here for a 4-night Secret Escapes break, at a bargain price but packed full with luxury. Here are just a few reflections of a fun and interesting few days.

Coastlines:

Wide sandy beaches seem to encircle the island, with the exception of the more rugged north coast. A nice contrast, although one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world can catch you out, wherever you are on the island. We’re talking close to 40 feet….be warned!

Food:

This turned out to be a real foodie trip. We were staying at Longueville Manor, Jersey’s premier hotel and also top-rated restaurant, thanks largely to long-serving and renowned chef Andrew Baird.

The Secret Escapes deal included two dinners at the hotel, one table d’hôte, the other à la carte. Both were outstanding, as were the gargantuan but well-balanced breakfasts on all four mornings. Stand-out dishes? Gill’s seafood platter, fresh seafood swimming off the vast plate into her lap. And a beef dish I had, the meat meltingly soft and served with an unctuous sauce that should probably be illegal.

We never made it as far as the cheese course, served on a trolley designed by master carpenter Remi Couriard from 180 year-old French oak, and groaning with dozens of pungent cheeses in various stages of evolution.

Walks:

There’s no better way to explore this compact island than on foot.

On our first full day, we set off from the hotel on a bright November morning, heading south towards the beach of St Clement, just east of St Helier. The extreme tide had well and truly ebbed, peeling back an interesting beachscape of hard-ridged sand, lunar-looking rocks and brightly coloured buoys, fastened by rusting metal rings and waiting patiently for the water to return.

10 miles and several hours later, we had explored the south-east corner of the island, past Le Hocq to Grouville, before heading north to the sheltered harbour of Gorey, watched over by historic and protective Mont Orgueil Castle.

The following day we enjoyed a shorter, and very different, walk. The central north coast is more rugged and quieter than the south, and the coastal path zig-zags high above the sea. We followed it as far as Devil’s Hole – a blow-hole eroded into the rocks and steeped in island myth after the shipwreck of a French boat in 1851 – before heading inland, through quiet villages and farmland, home of Jersey cows and Royal spuds.

Jersey Zoo:

We were reluctant to visit Jersey Zoo, despite encouragement from friends and positive reviews from everyone online. Wild animals aren’t meant to be caged, are they?

But we’re very glad we went, because this is much more a conservation project than a traditional zoo, inspired by the legendary Gerald Durrell more than 50 years ago.

It focuses on endangered species from around the world – go to the Education Centre to enjoy some excellent films about certain species and projects, understand the challenges involved and then see some of these well-fed and much-loved animals in environments that are as natural as possible in the circumstances.

Overall impressions:

  • the island has a gentle – and genteel – feel about it, with an overall sense of affluence and insulation. It exudes an aura of peace, and relative lack of stress
  • someone told us the population of Jersey has increased by 50% – from 70,000 to 105,000 – in the last 20 years or so. Away from St Helier and the more developed south, the island still seemed quiet and empty to us, but hopefully that rate of population growth doesn’t damage Jersey’s intrinsic charm and equilibrium
  • we couldn’t fail to notice the significant proportion of foreign voices in and around St Helier, with a strong presence of Portuguese and Poles working in the hospitality industry. Where does that leave young Jersey natives, when agriculture is under pressure and if they’re not excited by financial services, I wonder….

Thanks, Secret Escapes and Longueville Manor for a very enjoyable – and great value – trip to Jersey. I have a feeling we’ll be back before another 50 years have passed….

Partnerships – beer & cheese

I wrote a while ago about the satisfying culinary union of a ripe avocado and a few slices of salty bacon, shoved between a couple of slices of soft wholemeal bread and smeared with spicy brown sauce.

Hungry?

Like cheese? Its usual bedfellows are crackers, grapes and a decent glass of plonk, right?

Well, thanks to good friends Barry & Alex we tried out the slightly off-beat marriage between beer and cheese last Friday, in a cracking collaboration between The Hungry Guest in Petworth and the Arundel Brewery.

(image courtesy of The Hungry Guest website)

Arundel Brewery

(image courtesy of the Arundel Brewery website)

We were served 5 separate combinations of beer and cheese, with some very informative tasting notes on each pairing, and these general characteristics.

