Here’s the script I scribbled that afternoon, in preparation for the first round:
“I’m going to completely put aside the consideration of what we need to survive physiologically (though cheese does contain salt, protein and fat…)
Let’s focus on what we couldn’t live without from the pleasure point of view!
What ingredient gives so much pleasure to so many people?
What ingredient comes in so very many shapes and forms and flavours?
What ingredient is so versatile that it can contribute to starters, mains, desserts not to mention canapes, snacks and yer posh amuse bouche?
And of course, it stars as it’s very own course – how many ingredients can say that?
What ingredient makes life worth living?
Cheese! That’s what!
From the softest and freshest curd cheeses,
to the oozing, creamy soft ones
to the rich, firmer varieties
to the deeply savoury hard cheeses
not to mention the fabulous world of blues
– there are so many cheeses there is surely one to suit every taste?
In Europe, cheeses are part of our history, part of our culture, perhaps even part of our psyche!
After all, one can sympathise with de Gaulle when he bemoaned the herculean task of uniting and governing a nation with so very many cheeses!
Just as each of us is so different, with our unique personalities and foibles, our own set of preferences and prejudices, our much-cherished individuality – so I relish the unique personality and story of every cheese.
Where is it from?
How has it’s birthplace influenced it’s form?
Does it have a long history?
Who makes it and what are their stories?
What processes do they use?
How is it traditionally eaten and enjoyed?
Cheese is endlessly fascinating and so diverse – Surely one can never get bored of cheese?
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” Ben Gunn, a sailor marooned for three years, says to Jim Hawkins:
“You mightn’t happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese–toasted, mostly.”
I sympathise – sometimes I dream of cheese too!
I dream of bubbling cheese melted on crunchy toast, with a side of baked beans.
I dream of a light and elegant cheese souffle straining above the sides of the ramekin, waiting for me to delve in with my spoon.
I dream of cubes of paneer cheese surrounded by a bubbling, spicy spinach curry.
I dream of a thick, untuous umami-rich cheese sauce with al dente pasta.
I dream of cheese and pickle sandwiches.
I dream of sharp, salty curls of parmigiano melting over pasta or garnishing a fresh salad.
I dream of creamy dauphinoise potatoes with a gratinee of cheese on top.
I dream of velvetty mascarpone cheese cakes and tiramisus.
Cheese? I couldn’t live without it!”
It had been my intention to then recite an alphabetical list of cheeses from A to Z, to be interrupted by time being called on my three minutes. However, I realised that the speech resonated more strongly without, so I skipped it.
Just after the dauphinoise potato line above, organiser and compere James interrupted my flow with a salivating statement that he wanted “to be in [my] dreams!” which garnered much laughter from the audience (no bad thing given the lack of humour built into my script).
The rest of the debate was very much a case of thinking on my feet and going with whatever came into my head!
Right at the very end, Henry Harris of Racine (one of the three judges) asked how my fellow finalist and I would use our chosen ingredients to kill our opponent. Whilst Oli suggested a scary sounding Chinese salt torture, I painted the picture of a giant fondue, created in one of the huge iron cauldrons used to render penguins for their oily fat many decades ago, in which I’d drown poor Oli!