I am sorry. I have let you all down, and you can rest assured that, since Tuesday night, I've been sitting here quietly, thinking about what I've done. For since Tuesday night, I have been feeling festive, despite it barely being mid-October.
The finger of blame must point squarely at the cheese and wine matching event I attended last week, hosted by the dream team of Chris Chisnall of Bradbury Cheese and George Bergier, sommelier extraordinaire from Albert's Chop House. The idea was to let us sample a range of cheese, and suggest some wine matches for each one - perhaps some less obvious pairings that you wouldn't normally think of (particularly if, like me, you simply eat lumps of cheese whenever you pass the fridge, and wash it down with whatever comes to hand). Here's what we had:
1. Old Amsterdam with Three Choirs Coleridge Hill. First up, Old Amsterdam - a 12 month-matured Gouda that has a pretty permanent residency in my fridge. I tend to use it in cheese sauces and the like, but found it also most acceptable eaten neat and washed down with a zippy little number from Gloucestershire. The very slight sweetness of the wine worked well with the saltiness of the cheese, and proved - thrillingly, for a Somerset girl - that the West Country can produce something more than cider, and The Wurzels.
2. Belton Farm Red Fox with Kleine Zazle Chenin Blanc. I am normally a little suspicious of anything that looks remotely like a Red Leicester, considering its dry blandness a waste of calories and stomach space, but this was a revelation - Red Fox is matured for 14 months, and the result is a creamy, full-flavoured cheese that looks like a Red Leicester but is a hundred times better. The high acidity of the South African Chenin cut through this creaminess with aplomb - another successful pairing.
3. Quickes Mature Cheddar with Kleine Rust, Stellenbosch. A good strong Cheddar this, matured for 12 months wrapped in muslin (and, according to Chris, smeared in pig lard - not entirely sure if this is true, but I include it here purely because I can think of at least one person who will boak when she reads it). The wine worked beautifully, a slightly smoky blend of Pinotage and Shiraz from one of my very favourite wine regions - I could drink a lot of this.
4. Brie de Meaux with Fortant Sauvignon Blanc and Mamaku Savignon Blanc. This was a proper Brie - the sort that smells of sprouts and cabbage, and has to be physically scraped from plate to mouth in one sticky-faced swipe. There was some disagreement over which of the wines best matched the cheese; I thought they both coped well with the pushy ripeness of the Brie, but I tend to prefer a New Zealand Sauvignon over a French, and that was the case here. By the way, in the picture you see here, Chris is just about to teleport the whole lot into his mouth - or was perhaps just in the middle of telling us about it, one or the other.
5. Cropwell Bishop Stilton with Grahams LBV (2007) and Royal Tokaji. And this was it - the moment Christmas came to Manchester: a strong, creamy Stilton with a lovely big fat glass of fruity Port. This, to me, is one of life's perfect combinations, and although some people preferred the pairing of the Tokaji dessert wine, for me there was no contest. Seriously, if I'd had one to hand, I would have put the Christmas tree up when I got home, so festive was I feeling.
I had to cut my cheese evening slightly short to run across Albert Square for a Manchester Literature Festival event at the Town Hall - but I did at least have the satisfaction of sitting amongst an erudite, literary audience secure in the knowledge that I was probably the only one there with a piece of Old Amsterdam in her handbag...
- Albert's Chop House is in The Memorial Hall, Albert Square, Manchester, M2 5PF; tel 0161 834 1866. Bradbury Cheese is based in Buxton, and you can admire their cheesy wares here.