Lifestyle May, 16th 2012 by

Cheese and Biscuits

Cheese and Biscuits
(Originally published in Diario Sur in Spanish 28 Apr 2012)
AJ Linn
“Cheese and biscuits? What sort of plate is that?” My friend Ramón, who runs a restaurant in Marbella’s Old Town, had been asked by a group of foreign residents to do a dinner party for them, and all had been negotiated to everyone’s satisfaction, even the wine, which had to be provided in unlimited quantities and included in the fixed price. Even though these worthy souls adored living in Spain and the rest of the meal was all Spanish food, they still seemed to want some reminder of their previous lives on the table.
Ramón kept puzzling over their request that cheese and biscuits figure on the menu as an after. “I was intending to provide some good manchego cheese as an aperitif, along with the jamón de bellota”, said Ramón, rather puzzled, “but they want it as a dessert”.
It was a little difficult to make him understand that for most northern Europeans cheese is to be eaten at the end of the meal, never before it. The classical restaurants in England, for example, and certainly the London clubs, always feature cheese with the puddings. And the biscuits? In southern Europe it is normal to eat bread with cheese, although this is frowned upon as you go further north, where it is eaten with plain biscuits from the vast selection to choose from, at least in Britain, starting with the classic Jacob’s Water Biscuits and Carr’s Cream Crackers (both honoured with By Appointment status for having the royal household as customers) to whatever else you may choose. There are literally hundreds of different types, and it is not unknown to eat digestive biscuits with cheese.  And yes, it is true; butter is usually spread onto the biscuits before adding the cheese!
In America, the word biscuit has another meaning, usually signifying the bread rolls that are eaten at breakfast or with gravy by people who cannot afford to put meat on the table. With cheese it is always crackers, although cheese is not usually eaten as part of a meal but separately. In Finland and other Scandinavian countries they invariably eat cheese with bread and butter, and – bizarrely – washed down with milk, although more recently this cholesterol overload shows signs of being changed for more healthy options when the cheese course arrives.
The civilised French tend to eat their cheese after the main course so they can continue drinking the wine, but the English, using some strange logic, regularly eat their dessert when the main course is cleared, and only then starting on the cheese – and biscuits. And it does not always end there. Although in terminal decline, the habit of eating a savoury at the end of the meal is still to be found in some quarters, and consists of the classic Welsh rarebit, anchovies on toast, and other weird manifestations that any race other than the British would have great difficulty accepting. 

AJ Linn

Andrew Linn left England 40 years ago to relocate to Spain, having been involved in businesses such as wine shipping and publishing. He currently writes regularly and professionally on wine, food, flamenco, and the Spanish way of life for various publications, and has a regular column in a Spanish newspaper. Andrew is involved in charity work relating to abandoned and mistreated animals.

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