Jonathan Schofield finds that funny word cheese is close to his heart
Some words in English are just funny, indefinably so. Many of these words concern foods. Mancunian polymath Anthony Burgess noticed this first or it might have been Robert Nye in his novel Falstaff, I can’t recall exactly. Yet it is true that words can be amusing in and of themselves aside from context or meaning.
Fact: there are more jokes about cheese than any other foodstuff
With food words nothing beats ‘onion’ for a laugh, three syllables in five letters that begs to be pronounced with a French accent. I simply cannot say it without smiling. The almost silly terseness of ‘fish’ comes a close second with its firm start and then that fade into an absurd sigh.
‘Cheese’ is third funniest, all those 'e's, you can carry on saying that one word until you run out of breath. Fact: there are more jokes about cheese than any other foodstuff. This is one: Why did the Greek man stop eating cheese? Because he was getting Feta and Feta.
We even have the expression ‘cheesy’. Who doesn’t like a cheesy pop-song? Anybody for Kylie?
There is definitely something special about cheese. A couple of years ago Patrick McGuigan wrote a 110-page book called The Philosophy of Cheese.
If there is such a philosophy I recently had a crash course, studying, at Homage at Wood.
Homage occupies and gives purpose to the upstairs room of Wood Restaurant on Jack Rosenthal Street close to HOME arts centre. The potential barrenness of a room under a multi-storey car park is warmed into something resembling a boudoir in a brothel from a Western movie with lamps, candelabra, drapes and soft furnishings. It's almost cheesy, but works. The name Homage plays on fromage which happens to be the funniest word in French. Cheese is a gift which keeps on giving in every language.
The main man, cheese-chooser, wine-definer, is Michael Delaney, professional sommelier and a gentleman, who introduces the cheese and the wine with softly spoken wit and verve. He frequently changes the menu, so return visits are an option on what is an evening out, an occasion. Put aside maybe a couple of hours.
This is proper Homage fromage assemblage: seven cheeses with tasty add-ons and all the bread and crackers a person could desire. The presentation is good-looking without excessive fandango, refined yet robust. All the elements were excellent aside from one, which was personal to me.
The Brillat Savarin au Truffle cheese was described by Delaney as a 'sort of Viennetta' and he wasn't wrong. A triple-cream cheese imbued with truffle, it was floaty, it was rich, it was almost a pudding dressed up as a main course. This was well matched with a young and semi dry Riesling, a Maximin Grunhaus, from Mosel.
Next up was an excellent ensemble. This combined two fabulous cheeses with the skill in chef-proprietor Simon Wood's kitchen below. The Tunworth English camembert was earthy and came with an apt bacon collation that danced a perfect jig with the cheese. The Tunworth uses pasteurised cows milk, its mate on the table was a Swiss L'Etivaz which uses raw milk and was nutty and bold with a perfect partner of pineapple.
The Simpson's Chardonnay that matched it was almost excessively buttery but fresh and invigorating too. An official description of the wine says there's 'flint on the nose'. Nobody wants that. Painful.
A pair of excellent goat cheeses were probably my favourite of the evening. Cerney is from the Cotswolds, unpasteurised and smooth. The beetroot that came with it was delicious if bunched up with the fromage. A St Ella goats cheese was enhanced by being torched on top and drizzled with honey. That was a pure delight.
The wine match was a 2018 Burgundy, Pierre Nageon, Bourgogne 'Les Maladieres' that was a little light for my barbarian tastebuds.
A local stalwart was up next with undoubtedly my joint favourite wine. This was Casa Ferreirinha Quinta Da Leda 2017 and more to my unsophisticated taste with big, rich, complex flavour. Bring it on. My dining partner liked it so much she went on the internet and bought a case of four.
The wine came with an equally bold Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire which was good but lifted greatly by ox cheek cupped in food's funniest word, an onion, or rather an onion layer. Cheese, meat, onion and wine in harmony with this one.
The last cheese was my least favourite, a blue Picos de Europa from Spain, although we've made it our top picture here as it is so colourful. Not for me, although I was alone in this opinion. I adore blue cheese of nearly all description but while this was suitably pongy I found it had an unsavoury soapy back taste. Two things rescued this swansong for the evening, the spiced citrus it sat upon and a simply lovely 2014 Sauterne from Castelnau de Suiduiraut, elegant, spicy, fruity and sweet, my joint favourite wine.
Homage delivers a really satisfying and enjoyable occasion. It is a clever addition to Wood Restaurant and unique in the city. As an alternative to a traditional meal out it is almost an entertainment in itself. Delaney also ensures variety rotating the cheese and wine on offer to encourage return visits.
By the way you can choose a 'favourites' menu for £50 or the 'classics' for £70. We chose the latter. The good news is there's a 50% off deal off at present.
It was strange but after the evening at Homage I became a little cheese fixated for a few days - obsessed is a better word.
I went so far as to look up if there were any poems about cheese and it turns out that, of course, there are. I was listening to BBC Radio 4 and heard how in China "protesters were challenging President Xi's authority" and all I heard was President Cheese authority.
The third funniest food word came in useful over the weekend when I was stuck in a boring presentation. To stop myself dropping off I randomly replaced words the speaker was saying with the word cheese. It helped immensely. You should try it. Thus: "This slide shows the cheese at the height of his cheese speaking about cheese in the Free Trade cheese."
Blessed are the cheesemakers as Monty Python once said.
Homage at Wood, Jack Rosenthal Street, Manchester, M15 4RA
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Brillat Savarin 7, Tunworth & Bacon 7, L'Etivaz & Pineapple 8.5, Cerney & Beetroot 7, St Ella & Honey 8.5, Mrs Kirkham's & Ox cheek 7, Picos de Europa & Spiced Citrus 6.5
Excellent, very attentive and efficient
Gentle but needs to go easy on the 'easy-listening' acoustic and classical versions of rock and pop which can grate