LIF19 – Who Let The Pigs Out?
Another amazing Leeds Indie Food Festival event and another horizon broadened.
Being a gentleman(?) of advancing years, my notion of beer pairing has always been a pint of Old and Filthy with steak and kidney pudding at the local, but last night I was introduced to the more sophisticated combinations of bottled beers with charcuterie and cheese. Where better to enjoy these delights than Friends of Ham – and who better to walk us through the process than Bridget, the Events and Publicity manager.
The first thing on the agenda was to admit a mistake in that, once they had done all of the publicity and social media, some wag said that they should have called it Who Let the Hogs Out – there’s always one. Very amusing, but perhaps they did well with the chosen title as it’s really difficult to make even the most innocuous of jokes nowadays without someone taking umbrage. I am sure that they would have had a bunch of twitter abuse for being gender specific and not caring about the plight of swine which didn’t identify one way or the other. What boars! Pig puns over, it was time to get crackling (oops!) with the food and drink.
Harry was the man to explain the niceties of the beverages on offer, while Sophie and Sam worked their magic in the open kitchen and went through the dishes and ingredients with us. I was seated at the bar, so could witness the care and pride involved in turning the basics of ham and cheese into such amazing combinations. Whilst not a witness to Harry’s preparation, I had to feel sorry for his needing to taste just about every beer in the place in order to come up with the perfect match. A tough job but someone has to do it. I should talk!
It was refreshing to see that the descriptions on the menu didn’t run to a couple of paragraphs for each dish, but were kept to a minimum. The suppliers were also credited, which was a lovely touch. Friends of Ham have gone to a lot of trouble in both sourcing the ingredients and training their staff on their provenance. Sophie, who was in charge of explaining the food to those of us at the bar, had been to several of the suppliers and knew everything there was to know about the various hams and cheeses and the processes used for their production. I am sure that Sam was equally informative to those seated at the tables.
The first delight was Goat’s Cheese, Peach and Sage from Harvey & Brockless, whose dairy in Worcestershire produces some of the best goat’s cheese in the country. The one we were given was a young, lactose-heavy example but which had just started to develop a slightly tart taste. Combining it with toasted peaches added the sweetness which the cheese demanded and the sage, along with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a grind of black pepper, gave the depth.
The beer was Straffe Hendrick 2016, a Belgian Wild Tripel Bier brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast thankfully referred to normally as Brett, which has the power to interact with not just the sugar in the beer but also the barley and hops. The name tripel comes from its being brewed with up to three times the malt which you would find in normal Trappist beers. They are also bottle conditioned, meaning that they carry on maturing even after being packaged. The one we were served had been in the attic of the restaurant for three years and so was every bit as strong as the 9% claimed. I am not normally a lover of over-strong beers but that’s because I usually drink in pints or halves. This, however, was served like wine and was perfect with the food. When having a meal with a beer accompaniment I also tend to eat and drink separately, but tonight I thought that I would treat the beer as I would if it was wine and sip along with the food. A revelation.
Next course, something that a mere mortal like myself would not think of doing in a million years – Lardo, Asparagus and Walnut Pesto. The asparagus, deep green and fresh as could be, had been wrapped in a wafer-thin slice of fat from the back of the pig and grilled. The fat renders and cooks the vegetable to perfection, whilst adding flavour which only the fat of a beast can. The pork was from the Ham & Cheese Company in Bermondsey, whose owners fly to Italy every other month to source their produce and to keep up with their suppliers, who are all participants in the slow food movement. The dish was dressed in walnut pesto, as were the small chunks of Old Winchester from The Courtyard Dairy near Lancaster, 2013 World Cheese Awards Cheesemonger of the Year. No mean feat, having only been open for a year at that time. It seems that this particular example was the result of trying to make a Gouda, which instead turned out to be a cross between Gouda, Parmesan and Cheddar, but is now produced deliberately. Whatever the origin, it is deliciously tangy and crystalline.
The beer was a Spontanbasil, i.e Basil Lambic, from Mikkeller & Lindemans. Lambic is a beer style with no added yeast but which relies on that which is present naturally in the air. To do this it has to be cooled overnight in giant pools in the rafters of the breweries where the draught comes in. It is then put into barrels, where it is fermented for up to three years, acquiring a sour taste. The one we had was a blend of one, two and three year old examples and had been aged in oak barrels containing basil leaves. Once again, just right for the asparagus whose rich coating of unctuous fat and tangy cheese were contrasted and complimented all in one.
