It was the eve of Australia Day and a text message came through:
"Mission accomplished. The package is en route."
"How does it look?" I responded.
"Stinky." came the reply "In a good way."
It was the culmination of a week's worth of planning prompted by a glimpse of possibilities....
Part 1: LaPlanchette.com.au
I first learned about this inaugural online supplier of French Charcuterie and Cheeses from a work colleague, Vincent (hi!). When he told me about it, I assumed it had been in operation for some time. As it happens, the owners, Eric and Camille are friends of Vincent's and the service had been operating a mere 6 weeks when I decided to host a tasting. They started the business because, although they love and have embraced their new home in Sydney, they wanted to share some of their French culture and traditions.
I am admittedly not a huge fan of cured meats, the closest I usually get to something along these lines is pepperoni on a pizza or the even less authentic selection of salamis from the local deli. I'm the one who thinks that the rockmelon is spoiled when it's wrapped with prosciutto. So in order to make a tasting worthwhile, I decided to surround myself with people who actually appreciate these things, my fellow Yummers. All but M.S. Glutamate, who was otherwise occupied, said yes to joining us and although it was a little removed from the traditional barbie, we chose to hold it on Australia Day.
You see, the service delivers to the CBD and East Sydney and most of us work near there but live in the 'burbs so we reasoned that to ensure we sampled these goodies at their peak, we would have them delivered to Lobo's workplace and he could drive them home in his air-conditioned car then immediately ensconce them in his brand new, empty, fridge. By doing so we minimised the amount of exposure to heat from when the goods left the supplier and when they were presented to our guests. And hasn't it been HOT!
Back to La Planchette though! Imagine, if you will, having a platter of charcuterie (cured meats), authentic French cheeses, baguettes, pates and a sprinkling of accompaniments such as fresh walnuts, grapes and cornichons delivered on a planchette (French for "a little board" rather than the inventor of the French Ouija equivalent for which it is better known) with a cheese knife, delivered ready-to-eat, nothing more required (well perhaps a glass of wine, but we'll get to that!). This is the thinking behind the Themed Planchettes of which there are four - delightfully named:
"Date on a Plate"
and "Don't Kiss Me Tonight"!
There is more than enough information on these on their website so I won't go into them in any more detail except to say you'd better like the person/people you're sharing with if you buy the "Don't Kiss Me Tonight"! That yellow rinded cheese is lethal!
We of course wanted to try it all so we ordered all four. With partners along, we numbered 11 adults and 4 children so we elected to order the 2-3 serving size of each.
As I was eager to sample them, I also added an order each of the Rabbit and Wild Boar pates to our order.
and Yaya contributed a Watermelon & Feta salad.
A Geoff Janz ready-to-eat Greek lamb (heated for 20 minutes in the oven - gotta have lamb on Austraya Day, hi Sam!) which was deliciously tender and smoked ocean trout along with pork chipolatas and miniature dinner rolls, party pies and fish fingers (for the children among us), representing the Aussie content. We had also, in hindsight, wisely bought a huge loaf of Sonoma Sourdough and a selection of crackers. (We're mostly Asian, we do love to over cater!) All laid out, the table looked like this:
If you think that the photo barely has room for all the food, you think right! The rest of the meal was on the side table.
It was a spectacular outlay, even by our standards and we couldn't wait to get into it.
Here's a closer look:
There were definite favourites amongst the tasters, the Aged Beef, Truffled Saussicon and the Saint Marcellin garnered the most comments but equally the unidentified batons of cheese were eagerly snapped up and it wasn't like anyone left any one selection alone. It was all that good. The only conversation for the next little while consisted of "have you tried this?", "that's really good" and "I love that". The sound of happy eaters eating!
Let me tell you that there were enough leftovers for most to take home a small plate each. Is it value for money? If you love and miss genuine French charcuterie and cheeses, for a once in a while picnic in the park in summer, to surprise someone on a special occasion or just for the wow factor, it is definitely worth it. Not only is the hard work of rounding up all these delicacies done for you but you get to keep the planchette and knife for another day.
