Dealing with the public, U.K. style: part 2

Last Friday I posted a piece about what it’s like dealing with the public in the U.K. Then I did the grocery shopping and became the public.

I need to bore you with a bit of personal background here. On Thursday, I made pizza for Wild Thing, a friend, and myself. Two pizzas to be exact, because our friend is young, with youth’s boundless and enthusiastic ability to eat a lot of whatever’s available. I make a decent pizza, if I do say so myself, with homemade dough but, sadly, bottled sauce. I used homemade sauce once, and although it’s good on spaghetti it was all wrong on pizza. So I use bottled stuff.

But pizza calls for mozzarella.

Irrelevant photo: beach huts at Swannage

Irrelevant photo: beach huts at Swannage

Now unlike the U.S., Britain never attracted a serious wave of Italian immigrants, and it’s a poorer country for it—something that’s worth keeping in mind as we battle it out over how many refugees we’ll allow to reach these green shores. So Cornwall shouldn’t be your first stop if you’re planning a mozzarella tour of the world. When you ask for mozzarella here, most stores will show you little wet balls of the stuff, called fresh mozzarella, sealed in soft plastic coffins.

Do I sound biased? I’ve never tasted truly fresh mozzarella, but I’ve read that it has 24 wonderful qualities and one is lost in each hour after it’s made. The stuff in plastic coffins, then? It’s edible, even if I can’t get excited about it. But it’s Italian, and we’re all impressed with Italian food, so it sells. As the British recover from a traumatic food history, which includes not just rationing during and after World War II but long exposure to baked beans and overboiled cabbage, they’re exercising their gourmet muscles, trying to build up—well, maybe not a reputation as a gourmet nation but a something, a, um, gee, I seem to have gone all flappy and wordless as I try to describe this.

Okay, here’s what I’m trying to say: I opened Saturday’s paper and turned to the recipes while I worked up the courage to face the latest brutalities of the refugee crisis. Because—I know, in the context it’s grotesque, but our world a grotesque place these days—I love reading recipes, and trying a few of them. And the ones I found called for orange blossom honey, fresh curry leaves, and quails’ eggs. And good sherry vinegar. If you have any of the crappy stuff, don’t use it. Not to mention fennel bulbs. (Bleah—licorice flavor. Shudder, shudder, shudder.)

Not all in one recipe, to be fair about this. But still, you know, it’s not the stuff every home cook keeps on hand. Or the stuff rural supermarkets stock.

I can’t help thinking that these things get tossed into British recipes to establish the gourmetocity of the cooks who write them. You know: Look at us. Aren’t we worldly? Don’t we know our ingredients? So what if you never cook it: Aren’t you impressed?

I’ve wandered. Where was I? Fresh mozzarella in little wet packs that preserve it for so long that calling it fresh violates every Truth in Advertising standard ever established. It’s trendy. So the supermarkets sell it. Hell, even our village store’s been known to stock it. And it’s useless for pizza. Once, in desperation, I tried squeezing the water out of it and using it. I might as well have boiled the pizza.

I do not recommend repeating the experiment.

Plain ol’ mozzarella—the nonfresh stuff; I guess you could call it the dry stuff—is hard to find where I live. Maybe in cities it’s easier. For a while our local supermarket, Morrison’s, sold it by the block, which was great. Then they didn’t sell any. Then they sold it grated. Then that disappeared and was replaced with a mozzarella and cheddar mix, which is blasphemy. Then, finally, they sold a Morrison’s brand grated mozzarella again. And all was at peace in North Cornwall.

Until of course it wasn’t. Because the stuff I bought and used on our most recent pizzas? It was white and it melted—so far so much like mozzarella—but it didn’t taste like cheese. The packaging was the same as the mozzarella I’d bought before, but they’re substituted some uncheeselike substance.

And this in a country that takes cheese seriously. That makes and eats wonderful cheese.

And now we return to Friday, when I was shopping in Morrison’s, having made two bad pizzas the day before, and I was in the dairy aisle, where a kid was stocking something and on an impulse I asked him, “If I made a comment on one of your products, is there anyone who actually listens to that sort of thing?”

To which he said something along the lines of, “Gee, I don’t know.”

We both laughed. There was no point in going on about the mozzarella, but there was also no way not to, so I told him about it. We stopped to unscramble that I didn’t mean the fresh stuff, I meant the grated (since they no longer sell it in bricks).

