Cheese and wine festival

by Dave Allan-Petale

Autumn is burning the leaves deep shades of red and brown here in London and the temperature is tumbling down to the winter freeze. The temptation is to drag an extra duvet onto the bed, crank the heating and hibernate for the next five months; eating nothing but baked potatoes, soup and nuclear level curries.

The wall in our garden- a beautiful reminder that winter is coming, like it or not.

But why should the good times stop when winter’s icy chill descends? We’re lucky to live close to the River Thames and within walking distance of the Southbank Centre, a hub of culture by the water as there’s always something going on. This time it was the Autumn Cheese and Wine Festival, a great excuse to throw on a few layers and get out of the house.

Munching on cheese and sipping wine – I can’t think of anything much better

There were over fifty stalls selling wine of every variety, cheese of every aroma and many food options to satisfy even the most finicky eater. We started cheap with a few glasses of Uruguayan wine – Pinot Noir for me and a Sauvignon Blanc for Carmen. We used these tipples to complement the nibbles of cheese we tried at a few different stalls – delicious.

Say fromage!

Our favourite was a post selling giant wheels of Comté, a hard French cheese also known as Gruyere. It’s nearly fifty percent fat, so you know it’s good! We bought a hunk to eat at home later and then moved on down the outpost run by Auswine Online, a company that imports the good stuff from down under. Being proud West Australians, we ordered a glass of Shiraz-Viognier from the Denmark region and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, where we had our honeymoon. Prices per glass were a bit steep at £6 but well worth it.

We paired these with cake, as you do, from a stall selling gluten free baked treats. I had a slice of parsnip and carrot cake smeared with salted caramel while Carmen went for a beetroot and chocolate brownie. At least we had some vegetables!

Carmen chowing down on a beetroot and chocolate brownie

The festival was buzzing with people trying new things, laughing at the hideous taste of a mouldy cheese before being blown away by the awesomeness of another. I sampled my favourite thing, chutney, and with Carmen’s help chose three of the best from an unusual collection of the stuff being promoted by a father and son team.

So many chutneys to choose from – we tasted them all

Still feeling a bit peckish we steered through the crowds to get to a stall selling racoulette, a sinfully indulgent mix of potatoes, salami, gherkins and melted cheese. Carmen told me that when she was living in France she used to eat it after a long day of skiing. Her and her French family would sit around a table and all melt their own cheese, which they’d pour over their bread and cold meats. At the festival, we paired our racoulette dish with a couple of glasses of French wine. I had a bold red Côtes du Rhône while Carmen chose a peppery Pinot.

They cut a wheel of cheese in half and mounted it under a gas burner so the top melted, then scraped the gooey stuff onto a plate of potatoes, gherkins and salami. 7 deadly sins all at once.

By the time we ploughed through the racoulette it was getting late so we decided to walk home in a futile attempt at burning off all the calories we’d just injected. As we strolled along, the sun set over the Houses of Parliament, and we watched Big Ben toll half past six with a belly full of wine and cheese I thought maybe winter wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The Clock Tower – widely known as Big Ben – is going to be renamed Elizabeth Tower to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

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