Like one of those dungaree’d and hatted, larger-than-life heroes who appear as the Ice Road Truckers, I’m venturing out onto the thin ice carrying a heavy load with my predictions for this year.
Here’s a few runners and riders at random.
This could be the year when one of the retailers begins to stock a better chicken – not just the low value, blousy little hybrids on stumpy legs that get fed largely on GMO soya, but a textured, tasty bird – a Poulet Fermier – sourced from across the Channel.
Staying with chicken, it’ll also be the year when my ultra-speciality Poulet de Gournay makes its debut in the UK – albeit from a small beginnings because the eleveurs in Seine-Maritime have only allocated me a few thousand birds for the year – the rest will continue to be sold locally through local markets and good restaurants in the region.
Cheese ranging will get better. More artisan cheesemakers will be invited centre stage in roles previously occupied in the main by the industrial scale makers.
Better potatoes and salad leaves – meaning a few genuinely waxy, yellow fleshed pommes de terre and some rich, bitter and flavoursome salad which doesn’t come in a gas flushed bag, nor die within hours of getting it home. M&S made a sterling start with the occasional, but all too rare appearance of Linzer. What about Le Touquet and its sublime Ratte and Pompadour potatoes, as well as the gourmet Linzer variety – and many others too?
‘Aged’ beef will mean a minimum of 4 weeks, not the current 18-21 days - some retailers will be brave enough to go to 5 weeks - and the meat will come from traditional beef breeds (Hereford, Belted Galloway, Longhorns and Shorthorns) rather than continental crosses or dairy throw outs.
Aging will maybe even happen on the carcase and not in the miserable atmosphere of wet cryovac that become that way these past 30 years. It’s always important to be mindful that not even aging can make poor meat taste good. Morrisons has made a sterling start with Shorthorns through a few stores and there’s occasional Hereford beef in Waitrose – but labeling is woefully short of info on the breed. Continental cross breeds are all well and good – but if this country is blessed with one thing above all else, it’s the range of British beef breeds.
Organic food will continue a downwards spiral as taste, not anything else, becomes the dominant factor for purchase by canny shoppers made that way by hard times and becoming better informed. Mainstream vegetables like carrots, broccoli, courgettes and beans will suddenly become better textured and oozing fuller flavour as more farmers turn to growing better, slower growing varieties.
Someone will shine the spotlight on bread. Instead of just the axis of squidgy white sliced in a garish bag festooned with copy writing versus the worthy lumpen loaf, artisan made, perfectly textured white bread will appear in a supermarket near you.
Tomatoes will not only become sweet, meaty, rich and full of flavour, but some enterprising retailer will at last figure that refridgeration is the enemy of taste. Tomatoes and berry fruits will be merchandised alongside, outside the chiller cabinet. Again varieties will start to matter and the cheeky tomatoes-on-the-vine scam will begine to fade. Like ageing third rate beef, tomatoes that don’t burst with aroma and flavour won’t benefit one jot from being presented on their vine – it just makes the growers’ job far easier because the plant has to be grubbed out anyway.
Prosecco might return to the price per bottle it was before it became so popular – OK, Euro v £ has had its impact, but Prosecco prices are downright cheeky. Wine departments will trial other high quality sparkling wines with genuine heritage – Blanquette de Limoux (as old as Champagne itself), Cremant d’Alsace, Vouvray’s and more will stand side by side with the Prosecco. Franciacorta (Lombardy) will start to nibble at Prosecco’s share of the Italian section as customers find there are no mass market versions, so all Franciacorta is high quality and fairly priced, albeit more costly than Prosecco.
We might find a retailer at last having an exciting charcuterie / delicatessen counter – meaningless descriptors like Ardennes and Brussels pâté will stand aside for genuine, slow cooked. oven baked terrines, pâtés and mousses. I predict someone will be brave enough to offer foie gras and take time out to explain the production process of the well made, genuine article. Whilst at it, we’ll be able to buy magret de canard instead of miserable, tough duck breast filets.
The salt marsh lamb bubble will burst with a big acrimonious bang as someone is brave enough to come out with the truth about those lambs which spend just their last few weeks on the estuaries and not their entire lives as is suggested. Then the price premium can be justified and the difference in eating will be manifestly better. The leg here is from the original pre-salé marshes that surround the Cotentin pennisula (Normandy) – it carried at the right paper work and stamps – and cost the price of two regular lambs on the hoof. For Easter Sunday, after the 40 day Lent fast, that was acceptable because it delivered flavour so rich and deep.
More attention will be focussed on supporting day-boat fishing, rather than worrying about industrial scale trawlers which stay out at sea for 7-10 days and longer, so deliver ‘fresh’ fish that’s been frozen, despite what we’re told to the contrary. The skippers and crew of day boats – invariably family concerns – are brave and have always lost out to the trawler fleets.
The finest fish – sole, halibut, brill and turbot – will stay expensive and recognised as the fish of feasting. Cheaper varieties like red mullet, gurnard, wild bass and bream (seen here) will become within range, price and sought out by a wider public. Fish counters in supermarkets will have a major make-over and start concentrating on fresh fish rather than just worthy tags about ‘sustainable’, ‘line caught’, etc. Some buyer will get to differentiate between smoked salmon that’s been frozen and the superior sides which have not – and sales will benefit accordingly.
Remember what the Chinese say – if it smells of fish then it’s off. Fresh fish smells of the sea.
Game meat will continue its rise in popularity – so much so, retailers might be persuaded to ensure it’s properly hung and so every bird is tender and flavoursome. They won’t start the season with below standard last year’s birds, bought dirt cheap by game dealers only to spend the spring and summer in industrial freezers to be first in store when the new season begins. To be certain, never buy partridge or pheasant until at least three weeks into the season (September for partridge; October for pheasant). Grouse needs far less hanging so one week after August 12 and it’ll eat well as long as it hasn’t been peppered with lead shot by a poor sportsman.
We might even get over the obsession with the prefix ’British’, as if it was the paramount gold standard for quality. Rather, food will be sold on merit of taste, regardless of provenance – anyone left behind can play catch-up and improve their game. It’s never too late to go for genuine excellence. That’s the root of Blue Collar Gastronomy after all.
Better food such as I predict will make positive in-roads into national crises like obesity. Good food is the absolute right of all. Poorly grown or third rate manufactured foods are always expensive because they deliver short on flavour and nutrition.
Remind me of what I wrote 12 months from now. I do admit to proposing some of the above as self-fulfilling prophesies, but why not make them happen?
Happy and healthy 2012 – may all your meals be feasts, however simple they may be. Promise me you’ll not put up with 2nd best – ever. Money is too hard to come by for most of us to let it flow freely for mediocre foods. It’s as easy to produce it well as otherwise – producers and manufacturers, retailers and chatterers just have to a) know what they want and b) care enough.