Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Hubby, throughout his illustrious career in the Royal Navy has from time to time, taken advantage of the many and varied courses available to him. At times this has caused great discontent domestically as I have waved him off with a couple of kids strapped to both breast and hip whilst he, without so much as a by your leave, has packed a bag and buggered off for a few weeks to “further his career prospects”.
It has not always been easy when he has called me from various locations, from a bar at the end of a “very long day” to sound sympathetic, especially when he “can’t stay long on the phone as I’m just going in for dinner”. In those days, I was often to be found under the dining table attempting to remove with the help of a sandblaster, tenacious spaghetti hoops that were steadfastly stuck to our polished floorboards. I was often dead beat, cheesed off and resentful and would fantasise of disappearing from time to time on an ‘essential course’, just to lie flat on a hotel bed and go down to dinner unencumbered by toys and sticky fingers. I think at that time I could have sat through endless Powerpoint presentations as long as it meant not looking after small children.
Life is a lot easier now that he is working in the same town as we live and the children have moved on from bright orange pasta shapes and are entertained at school for six hours a day. Going to work in the cafe has been a welcome diversion from the endless drudge of domestic tasks.
So, it was in the cafe the other morning, having attended to my customers that I had a few moments to idly flick through a specialty food magazine. In it was a flyer for a free Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano masterclass. It looked really interesting.
I showed it to my boss, but she is otherwise engaged in transforming the first and second floors of the cafe into fabulous B&B accommodation, so driving to Exeter to learn how to tell the difference between one parmesan cheese and another was not at the top of her list of priorities.
“I wouldn’t mind going” I said.
“Brill idea” said my boss, “Always good to have more than one string to your bow. You’ll be an expert in the deli department. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go and order some grout.”
“Don’t you mean trout?”, I asked.
“Nope, we are installing four bathrooms, I definitely mean grout”.
I was itching to tell Hubby.
“You’ll have to pick the kids up from school on Monday love”, I said airily.
“Ok Alice. What’s that expression on your face? You look shifty”. I was crestfallen.
“Shifty? Gee thanks, I was attempting mysterious”.
“They mean the same thing. Of course I’ll pick the girls up. Where are you going then?”
“Aw come on now Alice, we were there just the other week. You cannot afford to go shopping. In fact...”
“If you must now” I interrupted, “ I am going on a course”.
“A course? In what? Retail Therapy In Practise? The Benefits of Lunching with Ladies?”
“You are so disparaging. Can you not for one minute imagine that my career prospects might benefit from a course? You have been on hundreds over the years.”
“That might be Alice because I have a career that has prospects”. Ouch. “Sorry”, he said giving me a cuddle, “That was uncalled for but really, what course can you be doing? How to make the frothiest cappuccino?”
“Don’t be so insulting. I am going to be au fait with parma ham and be able to distinguish an 18 month old Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from a 30 month old”, I read from the blurb, “So that I am able to advise my customers with conviction”.
I stuck to my guns and last Monday climbed the stairs of The Royal Clarence Hotel, with no idea what to expect, other than I would be tasting cheese and ham.
It was fantastic. It far exceeded my expectations. It was run by a lady called Juliet Harbutt who is an absolute expert in cheese and has written several books on the subject. Far from being dull and dry and Powertpointy, the masterclass was fascinating, informative and most entertaining. Her passion and expertise was really infectious and she demonstrated how to tell the difference between different ages of Parmesan and Parma and how they tasted remarkably different when eaten with different wines. I was in seventh heaven. Not so much because of the food and wine but just to be in the company of someone who is evidently such a skilled connoisseur and who can communicate that expertise with enormous verve and passion. I wanted to be her best friend and travel around the world with her tasting stuff. What a dream job.
I was still on a high when I walked through the door and immediately started jabbering “And the ham is hung in room with big open windows. It needs the right breeze, the right temperature and the right humidity. And do you know how the Master Salter finds out if his ham is ready for consumption?” I asked Hubby.
“No idea”, he said.
“Well I’ll tell you. He inserts a needle of horse bone into it and then he sniffs what comes out on the needle. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Amazing”. He obviously didn’t share my enthusiasm. My daughter thought me quite mad.
“How can you get so excited about ham and cheese mum? It’s just parmesan, we grate it over pasta. Big deal”.
“Big deal? Provenance my dear, provenance. Only 830 dairies produce it and only ten cheeses a day are allowed to be made”.
“Whatever. What’s for dinner?”
“Spaghetti carbonara”.
“Oh not again. I’ve gone off it”.
“And what does that mean?”.
“Hard cheese. In Italian.”


NZNavyWife said...

Hee! As a fellow navy wife (my husband is a Leiutenant Commander in the New Zealand Navy and a ship's captain) I always read your blog with much delight and anticipation. This one in particular sounds very familiar. Those phones calls from pubs prior to dinner must be one of those things they learn on their first "educational trip" (otherwise known as an excuse to get on the booze away from home). Networking my behind!!
Keep up the good work Alice!

Alice Band said...

New Zealand? Wow! I find this whole internet thing endlessly fascinating - it reaches out so easily all across the world, making feel as though we know each other. Fabulous!