“A Note of Interrogation”

Wine and Cheese Across the Hemispheres

In 1937 The Argus in Melbourne recounted how cheese tasting events were becoming popular. The pseudonymous columnist Oriel had met an English visitor travelling for chemical giant ICI. The visitor revealed that in England, a wine-tasting was now accompanied by a cheese selection. The Englishman was a member of Liverpool’s Food and Wine Society, probably an early chapter of the seminal International Wine and Food Society.

The IWFS was founded in London in 1933 and presided by French-born gastronomer and wine expert André Simon, with Briton A.J. Symons, as Secretary.

The indefatigable Simon (1877-1970) ranged the world to set up new branches, securing New York but also eg. San Francisco by 1935. It appears some British cities outside London were already in his orbit even before WW II.

Oriel’s account strikes a mordant tone, improving I think on American counterparts who had tried a similar approach, as I discussed earlier.

The Melbourne scribbler put it this way:

Wine tasting is one of the pleasantest epicurean pastimes to which a man of sensitive palate can be introduced but yesterday I heard a lot in favour of cheese-tasting as an appetising diversion. It was told to me by Mr Norman D. Lees, an English visitor whose business interests are associated with that vast modern enterprise Imperial Chemical Industries. Mr Lees who is a member of The Liverpool Food and Wine Society told me that besides holding regular banquets the society organises occasional cheese-tasting afternoons. He went on to enumerate the many kinds of cheeses of which the members are connoisseurs but seeing a note of interrogation in my glance he made haste to add that it was customary to sip wine between bites.

In those circumstances ORIEL makes haste to recommend the pastime to those Melburnians to whom plain tea-tasting and wine-tasting produce a sensation of insipidity.

The Wine and Food Society, today the International Wine and Food Society, already had a branch in Melbourne when Oriel was writing. It was established in 1936 as explained in the IWFS’ website, see here. 

The branches I’ve mentioned, and there are many more now world-wide including in Toronto, all continue in fine fettle.

Oriel’s article may be seen here (courtesy Trove digital newspapers). The reference to tea drinking was probably a softening note, maybe an editor’s addition. Melbourne traditionally had a conservative, refined image, which may explain the tea reference in this context.

In the 1930s, from the tone of Oriel’s piece, one imagines such tastings occurred at clubs of lawn bowling and otherwise or posh homes, featuring lazy fans, louvered windows, and whitewashed walls. I’ve written often of Australian beer historically, and its settings seem rather different, speaking generally.

Who was Oriel, one wonders, so much is lost in the mists of history.

Note: The quotation from the Oriel column was sourced from the 1937 issue of the The Argus referenced in the text. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable, and is used herein for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.