December 02 2010
I have devised a seasonal parlour game: actually, “pantry game” might be more appropriate. The eternally popular Desert Island Discs, on BBC Radio 4, requires its guests to choose eight pieces of music and one luxury; my version, by contrast, allows the selection of eight luxuries and one piece of music.
With what, then, would The Gannet stuff his notional Christmas hamper? Shop-bought “luxury” hampers are invariably disappointing: bottles of anonymous fizz, shortbread in garish tartan, builders’ teabags in pretentious packaging, a long-life Christmas pudding containing 0.05 per cent brandy, pulverised cheese in a pretty pot, liqueur chocolates that accurately pinpoint the precise location of one’s fillings… hardly the stuff of which festive merriment is made: more like the selection of a rapacious dentist.
I think we can do better. For the fizz, I propose Taittinger’s fragrant Comtes de Champagne 1998 (£100; although I wouldn’t turn my beak up at the 1999, £100): pure chardonnay and pure class, with a citrus-spiked freshness on the palate.
I might serve this with a side of H Forman & Son’s superb London Cure smoked salmon (£9.95, 200g) – the wild one, although the farmed version is exemplary – not too salty, delicately smoked and with a perfect matte sheen when sliced.
A pot of Royal Belgian farmed caviar (£90, 500g) would also be most welcome. Wild caviar, after the lifting of the CITES ban, will not appear again until next year (any that you find now in Europe is either at least three years old, or illegal) and the Royal Belgian, which resembles oscietra and has a pleasant nuttiness, is the best alternative I’ve found.
Instead of Ye Olde Traditional English Breakfast Tea, I will have Jing’s invigorating Dragon Well green tea (£6.90, 50g), wok-dried in the hills around Hangzhou. I would also like a whole Stichelton cheese (£135; a raw-milk version of Stilton, creamy and piquant by turns), with either a bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional vintage port (the legendary, big, bold 1963; £1,350), or a bottle of Egon Müller’s honeyed Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese, 1999 (£125). Neither would hamper my hamper: and, since it is Christmas, I will have both.
Anyone who has swallowed the nonsense that good plain chocolate should be at least 70 per cent cocoa solids, should try a bar of Amedei’s wonderfully rich, floral, feisty Toscano Black 63 (£3.20, 50g): I shall add a few bars.
On my desert island, the hamper can serve as a dining table, the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare as a rudimentary chair. It only remains, therefore, to select the piece of music: Food, Glorious Food, I think.