“I only buy the red Leicester,” he said, “and to be honest that’s crap too.”

How could I not like this kid? I seem to remember Wild Thing swearing off red Leicester years ago, for just that reason, although on the basis of our recent experience I’m ready to guess that we don’t know what red Leicester really tastes like. I don’t remember what else we said, but as we were winding down I said, “Well, if there’s anyone to pass my comment on to, tell them some crazy American who lives here complained about the mozzarella.”

He said he would. We were both, I think, pretty sure he wouldn’t, because who was he going to tell? I thought about calling the emergency services number—which is 999 here, in case you need to know that—but I restrained myself.

56 thoughts on “Dealing with the public, U.K. style: part 2

  1. Shropshire blue. With mango chutney. Divine in a sandwich.

    My first cheese buying experience in the UK occurred in 1991. So, I walked up to the deli counter in Sainsbury’s, pointed at a small-ish round of cheese (I don’t even remember what kind it was, something rubbery-soft and creamy) and said, “Can I have one third of this one please?). Response from the girl behind the counter: “How much is that in ounces, I don’t know metric.” I rank this as my first major culture-shock event.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good story. They’ve all converted to metric now and would probably think one-third was imperial measures. I’ve had to teach myself not to ask for a pound of anything. I get a panicked look. I’m assuming the overlap of a pound in weight and a pound in money doesn’t help.

      Blue cheese, though? Mmmmm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, living in the country and not being able to get what you need? Oh, I can so relate. We miss our fishmonger and constantly crave fresh fish, and that’s just the start… And as for sending feedback into a proverbial black hole….that, too!

    I also do pizza, and I’ve been meaning write about our Pizza Parades but haven’t got round to it. Anyhow, I digress because now I’ve done laughing at your story (but with you), I want to give you a really easy way to do the tomato sauce for the pizza base, and which is really good. It’s based on the recipe in Katie Caldesi’s Italian Cookery Course: 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, a good handful of fresh oregano (or dry, but less if you don’t have fresh), a clove of garlic and a good glug of olive oil, all of which one whizzes up with a stick blender. You’re good to go. It also keeps for a little while if you don’t use it all, and I’ve added it to other tomato-based sauces/dishes if it’s needed to be used (if you know what I mean…)

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  3. People have called 999 for less, as you well know ;) The lack of decent cheese is an absolute abomination and the inability to be able to complain about it properly even more so. Sometimes I despair for this poor island.

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  4. Many of the Italians went to Edinburgh – there is fantastic ice cream there, as well as Italian delis. You should see the cheese here (Sydney). We have “tasty” cheese! I think it’s a kind of cheddar but it doesn’t actually say so. European cheese is expensive and makes me miss the organic supermarket in Cologne where I took a good cheese selection for granted!

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  5. I’m sure you’ve already gotten a ton of help with your mozzarella problem, so I won’t offer any advice on that front, but just one comment: the greatest argument in favor of immigration is all the new, great foods we get to eat ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly the one that gets the least political argument.

      When I moved to the Twin Cities (from New York and roughly a thousand years ago), it was bland, the food was bland, and the last wave of immigration had been I don’t know when–1890, maybe. I’m making up my facts, but that’s okay because no one takes me seriously when I involve numbers. Fortunately. You couldn’t even get a decent bagel–something that to a New Yorker is a real disaster. Then waves of Vietnamese, Hmong, Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Mexican, and Central American refugees settled. Not only could you get great food, suddenly places appeared that sold real bagels. I guess there was a wave of New York immigrants hidden in there somewhere.

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  6. The only cheese I would eat as a child was red leicester…probably not the nice stuff either. (I have had the good stuff from a cheese shop since then…it is nicer)

    I have moved on since then and like all sorts of crumbly english cheese which is terrible for melting! I have never really used mozzerella…possibly because it always seemed wet and odd and any cheese that had to be kept under water in bags or boxes seemed untrustworthy…

    You are probably right about the gastronomicalness of recipes too…british chefs seem to be trying to make up for some sort of bland food reputation…as far as I can see they get it wrong a lot though and should stop trying to make things fancy and start concentrating on making them tasty!
    But then I am a slightly (very apparently) fussy eater and my opinion may be biased…
    Mind you …all opinions are biased…that is why they are opinions.

