Traipsing through Waterloo on Saturday I found myself in a very lucky situation: not only was I early to meet a friend and therefore had time to kill, but I had also stumbled upon a cheese and wine festival tucked behind the Royal Festival Hall.
This weekend-long food festival was made up of around 40 market stalls of some of the very best retailers, producers and marketers of cheese and wine at the moment. This included a stall from one of my favourite cheese shops, La Fromagerie, which is situated on Marylebone high street and is the brain child of the queen of all things cheese: the wonderful Patricia Michelson and her husband Danny. Included in their display of dairy pleasures were some of the finest cheeses sourced directly from producers based around the UK and abroad as well as cheesy gems made by my childhood crush Alex James of Blur, now a celebrity artisan cheese producer.
As the sky turned grey and threatened to rain, for this the unseasonably cold lunchtime I felt justified and inclined to treat myself to one of life’s most simplest and enjoyable treats: a cheese toastie.
After practically living on the oozy grilled sandwiches during my time at university, I felt like I had grown out of the humble cheese toastie on gradating. How wrong I was. This cheese toastie, from the La Fromagerie stand, was a sexed-up, poshed-up grown-up cousin of the soggy grease laden stodge-fests I used to create.
The rye bread had been rubbed with fragrant white wine, the inside laced with wholegrain mustard, and the cheese was a mixture of woody alpine French cheeses. It tasted phenomenal – how is it possible that such as simple thing can taste so good?!
As I ate, I wondered around the stalls and tried tit-bits of the other produce on offer which included sumptuous chutneys and pickles, bespoke luxury smoked cheeses, Comté, Stilton and Caerphilly to name a few, all washed down with specialist purveyors of boutique wines from both the UK and around the world.
The festival is part of a series of food festivals which also includes the Real Bread Festival, the Chocolate Festival (which has also been hosted in Bristol, Brighton and Oxford), and the Tea and Coffee Festival. While these have all now finished for the time being, I have been assured that more will take place and to keep an eye on the respective websites for more information. Hopefully the next series of festivals will also make it further North.
In the meantime, I plan to dig out my old toastie maker from my parents house, brush off the cobwebs and revive the ultimate in fast-food cooking – the cheese toastie.