  • cut – the bitterness of hops and the carbonation in some beers will “cut through” the richer flavours and textures of cheese
  • complement – two similarly toned pairings merge together, for example poached chicken with a delicate beer, or chargrilled meat with a similarly robust ale
  • contrast – food paired with beer, whose taste notes have an opposing nature – a tart fruit beer with a rich chocolate pudding, for example

So which liaisons worked best?

My own favourite was the Smokehouse Porter (6% ABV) guzzled alongside a complementary Gruyere de Jura. Strong flavours all round – “a wonderfully rich smooth beer with subtle smokey overtones. Our friends at Besmoke (based opposite the brewery) smoked our malt over Sussex Apple Wood using their PureSmoke technology”. The smokiness of the ale definitely worked with the nuttiness of the gruyere. YUM!

Image result for arundel brewery smokehouse porter

Sounds a bit poncey? It could have been, but the whole evening was informative in a quietly understated way. No quaffing and chortling here, just some hard-working people who are clearly passionate about good, local ingredients.

Another successful combo was Big Love and Stichelton Blue Cheese. In this contrasting affair (well, they do say opposites attract) the 5.0% ABV beer, with 40 kg of fresh raspberries in the 1,800 litre brew), conjured up “a slightly tart aftertaste to the fruity ale”, and which offset the creamy full-on flavour of the exceptional blue cheese.

Image result for stichelton blue cheese from the hungry guest

Cheese & wine parties are so 1970s, darling. I’m off to Arundel to shove a load of the brewery’s interesting beers into the boot, and swinging by the temperature-controlled cheese room at The Hungry Guest in Petworth on the way back, to provide a very contemporary and artisanal beer & cheese party.

Now, shall I invite some contrasting friends…or some cutting ones?

 

Paris – 5 things to do off the well-trodden tourist track

Below is an article I’ve just written on Hidden Paris for Silver Travel Advisor,  a travel website for people of a certain age…..

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What do you think of when someone mentions Paris? The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge….and 50 other sights, or museums, or galleries or bistros that everyone has on their must-do list?

But scratch the Gallic surface and you can really get to know the city, and feel that you’re seeing it more as a shoulder-shrugging local than as a Nikon-toting tourist.

Here are 5 ideas for you from a recent trip I made to this glorious city, with a few more to follow in a separate article. Some I stumbled upon myself and some I was led to by a book along the same lines (Quiet Paris by Siobhan Wall). I explored them all, in the interests of helping other Silver Travellers get off the well-beaten Parisian track:

1. Cinema La Pagode – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

http://www.etoile-cinemas.com/pagode/salles/

What would you do to impress the woman you love?

Take her to dinner at the hottest place in town? Whisk her away to a château in the Loire for the weekend? Paint those shelves she’s been nagging you about for 18 months?

How about building a completely authentic Japanese theatre for her in the heart of Paris, with an ornate pagoda and a romantic garden?

Photo Jardin 2

Thought not.

But that’s exactly what Monsieur Morin, a well-to-do Director of nearby posh store du Bon Marché, decided to do in the 1890s. He commissioned architect Alexandre Marcel to use the finest materials from the fashionable Orient (China & Japan, rather than Leyton) to create a little piece of surprising magic in the 7th arrondissement.

La Pagode is now a beautifully restored independent cinema, showing interesting films either in the main salle Japonaise (212 seats) or in the smaller salle 2 (180 seats).

Look for the VO sign (Version Originale) to see films in their original language, with French subtitles.

Enjoy the romance and history of this quiet place, take tea or champagne in the bamboo-forested garden before the movie….and forget that Mme Morin left her generous husband in the year of the Pagode’s inauguration.

2. Coutume – rue Babylone, 7th arrondissement

https://www.facebook.com/Coutume

CoutumeRightly or wrongly, I’ve always had the impression that the French are resistant to change. Some of their cafés and bistros, for example, cling proudly to their 19th century origins, or refuse to dust the chair Ernest Hemingway sat in for 15 minutes in 1926.

So imagine my surprise at finding somewhere in Paris that has embraced 21st coffee culture, where you can find an espresso micro-lot or an extraction à froid as lovingly prepared and à la mode as anything now on offer in the global caffeine hot-spots of Melbourne or London.

Coutume is on rue Babylone, a quiet backstreet in the 7th arrondissement. Along with your caffeine fix, you can grab an excellent breakfast or brunch….but it’s the coffee most people are here for.

