A glimmer of hope

22 April 2017

9:00 AM

22 April 2017

9:00 AM

I argued that it was unnecessary to have made sacrifices during Lent in order to celebrate its conclusion. It is the thought that counts. Others were less sure, though none of them exhibited the stigmata of austerity. Anyway, we ate some magnificent Pascal pig, plus a delicious lamb which would have been scampering around a neighbouring field during last year’s Lent. The one which we were feasting on and its cohorts have been replaced by some sweet little spring lambs, now playing regardless of their doom. They have all been earmarked for the next phase of their education: in local deep freezes.

I pointed out that there was no reason for sentimentality. Left to nature, a lamb would decline into sheephood. Sunday lunch for an appreciative table is a much more dignified fate.

We also saluted the vegetable kingdom. A mild winter and a bounteous spring had ensured a generous asparagus bed — and there were early morels. Some of them came from Louis. Still young, he is an intrepid forager, with a gimlet eye reinforced by considerable knowledge. He will undoubtedly become one of the leading mushroom experts of his generation. There were also morels from Drogo Montagu of Fine Food Specialists. Although he sounds as if he ought to be the next Duke of Manchester but three, Drogo performs a valuable public service, unlike some recent holders of that once great but now overshadowed title. If you are looking for high quality produce, he is your man. He and his staff relish vicarious participation in others’ gourmandising and are spontaneously helpful. If you phone up in pursuit of some delicacy and they do not stock it, you can hear the voices in the background as they strive to come up with an alternative supplier.

We benefited from the efforts of another adornment of modern British foodie culture, Caspian Caviar. It ought to be renamed alternatives to Caspian caviar, which is now virtually unobtainable. The owners were recently offered some farmed Iranian caviar, but it was simply not good enough. They search Europe for the magical black pearls and have now discovered a source near Venice, where Alpine fresh water and a hot spring produce excellent breeding conditions. They call the best stuff ‘Royal Oscietra’. That is making a large claim. It is justified.

A western civilisation deprived of the sea’s greatest beneficence: what an impoverishment. Thankfully, Italy is coming to the West’s rescue. ‘Italy never really had to endure the dark ages and has never really recovered from them.’ Discuss. Ensuring a resurrection of caviar when all hope had seemed lost is not the smallest service which Italy has performed over the centuries. Caviar cannot single-handed-ly prevent a new dark ages, but it does offer a distraction from anxiety. Perhaps Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn should try some? Or perhaps not: the supplies are too limited to permit the casting of black pearls before…It would be hard for President Trump to rebut the charge of swinehood. But poor old Corby is more of a sheep: a sheep to the electoral slaughter.

Caviar demands vodka. Otherwise, we explored some 2002 clarets. Chasse–Spleen and Ormes de Pez are both excellent crus bourgeois. In a good year, such as ’02, they are well worth an upgrade. But they were outranked by a Cos d’Estournel. Outside Château Montrose, this is usually acknowledged to be the best bottle from St Estèphe. With the 2002, one can see why. Thanks to a predominance of cabernet sauvigon, it has power, to which the vigneron’s arts add subtlety. It has always been reckoned to be a long-lived wine, especially in good years. We gave the ’02 plenty of time in the decanter, but kept some for the next day (does that count as a Lenten sacrifice?). It was even better. Even though everything else dissolves into chaos, this is a wine that will keep.

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