30 November 2016

Queen Margaret University to offer Gastronomy degree in Italy

Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh is to join forces with an Italian university and a foundation for food excellence to offer a Masters Degree in Gastronomy which will be delivered in Italy. It is believed that the exciting new course, which will be taught in English, will attract both an Italian and international audience.
QMU will partner with the University of Cassino, Lazio and the I’Ciacca Foundation to deliver the MSc in Gastronomy.  Students of the new course will be taught on the tranquil organic farm of I’Ciacca in Picinisco, an ancient town located in Val di Comino between Rome and Naples.
The farm buildings, where teaching will take place, are set within a vineyard and are currently being renovated. They will accommodate a Masterchef style kitchen with TV transmission capabilities, classrooms and accommodation.
The new MSc Gastronomy will be targeted at an international market, particularly the Italian diaspora around the world. Students will study Gastronomy - food from the field to both the market and the table - in relation to the environment, sustainability, production, nutrition, anthropology, politics, communication and culture, and the course will draw on the expertise of farmers, producers and academics.
The area surrounding the farm is a fitting location for the study of Gastronomy. It is situated in a natural uncontaminated area where organic farming is a way of life and is surrounded by olive groves, herbaceous plants, vines, fruit trees and livestock.
Due to its environment and dedicated organic farming methods, the area of Picinisco is bursting with superb local produce including wines, fruit, olive oil, honeys, grains, cheese, sweet meats and cured meats. 
Dr Richard Butt, Deputy Principal of Queen Margaret University, explained: “This course builds on our university’s rich history of food, which dates back to 1875, when we were set up to help improve the diets of the urban poor. What was initially established as the Edinburgh School of Cookery has now developed into a modern ambitious university with flagships in Sustainable Business, Health and Rehabilitation and Creativity and Culture. In relation to food, the University has significant expertise in the teaching of dietetics, nutrition and biological sciences, as well as commercial expertise in the area of food and drink. In 2014, we launched the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation which supports food and drink SMEs in Scotland and beyond. We were the first to offer a Masters in Gastronomy in Scotland, and our new Gastronomy course, delivered with the University of Cassino, is being adapted to the Italian landscape. It aims to be an excellent fit for both Italian and international students.
“Our partnership with the University of Cassino, allows us to offer an education programme that will contribute to the economic regeneration of the local region by promoting local food production and expertise, and generating international interest in Italian gastronomy and food culture.”
The development and delivery of the new course is being facilitated by I Ciacca Foundation, which will provide access to local food production facilities that use traditional techniques. The Foundation, a not-for profit organisation, is enforcing its historical links by building a collaboration with institutions in Scotland and Italy relating to food and learning. It was founded by the Di Ciacca family, which is based in Scotland but has ancestral roots in the region. The family is restoring the farm - its home for over 500 years before its move to Scotland – which will be the location for the delivery of the new MSc Gastronomy.
Dr Butt continued: “There are existing links between the Di Ciacca family and QMU in relation to food and gastronomy and we are delighted to strengthen that partnership with this exciting international venture in gastronomy. We are also enthusiastic about our collaboration with the University of Cassino due to its expertise in business, enterprise and entrepreneurship and its track record of successful international partnerships.”
Giovanni Betta, Rector of the University of Cassino, said: “The collaboration with Queen Margaret University will add to our university’s programme of internationalisation. It is an important agreement which will enhance the profile of gastronomy in our region, thereby contributing positively to the area’s economic regeneration.”
Consul General of Italy, Carlo Perrotta:  The agreement reached between Queen Margaret University and the University of Cassino for the launch of an MSc in gastronomy is testament to the strong bonds that have been forged between the Italian and Scottish communities.  It is an initiative that will benefit both communities as well as encourage the regeneration of an area where many Italian Scots have their roots.”

The new MSc in Gastronomy will begin in Italy in September 2018 with graduates of the programme gaining an award jointly from Queen Margaret University and University of Cassino. It is ideally suited to people with either academic qualifications in a related subject or significant industry related experience; or mature students who are able to evidence their interest and passion for food and food culture.  Queen Margaret University and the University of Cassino will also be offering a new Masters in Family Business which will begin in 2017.