The third plate contained Pancetta, Olive Tapenade and Aubergine, so that was two of my five-a-day taken care of, and boy was it taken care of. A large helping of the tapenade, a puree of olives, capers and olive oil, the ingredients of which came from Basco of Wetherby who specialise in the import of Spanish food, was topped with a slice of fried aubergine and a couple of slices of the most incredible pancetta, again from the Ham & Cheese Co. The dish was topped with pine nuts and torn basil leaves. Not only were the flavours complimentary here but so were the textures, the softness of the tapenade and aubergine against the chewy, but not overly so, pancetta which was served crudo, rather than cooked as is often the case, although the ambient heat from the puree had warmed the fat enough for it to begin to clarify. The nuts added crunch and the basil was, well, basil. After the daintiness of the first two courses, the volume of food was beginning to increase and this was a most satisfying dish on all levels. There was enough to enable the diner to taste the components individually, and then to savour them together.
When the beer arrived, I thought that Harry had defected to the dark side by bringing out a glass of fizzy rosé wine, but I need not have worried, it was Boutilliers & Ridgeside Rabble Rouser, a ’sour cherry and rose petal saison with a touch of a fruit tea blend containing cherry, cranberry, kiwi and coconut.’ It was a fair bit sharper than it looked and certainly more so than any rosé I have ever had, but that was just as well as it had to do its job against the richness of the dish. It succeeded magnificently. Saison beers are bottle conditioned, carbonated, fruit flavoured pale ales.
Seconds out, round four. Here came hearty peasant food at its very best: Chorizo, Cider and Sourdough. OK sourdough is not really old fashioned rustic but give me a break here. Once again, being seated at the bar, I could see the creation of this dish which Sophie produced from scratch after we had finished the third course. The chorizo and cider were both of the highest quality. The former comes from Brindisa, which is a Spanish food importer as well as having five tapas restaurants of their own in London. The sourdough needed no introduction as it was baked by Leeds Bread Co-op on Meanwood Road. The reason I am familiar with this bread is that when I am in Leeds I call into Friends of Ham as they sell loaves to take away and are the only reliable source I have found. The chorizo was wonderfully spicy, with the unmistakable hit of paprika, and the cider provided the perfect sauce as it had been flavoured during the cooking process by juices from the sausage and thickened by the melted fat. Needless to say, the bread was its usually hard-crusted, soft-centred, malty self and perfect for mopping up the remnants in the bowl. I don’t care.
This time, the drink added to the experience rather than counteracting it, being Alvinne Mano Negra, a Belgian Stout flavoured with chilli. It weighs in at 10% but you wouldn’t think so as the chilli makes it taste sharper than the normally sweeter, strong beers with their malty notes and this also had a hint of coffee; a combination not for the faint of heart but providing the perfect climax to the savoury courses.
To effect the transition from savoury to sweet we were given a Mikropolis Gin and Tonic Sorbet, made in house and doing its job magnificently. Mikropolis is a small beer and cocktail bar near the lake in Copenhagen from where the gin was sourced. Some sorbets can turn out to be like Slush Puppies, with the flavour diminishing as you get to the bottom, but this one was bang on and sharp enough to clear the palate of the paprika and chilli. Not an easy task. Strangely, there was no accompanying beer!
Finally, we arrived at dessert and a good time was had by all in bringing this combination onto the starting grid. After the Tour de Europe for the previous dishes, we were back in God’s Own County for the big finish. Yorkshire Pecorino, Ginger and Rhubarb – grand. As this was Yorkshire pecorino, from Courtyard Dairy, it had more bite than those other softie versions, and went very well with the stewed rhubarb shards. The ginger part of the dish was crumbled ginger biscuit from Edward Street Bakery in Shipley. This was a very posh rhubarb crumble and, what do you need with rhubarb crumble? Correct. Custard. Here comes Harry with the solution – Liquid Light and Ridgeside’s Moonbarb, a brew all the way from Meanwood again with the flavour of rhubarb and custard. Do these brewers know no bounds? The whole thing was a delight.
Once again Leeds Indie Food Festival has provided another event to be more than proud of, so much so that I am running out of superlatives to describe them and Leeds Living still has two more presentations to go. If they are both half as good as this I will be a happy man come Sunday night. My only regret after having had this wonderfully thought out and presented feast is that it’ll be much harder to pop in for my loaf and tear myself away to go to review somewhere else, but that is one of the perils of being a food writer. Trot on!
Written by: Stan Graham – Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.Back to News