Which should come first - cheese or pudding?
- 11 March 2014
Mary Berry has caused consternation among the dinner party-giving classes by suggesting that cheese should come before dessert, writes Ben Milne.
Which comes first - the tarte or the Taleggio? As weighty dilemmas go, it's not exactly the Schleswig-Holstein question, but Mary Berry's admission on TV last night - "At my dinner parties, I like to serve the cheese before the pudding" - has caused a sharp intake of breath on Twitter. In the words of Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey, "It's the morning after Mary Berry said she serves cheese before pudding. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. #dinnerparty"
Once things were simple - the English drove on the left, kept their socks on in bed, and served cheese after the dessert. But Berry has placed a bomb (or perhaps a bombe) under this last assumption.
Guardian food critic Matthew Fort is in complete agreement with her. He believes that the British custom of dessert, then cheese, is just a hangover from a bygone age. "It rather depends whether you're clad in the fustian of Victorian habit or you embrace the common ground with our European cousins," he says.
"I always serve cheese before pudding because I like the meal to end on a sweet note." He believes this celebrates "Britain's own contribution to gastronomic culture - the pudding - by making it the full stop and sometimes the exclamation mark".
But this is not an opinion shared by everyone, and the habits of several generations may be hard to shake. While many English people would concur with the sentiments of John Shuttleworth's song, "I'm halfway through my pudding/ I can't go back to savoury now," Tim Hayward, author of Food DIY is not one of them:
"It's one of those pieces of English middle-class francophilia which drives me up the wall. It's just wrong!" he says of cheese-before-dessert.
He thinks that this trend originated with a post-war generation influenced by the food writer Elizabeth David, which championed foreign food and was disparaging about home-grown customs. "My generation are positioned against that denial of Britishness," he says.
"English cheese is now the best in the world," he says. Serving it last is a good idea because "it's so social - everyone kicks back and that's when the great conversation begins - you re-write the constitution or discover gravity".