Speaking of which, now that we have four empty planchettes, the online store also offers La Boutique a grocery store of sorts where you can select your favourites and have them posted to anywhere in Australia. I'm looking forward to trying that one day! Oh and if you're a little hesitant about ordering online the first time, I've been told that you can find them at the Kings Cross markets on a Saturday!
Well I did promise that we needed something to go with all the meat and cheese so again with a little planning, we held a wine tasting.
Part 2: Tamburlaine Wines
I first encountered Tamburlaine Wines at the Clinique Superfood Dinner. Tamburlaine were co-sponsors and supplied the red, white and sparkling wines for the event. That night, I only tried the Wine Lover's Grenache, a light fruity red which went perfectly with the fresh healthy food we were served for dinner and the Sparkling which was bubbly and dry to the palate, as I prefer, with dessert.
Having read a little more about the bio-dynamic and sustainable farming practices of this organic winery, (after all, we should love the land which provides us with its produce), I was interested in testing the no-pesticide, no herbicide, low-sulphur claims, high levels of which can result in allergic reactions to the wine.
Having attended the dinner, I was offered a chance to order some wine at a substantial discount,so it seemed like a great opportunity to really road test the claim - I'm a big red wine fan but quite often, with a few sips of a standard glass, my nose is stuffed up and I feel so uncomfortable that it is impossible to get to that slightly inebriated euphoric state of relaxation with wine. (Spirits are another matter altogether!) I'm not advocating constant over-indulgence by any means, I just like to see what the other half of the population feel like every now and then. Are these wines less likely to cause an allergic reaction?
I ordered what I thought was a comprehensive selection but because we were never going to swirl and spit like true wine tasters, I limited the selection to 1 Rose (Petite Fleur), 3 Whites (Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay)
Reserve Wines which look simply amazing and I am looking forward to sampling again soon.
I could go on about bouquet, or floral or fruity notes or legs but that's not how we tend to drink wine. We drink it in accompaniment to food or to celebrate or just to ease the tension of a long day on the job.
In any case, it only needs to do one thing, taste good!
There was no doubt that everyone in our party (adults only of course!) enjoyed the tasting. As we had a smorgasbord of food not served in any order, we didn't necessarily match the wine to the food, which might have altered our perceptions, but how many of us really do this at an ordinary meal at home? We're far more likely to drink what we like, irrespective of the food we are eating at the time.
What I did find was that I was slowly and surely getting giddy from the alcohol without suffering at all from the stuffy nose, something which only the finest (read expensive) wines had allowed me to do.
I had a really good day, the two leftover Reds went home with their respective most admiring fans and we are slowly but surely making our way through what's left.
Our sampling was small so I wouldn't call it a conclusive finding, but if you do normally get a stuffy nose as a result of drinking wine (and you don't have a life-threatening allergy to it), give Tamburlaine Organic Wines a go. You might find a great drop that you can indulge in.
We could hardly complete a meal of such diversity with just a single offering for dessert so Yaya organised as wide a selection as she could fit in our freezers.
Part 3: Icecream Tasting
They came from such diverse companies as Sydney's own Serendipity, Victorian producer Gundowring, South Australia's Maggie Beer and Woolworths (yes a leftover from Christmas but it was still good!) You can't order these online, but the websites are a good way to check out all the flavours they make and most have a list of retail outlets.
We also had some Gelatissimo sorbets for the non-dairy, non-egg eaters in Strawberry, Lemon, Passionfruit and Chocolate flavours.
La Chouquette Sucree surprised us with a mound of her namesake, Chouquettes, and Canele de Bordeaux to continue the French theme.
It was a very informal competition to create the most amazing dessert but the winner was ... Lobo, who managed to combine every flavour on offer and topped it off with a Canele.
So we traversed (half) the countryside as well as (some of) the world in a single gastronomic feast. We like to think that on Australia's National Day, we chose to celebrate its multicultural roots. What a day!