First of all, apologies for the longish silence (or, alternatively: you're welcome). Things to do in Manchester has been away, on a spiritual retreat which blended a strict macrobiotic diet with strenuous bootcamp sessions and not - NOT - on a jolly to South Wales to dip its feet in the sea and eat fish and chips. And because I've spent a week restoring my ayurvedic chakra and not - NOT - stuffing my face with fish and chips, I can allow myself to be very excited about these forthcoming dairy-based feasts.
Firstly, it's almost time for this year's International Cheese Awards - the 115th time that assorted cheese makers, connoisseurs and just general greed-faces from all over the world will convene in Nantwich to sample and judge each other's cheesy wares. Last year’s competition saw 3,730 entries from 26 countries jostling for awards in 300 different categories; this year entries are coming from as far afield as China, although there will also be a specialist market area dedicated to smaller, independent cheese makers. Judging takes place on Tuesday 24th July (I'm thinking back to my school days here, and regretting that I didn't have the foresight to request careers guidance on how to qualify as a cheese judge) and then the show is open to the public on Wednesday 25th. As they are expecting around 35,000 visitors on the Wednesday, I would suggest the following:
1. Set off early, in order to be first through the doors and, by extension, first at the cheese.
2. Sharpen your elbows, in case you are tardy setting off and need to push early-birds out of the way. If your grandma can lend you a tartan shopping trolley to help block others, so much the better.
3. Do NOT eat breakfast - toast is simply empty calories when you could be leaving room for extra Stilton later.
4. Do NOT expect to actually see the Gino D’Acampo demonstration; you may be able to hear him, but remember he is only small, and will be hidden behind all the tartan shopping trolleys. You may have more luck with James Martin and Jean-Christophe Novelli, for they are taller.
5. In the absence of a tartan shopping trolley, take a number of the biggest bags you can find with you. I have already struck an entirely fair deal with Mr Liz that I will carry the bags there, and he can carry them home when they contain seven kilos of cheese in individual, sample-sized portions.
Tickets cost £14 in advance - for more information or to book places see the Cheese Awards website - and then accept that you simply won't sleep for excitement between now and the 25th.
In dairy news part two, I note with a small skip of joy that Manchester's Oxford Road is soon to welcome Fresco Freddo's Gelateria, a new haven of summeriness which promises us sun-starved Mancunians twenty two different varieties of gelato and sorbet so that we may pretend we are wandering along a deserted stretch of sun-dappled Italian coast rather than being splashed by buses and poked in the eye by umbrellas. Rather sensibly, they are also planning to offer hot desserts including crepes and waffles, but the real draw here will be the gelato, which is essentially ice-cream's healthier, more satisfying cousin: low in fat with no artificial flavourings, made with milk rather than butter cream and containing around 25-30% air compared to ice-cream's 50%. The launch date looks set to be towards the end of July - keep an eye on their currently rather enigmatic website for future announcements.
Anyway, with that little lot coming up, I for one am pretty relieved that I didn't consume my own body weight in cheese and ice-cream last week - now I'm off to dig out my shopping trolley and investigate the possibility of chic, Italian-style stretch-waisted trousers...