27 November 2016

How to select your Christmas cheeseboard with Aldi

I COULDN'T IMAGINE Christmas without a bumper cheeseboard and this year, I've joined forces with Aldi to ensure you get the most from your cheeses. Cheese should be selected by considering these factors: type of milk, texture (hard, soft, semi-soft etc.), blue or non-blue and smoked or unsmoked.  Although not a rule as such, I like to add in locality and Aldi proudly features several kinds of cheese from small-scale Scottish producers, as well as some of the better-known continental offerings.  Here is what I came up with:

I'm going to start with my favourite cheese of all-time, Roquefort.  It's very tempting to head for Stilton at Christmas - nothing wrong with that at all - but for me, this French classic is just such a wonderful thing that no cheeseboard should be without it.  I mentioned Scottish cheeses, but I also put Roquefort in here because 1) it commands respect and 2) it shows how far Scottish cheese making has come that we have people producing cheese that can sit at the table with this behemoth.

Cheddar is a no brainer for me, as it's such a popular type of cheese.  I selected this vintage cheddar made in Wigtownshire that has been matured for 15 months.  It's crumbly and rich and an ideal starting cheese. It'll go down well paired with whisky and port, which we shall touch on later.

For our soft option, we head back to a France in the shape of another real heavyweight, Brie de Meaux.  Widely considered to be the finest brie known to man, it's mushroomy, barnyard-y flavours are heavenly on a crumbly Scottish oatcake - always a crowd pleaser.

You may have read in the news recently that Aldi are increasing their range of organic produce in stores. With that in mind, I picked up two cracking organic Scottish cheeses from the Highlands.  The Scottish gouda-style cows' milk cheese is based on the more famous Dutch recipe and this sweet and nutty version is just as good as some of the top goudas I've tasted from The Netherlands.  The other, a crumbly farmhouse cheese that I think represents Scottish cheese perfectly.  It's mild and sweet with a hint of grassiness that will go well with the red onion marmalade we selected from Aldi.

Next we're off to Spain where I've spent a great deal of time tasting cheese over the past few years, Manchego being one of the country's most famous sons.  I've added this to give people a taste of ewes' milk cheeses. The cheese is matured for around 9 months and has a buttery, slightly herbaceous vibe to it.  I'm a huge fan of goats' cheese, for which the Spanish are also famed for, but I've returned to Blighty here to showcase the great Cornish cheeses stocked in Aldi. This rich and nutty offering is called Gervik and is produced at the Trevarian creamery.  The tang and creaminess is what I love about goats' cheese and this marries well with the onion jam and a solid port. I don't know why more people don't love goats' cheese!

Finally, I've added one of Normandy's most famous exports, Camembert. I've added this purely because in the winter, bringing this out of the oven (add a clove of garlic beforehand) and dipping in bread or crackers brings a hot dimension to the cheese board.

As far as drinks pairings go, I've played one option slightly safe and taken the opportunity to  introduce a drink that I just love with cheese - Prosecco.  Prosecco is a little more neutral than its neighbours Champagne and Cava, which makes it easier to match with cheeses.  My favourite cheese to accompany it is brie or goats' cheese.  The creaminess and the texture just harmonise so beautifully with the acidity, and the bubbles add another element of texture. This Canti Prosecco (£6.99) has hints of peach and apple that pairs well with cheese.

Port, we know is a classic pairing and it works with so many cheeses, whether it be a Stilton or another blue, a meaty cheddar or a mushroomy brie.  This unfiltered port from Maynard's is available for £8.95 and the notes of chocolate, ripe fruit and spice really sings with the above-mentioned dairy goods.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your Christmas cheeses:

  • Bring the cheese out of the fridge around 45 minutes before serving.  This will ensure the flavours are maximised and that the true texture of the cheese comes out

  • It's easy to go to town when buying cheese, but really 40-50g per cheese per person will easily suffice.  Plus people may not like blue or goats' or indeed, even manage to tuck away tonnes of cheese after a big meal

  • If you do go over the top - don't worry.  Cheese will keep far longer than you think, so ignore what it says on the labels.  Keep it wrapped up in tin foil or cling film, ensuring you keep as much air from the surface as possible.  When it comes to throwing cheese out, use your instincts!

