Some years ago, The Society held a tasting of Italian wines in the Coal Exchange in Cardiff, a magnificent brick edifice with a central trading pit, which seemed darker, deeper, and more dangerous with every measure poured. We visit Cardiff on more level playing fields nowadays, but I fondly remember the Coal Exchange, for it was here that Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, first introduced to Society members his vision of a world in which people took the time not only to eat properly, but also to reintroduce slower-growing, better-tasting seeds and breeds to the food chain. This movement is now hugely influential, with its own university, and more than 30 regional chapters, or convivia, in the UK alone.
Funnily enough, its rise coincides with that of ‘new’ fast food, a televisual bandwagon on which every chef worth a royalty has jumped with alacrity. The two phenomena are, of course, complementary. A really good steak, which requires little more than a brief encounter with a heat source, has probably been hung for at least three weeks, after several months’ ruminating contentedly on prime, rolling pasture. It is fast only at the point of consumption, and only for those who can afford it.
According to another new breed of TV foodie - the chef-hunter-gatherer - the answer is to catch our own dinner. These intrepid naturistas head for the hills, armed not only with offensive weapons and two boy scouts to rub together, but with balsamic vinegar and polenta, and the phone number of a smiling laird with a handy kitchen garden. But only those with the patience to fish, the skill to shoot, the expertise to tell chanterelles from killer toadstools and a good line in baron-strangling have access to fast, cheap food which is worth eating. If the viewing public really believes that three restaurant-grade meals a day can be rustled up free of charge on a camping holiday in the Trossachs, it deserves what it gets, from chipped teeth to food poisoning.
I’m with Carlo. Good food needs substantial investment, of time if not money. Buy, beg or borrow a slow cooker. Rediscover oxtail. Ask the butcher for a bit of skirt and see what happens. In the space of half a century, this country has gone from queuing for rations to wanting it now, and cheap with it. Discounting a handful of heroic ingredients like mackerel, which few people like, the reality is that it just can’t be done!
Thank goodness for wine. You can’t catch, shoot or pick it wild, and you no longer need to own a château to drink it. In fact, you can open one of ours for as little as £4.25. It can be with you in seven to 10 days, or for a small charge, by the following day. That’s almost as speedy as the Beaujolais Nouveau run, the trade’s answer to Fast Wine. And look what happened to that.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor