So you want to take pride in British food? Well, hard Cheddar


Out of 400 cheddar producers in Somerset after the war, just 20 remain

To begin with, cheddar cheese had to be made within 30 miles of Wells cathedral in Somerset.

We have widened the boundaries since then: to Latvia, for instance, or Northfield, Illinois, headquarters of Kraft Foods Inc., manufacturer of Easy Cheese, the cheddar that comes in an aerosol spray can. Mmm, tasty. 

The village of Cheddar is mentioned in the will of King Alfred, as Ceodre, around AD880, and its cheese turns up on the shopping list of King Henry II in 1170.

He ordered 10,420lb of it at £3 per ton. Now, there is a bloke who liked a Ploughman's. 

The traditional method of manufacture involves raw milk, animal rennet (enzymes produced in the stomachs of mammals to digest milk) and cloth wrapping which the Slow Food Movement says should be enshrined as the only way true cheddar can be made. 

And yet somehow we have moved from taking pride in a singularly British contribution to food culture, to the present day, where a cheese imported from New Zealand can be marketed as British cheddar provided it has been slapped into sweaty plastic wrapping somewhere over here. The supermarkets, the ones that like to plaster a patriotic Union Jack on everything, help in this deception, of course.

It was revealed this week that more than 40 per cent of the cheddar consumed in Britain  -  136,938 tonnes  -  was imported. 

This would not happen in Italy. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, what we call Parmesan, has a protected designation of origin, by European law.

Only cheese produced in five specific areas can be branded Parmigiano-Reggiano and now even use of the name Parmesan is under threat. 

In Europe, Kraft Foods Inc. must rename its Parmesan products pamesello italiano to prevent them being confused with the real thing.

And since they include fine natural ingredients such as cellulose powder and potassium sorbate, thank heavens for that. 

There is something noble in the way Italians fight for the best of their culture.

Not in a nasty, nationalistic way, but with genuine pride. Earlier this year, I was talking with Carlo Ancelotti, the manager of Chelsea, who is a farmer's son from Reggiolo, in Italy's ham and cheese region. 

He said that when he went to manage Juventus in Turin, the fans did not approve and drew a crude porcine caricature of him on the outer wall of the club offices.

'A pig can't manage,' said the graffiti. 'I did not mind,' Ancelotti recalled. 'I grew up on a farm. We ate pork 365 days a year. Pigs are sacred.' 

Nothing is sacred any longer about British culture, and this is our mistake. The result is that the wrong people, like the British National Party, dominate debates with their spurious lectures on ethnicity. Meanwhile, we ignore opportunities to celebrate the best of our island. 

This is the reason English folk music is ridiculed as the preserve of berks with beards and woolly jumpers sticking their fingers in their ears, while Celtic folk music is mistily poetic and magical. It is the reason we giggle at Morris dancers yet queue round the block for Riverdance.

And, yes, Morris dancing costumes are daft, but there is nothing more ridiculous than lederhosen and that doesn't stop six million people visiting Oktoberfest in Munich every year, including many Bavarians dressed traditionally.

It is simply part of who they are. 

There are 800 foods receiving protection from imitation under EU law and just 38 are British. Among them, something unrecognisable called West Country Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese, with a production area stretching from Dorset to Cornwall.

In the meantime, of the 400 cheddar producers in Somerset after the war, 20 remain, and just one in Cheddar. 

Next time you are biting down on a cut-price Latvian cheese sandwich, with a nice Union Jack on the wrapper because it came via a conveyor belt in Nuneaton, you may care to muse on how this bargain bucket mindset is working out for us, or why we have so little sense of who we really are.

  • A Government survey has profiled the average user of Twitter. You don't need a whole report for that. I've got it down to one word.

A memo to the brolly wallies

You need a licence to buy a dog, to drive a car, hell you even need a licence to catch a fish  -  but they let any a****** be a father,' says the character played by Keanu Reeves in the film Parenthood.

Not to mention carry an umbrella. Anyone can carry an umbrella. Not a single law in place. No aptitude test. No equivalent of the Highway Code.

Just hand over the cash and you can weave your way down the High Street, gouging out eyes and forcing pedestrians into rush hour bus lanes at random.


Ban: Umbrellas should not be used for light showers or spitting

And golf umbrellas on public pavements? Don't get me started. Look, pinwheel, that umbrella was intended for you, your buddy, maybe a cart and a full set of clubs. Not for one guy with a sense of social responsibility as lousy as his short game.

Also, can we have some form of regulation on the level of rainfall required for umbrella-raising?

Something biblical, I would suggest. Something that could legitimately be considered the End of Days. Not spitting. Not a light shower. Not the sort of precipitation that wouldn't trouble a bored umpire on the fifth day of a drawn Test. 

We need to get back to the old ways: break into a sprint, buy an evening paper, shelter under a shop doorway until the clouds have passed because, frankly, I've seen that suit you are trying so aggressively to protect, pal, and it really isn't worth my eyesight.

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