  • Have fun pairing drinks and talking about it. As well as port and prosecco, beer and whisky work, too. There are no wrongs or rights and anyone that says otherwise is a pretentious fool! It's merely an opinion after all 

Any questions regarding cheeses or your Christmas cheese plate, drop me a line in the Contact section and I'd be more than happy to help.  Happy Christmas, Philly x

14 November 2016

Help save the Errington Cheese and defend artisan cheesemaking

I'M PERHAPS SLIGHTLY late to the party with this one but having worked in the cheese industry for a few years, I was most annoyed to hear of the threat to the business of pioneering Scottish cheesemaker, Humphrey Errington, from Food Standards Scotland that has seen cheese production halted and staff made redundant, despite no conclusive evidence that his cheese caused a recent outbreak of food poisoning.

                   Dunsyre Blue always features on my Scottish cheeseboard

I won't spend too much time explaining the case (there are links on Joanna's Crowdfunding page), but what I will say is that raw milk cheeses are perfectly safe and I doubt its use would ever come into question on the continent.  I once ate two kilos of a so-called 'infected' batch of Criffel, a beautiful raw milk cheese produced by at the Loch Arthur Creamery,  that was deemed to contain unsafe levels of listeria just to see if I got sick - I didn't. My point is that I believe the FSS are ignorant when it comes to raw milk cheese and while I understand it is their job to ensure our food is safe to eat, it is  also their duty to have evidence that is 100% accurate before their actions are allowed to impact on a business.  Artisan cheese production is something we do very well in Scotland and it should be a celebrated part of our gastronomic history.

This isn't the first time Errington's family business has faced the threat of extinction from the authorities, so let's hope the little guy can win out and justice prevails. Please donate to Joanna's worthy cause and pray that the little guy can win out once again.




7 November 2016

Review: The Queens Arms, Edinburgh

I HAD OVERLOOKED the fact that my football team, Manchester United, were playing the night I arranged this review and I was further frustrated to find them a goal down at half-time.  When we arrived at The Queens Arms, United were now 2-0 down and playing dreadfully. Only some good food could turn my mood around.

This popular city centre pub is a well-known haunt for after-work drinks, as well as a venue watching sports.  It also happens to offer a menu brimming with Scottish-influenced dishes. We were lucky enough to get a coveted booth to run the rule over the grub, as well as the rest of the match to Sarah’s obvious delight.

I was drawn to the Cullen skink croquettes (£6.50) with dill mayo for my starter. More attention was required with the seasoning but otherwise, these croquettes were a delightful thing: chunks of smoked haddock cooked so precisely that it flaked in the mouth whilst adding texture; a crunchy exterior and an interior packed with fish; and not just bulked out with the cheaper option of potato.  The dill mayo was a perfect foil. My only gripe was the side salad didn't feature enough dressing and the large leaves brought an unwelcome astringency. A frisée or micro herb salad would have served this otherwise super starter perfectly. But I was quite content with the croquettes and tasty dill mayo, nonetheless.

Sarah opted for tempura prawns with sweet chilli dip and glass noodle salad (£7). The tender meat was housed under a crispy batter with the chilli dipping sauce a successful pairing.  She enjoyed the range of flavours of coriander and chilli from the noodles with the sweetness of the prawns.

We hadn’t long stepped off the plane from a week in Bordeaux, this attracting me to the cassoulet with a Scottish twist of Ayrshire ham hock, black pudding with haricot beans and parsley breadcrumbs (£12).  A hearty winter dish that I enjoyed, the saltiness from the ham seasoned the dish that saw the black pudding shine through as the real highlight.  However, the beans were a little overdone.  If you do visit The Queens Arms, a portion of polenta chips (£4) are a must.  Not only were they great for dipping into my cassoulet, they came with a tasty tomato and chilli jam that was most memorable.

You don’t often see beef olives on menus so it was refreshing to encounter them here.  They came with skirlie mash, roasted root veg and a red wine gravy for an unlucky-for-some £13. Sarah was in luck as it happens as this was a lovely dish.  The meat yielded easily with the mash bringing a toastie oat flavour that warmed the cockles.  The veg was cooked well and the sauce was fruity with an element of acidity to cut through the rich potato.

We are big Rioja fans and this Beronia Reserva (2011) was worth mentioning; it even got a shout-out on Saturday Kitchen this week.  At £21 it is reasonably priced and well worth it.  Hints of damson, liquorice and vanilla burst from this Spanish beauty that also matched well with our mains.