It’s a very cool, understated place that immediately – though sadly only temporarily – makes you feel 20 years younger. Shabby chic décor, plain white tiles that wouldn’t look out of place in the loo, and hip music playing quietly in the background all combine in perfect harmony with your espresso from Brazilian and Burundi blended beans.

Head to the communal table and Slow Bar at the back of the café to hang out with the real coffee cognoscenti, sipping an aero-press as you swipe your tablet screen or argue about French politics.

3. L’Affineur’ Affiné – rue Notre Dame de Lorette, 9th arrondissement

You’re not going to Paris to enjoy a low-calorie, cholesterol-free, clean-living few days, are you?

Cheese, wine and bloody red meat are as de rigueur in Paris as a hamburger in NYC. Or as a lettuce leaf on a Champney’s detox break.

Sober vegetarians, tear up those Eurostar tickets now!

Take some time out to worship at the altar of cheese at L’Affineur’ Affiné on rue Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th arrondissement, just south of Montmartre.

With over 120 fromages available, the charming young owners Morgane and Matthieu will help you decide what to buy from the shop for your picnic, or to take back on the train if you fancy an empty carriage.

But for a really good experience book a table and linger in the small restaurant for brunch or lunch. From a limited but interesting menu, I went for the 5-cheese platter. They serve up what they think is “thriving” that day, together with a matched wine, like a sommelier recommending a Monbazillac with the foie gras.

 

I enjoyed decent sized servings of Sainte-Maure (goat’s cheese from Touraine); Tartufo (truffle-infused Italian from combination of cow and sheep); Napoleon (sheep’s cheese from the Pyrenees); Munster (creamy cow’s cheese from Alsace); and Roquefort (classic creamy southern French blue from sheep milk). All with excellent, unlimited artisan breads and a fruity jam. And a green salad to delay hardening the arteries for a few hours….

Eat in the recommended sequence. Drink a glass or two of matched wine. Die happy.

4. Shakespeare & Company – rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement

Love books? Hunt down Shakespeare & Company, a place with so much literary history you can hear Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller whispering in your ear…

Now located on the city’s left bank, just opposite Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are two separate entrances.

On the left is the antiquarian book store, with musty first editions and a space so so small they ask you to respect the 5-person limit.

Next door is the main shop, crammed to the ancient rafters with English-language books and well worth a couple of hours of your Parisian time.

The current premises were opened in 1951 by American Francophile George Whitman, on the site of an early 17th century monastery. I think some of the original floor tiles may still be there…

This reincarnation was founded to carry on the legacy of the legendary Sylvia Beach, another American who set up the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919, in nearby rue l’Odéon. Here the most famous writers, artists, poets and flâneurs of the day would gather, and it was only the occupation by the Germans in 1941 that extinguished the place’s literary spirit.

Today, Sylvia Whitman carries on the legacy of both her father and Sylvia Beach, preserving a very special oasis for book-lovers amongst more notable and well-trodden Paris landmarks.

Don’t leave without buying a book. They’ll affix a special stamp, insert a poem and a little piece of history from the many writers and travellers who have spent time at Shakespeare & Company for almost the last 100 years.

5. Hidden Paris Walking Tours – www.hiddenparis.fr

I’m sure all adventurous Silver Travellers enjoy exploring a city, wandering aimlessly from museum to museum, café to café, via labyrinthine streets and alleyways in which you’ll inevitably get lost.

But sometimes it’s also good to have a little local expertise to help you find your way around an area, and to dig deeper into the local history, culture, nooks and crannies.

Hidden Paris Walking Tours provide such insight, three Parisiennes leading walks around Montmartre, Saint-Germain-des -Prés, the Latin Quarter, Belleville and the Marais.

I went on the Saint-Germain tour with Eglantine. She led me and just two other inquisitive travellers through hidden alleyways, into exquisite chocolate shops and past the house where Monsieur Guillotin lived, practising his new invention out on sheep in the cobbled street outside. She showed us the cafés and bistros where intellectuals and artists have hung out for over a century. She led us into the covered market to chat with stallholders. And she took us to an underground car park, down several levels on a dingy staircase, so that we could see some of the original city wall from the 12th century.

90 minutes for just €20, and a discretionary tip. Good value for real local knowledge…especially if you can persuade her to give you the digital key that opens the door to all their own favourite secret places in Paris.