    I may be waffling…

    mmmm waffles…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the word “gourmetocity ” but I’d never use it in conjunction with English food, at least not the stuff cooked by my ancestors who kinda-sorta hail from that region. Cheese, as far as I knew growing up, always came sliced and wrapped in plastic. Our big complaint these days is vegetables, which seemed to be being picked the instant they emerge in some far off field and are left to ripen in the truck on their way to our store – visually appealing but tasteless. I’m glad you complained. At least someone knows.

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  8. We actually like those fresh mozzarella balls – for tomato/basil/cheese arrangements called, I think, Caprese. Throw on olive oil and basil and you’re in heaven. If the tomatoes are from a summer garden. Otherwise, forget it. Ellen, we buy dry cheese already grated in plastic containers that weigh very little. Made by the likes of Kraft (I know, I know) but completely adequate for pizza-making. Next time someone is headed from here to there or there to here & back, let me know & I’ll send you a few. They would roll up inside a sweatshirt just fine. Maybe a plastic bag between though. At eight, Gwyneth smuggled a container of said cheese into bed to share with a friend staying over. Somehow they smeared it on their arms and incurred cheese burns and the room smelled like vomit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheese burn? Vomit? Maybe we don’t want to smuggle cheese through customs. But I appreciate the thought.

      And while we’re talking about it, I do miss those tomatoes. This just isn’t a tomato climate. You can grow them, but they’re not the same.

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  9. I do not think the farmers of Cornwall should be encouraged to keep Water Buffalo. They may produce a reasonable cheese but are vicious and unpredictable creatures, not compatible with ramblers and walkers. Pilchards make an excellent topping to Pizzas and they are local .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never met a water buffalo in person (or in buffalo, I guess, since they’re not really people), but I’m happy to take your word for their temperament. I have a hunch that’s not the only reason they haven’t caught on here. So we’ll agree about on that. But pilchard pizza? That’s right up there with nettle pizza. Blackberry pizza. Hell, they’re all locally available, but that’s not enough to make them a good topping.

      Fortunately, even if the pilchard pizza catches on I’m a vegetarian and will be spared having to taste it.

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  10. You may be in short supply of Italian delicacies in Cornwall but Scotland had a large Italian population which means there are plenty of tasty Italian ingredients available, including fresh buffalo mozarella – one of my favourite cheeses, especially as part of a caprese salad. Your post makes me wonder how regional access to decent “foreign” foods is in the UK. I will also add that I have become an obsessive hunter of affordable European cheeses since moving to America. American cheeses just don’t have the flavour punch I need, I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • America doesn’t really do cheese, although there are exceptions. But overall? It’s nice, mild, plasticky stuff. As a kid, I loved it.

      The stores locally are expanding their range of foreign foods, but there’s a long, long way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ah, Ellen, you’ve triggered some culinary memories of the U.K.! I made my first trip there about five years ago. One of the first things I wanted to do was drink warm ale and eat fish and chips in a genuine British pub. The only food they were serving was chicken tikka masala—which I was told is now the official food of Great Britain. It was on every menu, everywhere I went. It was actually quite good, but was not my original expectation for pub fare. When I went on to Scotland, being of Scottish descent, I had to try haggis. I waited ‘til I was at a restaurant that is supposedly renowned for its haggis. Five years later, I still can summon that horrible taste in my mouth, and I fully understand why my ancestors left the Highlands for America. It wasn’t the Battle of Culloden or the Clearances … it was the haggis. Thanks, Ellen, for a post that beckoned all the senses. Now, I think it’s time for pizza.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the tales. I can’t tell you how often I see a sign outside a pub announcing curry and a pint. Being a vegetarian, I’m immune to any pressure (inflicted by self or others) to try haggis. It sounds like I’m very, very lucky.

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  12. I would think that someone would have figured out how to ship cheese so that it arrives fresh. I used to order a wonderful white cheddar made exclusively by students at Washington State Universary. It arrived to me in Southern California in perfect condition, ready to be consumed with port, apples and pears. The only restriction was that they wouldn’t ship in the summer months. Don’t give up!

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    • I won’t. I’m convinced it should be possible not to ship it but to email it as an attachment. I’ve been working on that. The cats are very interested in my computer desk as the experiments continue. (On a more serious note, stores here ship clotted cream, but only within the country because the post office can predict how long it will take.)

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