After a week of indulgent food in France, a three-courser on our return was the last thing I wanted to tell my personal trainer about, but hell, as I was still on holiday I rounded off the evening with chocolate and whisky mousse with homemade shortbread (£6.5). The shortbread was outstanding, crumbly as you like and buttery, too.  The mousse was a generous serving.  Booze is always a difficult one to balance in desserts but the warmth of whisky just crept in at the back of the palette to balance perfectly with the chocolate.

To finish, Sarah tackled a mocha tart with vanilla ice cream from the Arran Dairy for £6. I was thankful that the chef balled the ice cream properly.  I know it sounds pernickety, but it really irritates me when ice cream isn’t a perfect round ball – you’d be surprised how many places just chuck it on a plate. The mocha filling was almost chocolate fondant-esque and needed the ice cream to tame the richness.  The pastry was a little limp, probably from being stored in a fridge, but it was a good eat.

United may have succumbed to defeat but the grub here was a winner.  The dishes at The Queens Arms will not only leave you well-fed but are pretty kind on the wallet, too.  I admired the chef’s use of Scottish produce to bring a twist to original dishes and will pop in again for those croquettes and a side of polenta chips.

Twitter: @QueensarmEdinb
Address: 49 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EP
Phone: (0131) 225 1045

The Queen's Arms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

3 November 2016

Travel: Bordeaux

WITH ANOTHER BIRTHDAY edging me closer to my mid-thirties it was time to get a cheap flight out of Edinburgh and indulge in some fine food and wine.  Bordeaux was our chosen destination and here are a few recommendations if you do happen to visit.

With a dedication to quality ingredients, organic produce and a slice of Italian tradition, Capperi is a pizzeria like no other. 

It first came to my attention during my research of Bordeaux eateries where it featured at number seven on TripAdvisor.  We stumbled upon Capperi by accident on our second night where I was instantly drawn in by the romance of the place.  With only a handful of tables, this smartly lit room that utilises the pizza oven/pass as its focal point where the two staff members (I assume proprietors) add to the buzz with their efficient operation.

We had to wait outside for a few minutes for our table, which provided the opportunity to glance over the menu.  The selection of pizzas were all appealing and a proud use of organic produce leaps out, further enhanced by their selection of organic and biodynamic wines. In fact, they use organic French flour and their own family olive oil, too – not just another pizza joint.

I went for the Parma pizza (€13.90).  What impressed with these pizzas was that it almost tasted healthy.  The base was so light with generous amounts of a very good quality mozzarella, Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano which made the dish sing with fruity, umami notes. Simply the best pizza I've had the pleasure of consuming.


Restaurant Melodié

Melodié was situated right in the heart of (what I deemed) to be the touristy restaurant area, which often comes with trepidation. However, this place states food is “100% Homemade” and it did not disappoint.

It cropped up time and time again in travel pieces and it just happened that TripAdvisor had a 50% offer on, which was useful but made it difficult to get a reservation at the same time.  This little gem was worth the scramble. The three-course menu was only €20 anyways, which was still good value for money.

The restaurant was quaint inside with the dim lighting adding to the ambience.  The menu was fairly classic, which was exactly what we were after.  I had the duck which was cooked to perfection.  The highlights were those potatoes; so light they were almost like pomme soufflés.  Sarah went for the good old fashioned steak Bordelaise where the meat quality spoke for itself alongside a proper rendition of the famed sauce of this region.

I enjoyed a tasty salt caramel crème brûlée for my pud, which was just as good a brûlée  as I’ve had.  Sarah selection a smart white chocolate pannacotta with raspberries that served neatly as a palette cleanser following the rich mains. 
Melodié also offered very friendly and efficient service, despite the restaurant being at capacity.  Staff clearly knew the menu inside out and were very professional.  Worth a visit for excellent value food and service.


Café Cito

With idyllic views of the church in a bustling square, Cafe Cito is an ideal bar to chill out in after a day of wandering around the city.  The music is excellent (good old classic rock) and the young team of staff are chilled and hard working. 

The bar does offer a range of tapas dishes and sharing boards, including a plate of four for €5.90, ideal for a munch with your booze.
Happy hour is from  5 – 7 p.m. and it does fill up quickly – a top spot to unwind and watch the world go by.