Date: Wednesday 6th March 2019
Venue: Staff House, University of Birmingham
Sponsor: George Morris
Minutes of a Maastricht Dinner
Back to Staff House for the Maastricht Dinner, mainly it would seem as they have a video projector. I would suggest that we buy a Buckland slide projector and go analogue for future audio visual presentations as this would give us greater flexibility on venues.
This Maastricht Dinner was hosted by 4th generation Bucklander George Morris, who, at 17 must rank as one of our youngest hosts. George lives in Maastricht where he is studying for an International Baccalaureate.
As always wishing to avoid controversy, this meal was hosted after a landslide majority vote won by committee members Jacob Rees – Morris and Boris Tidmarsh, despite concerns about the economic effect on The City of David London.
George was keen to inform us of the correct pronunciation of ‘Maastricht’ as we ignorant British usually say. It is in fact ‘Maastricht’. My ignorant view is that this is how people in Maastricht pronounce it and we should be able to pronounce it how we jolly well like. Maybe we should now pronounce Birmingham as Birmingham by the same principle? Newcastle – Llandudno could also benefit from correct pronounciation.
I’m sure you are all aware that we held a Maastricht Dinner as it tied in with leaving the EU at the end of March, The Maastricht treaty was signed on 7th February 1992 and was significant mainly for renaming the European Economic Community to the European Community, time well spent I’m sure you’ll all agree. Anyway now that we are fully out of Europe we can do what we like anyway.
I should make the point that I wrote this the day after the meal way back in March and haven’t looked at it until now, so just possibly one or two Brexit facts might not be entirely accurate. Thank goodness everything went well and that ‘coming to a free trade agreement with the EU was one of the easiest in human history’ as Liam Fox said in July 2017. Or, as Aaron banks said in April 2017 ‘Brexit was a war and we won’. Aah, the sweet smell of victory. I’m sure we can all drink to that. Thank goodness we had Theresa May to rely on, as she said in June 2017 ‘It was me that got us into this mess, I will get us out of it’, glad it all went well. I forget who it was that said ‘Theresa May is like sisyphus in the form of a dung beetle, every day she pushes the same great ball of crap up an impossibly steep mountain only to find Jacob Rees-Mogg at the top to kick it back down again’. If we’d had a remain PM such as, say, Boris Johnson, then I fear negotiations would not have fared so well, as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson said: ‘It’s very simple, what most people want in this country is the single market’. Good job his dangerous lefty talk will ensure he never gets anywhere near power. So, now we can relax knowing that 51.8% of the population, or 17.4 Million people to be accurate had their dreams realised.
Back to the meal, bravely held in the dark old days of the European Union. The evening started well, as many a good evening has, with gin and tonic. George informed us that the specially selected Indonesian influenced gin opened with fresh rose, followed by a hint of red berry sweetness with a coriander spice note throughout, later detecting an early fennel and cut-grass peppery whiff, all with an undercurrent of malt and juniper. I’d had a heavy day so downed it in one – only noting a heavy note of relief with a whiff of general regret.
The food started with Raw Herring, Onions and Gherkins, which, on the plus side, were all cooked perfectly. This is a typical Dutch snack which took me right back to an Ikea canteen sometime in 2006 when they’d run out of my usual choice of 20 meatballs and chips and I reluctantly had to eat the rollmop herrings.
Next up was Snert, or Pea soup with Sausage and Onions, this took me back to a bad wall papering session in 1992. I rather enjoyed it as I can’t think of anything that isn’t improved by lobbing a sausage in.
I was fortunate enough to be seated next to George Morris, he was clearly passionate about the meal as he informed me that everything was wrong with it.
Next course up for dissection was Zuurvlees – Rabbit which had been marinated in vinegar to tenderise it. I feel that it could have been left in the vinegar a little longer, and maybe left out of the meal altogether …. which was exactly what had happened to the vegetarian option that was George’s meal. He said his meal was just parsnip stew.
George informed me that the mashed potato was wrong and the vegetables were wrong … all of them. We learnt that carrots are orange for entirely political purposes, as Dutch growers in the 17th Century cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange. All of our western carrots descended from these varieties. Maybe with our freedom from the EU we can go back to purple, yellow and white carrots, why oh why was this not a huge part of the Brexit campaign ?
The cheese course, along with the wine, was the saviour of the night. George informed us that Dutch cheese is often thought of as spherical balls of bland Edam, which is a heinous crime of stereotyping. I would never stoop this low, I wouldn’t want George to hit me with one of his clogs or a bunch of tulips.
Dave Travis delivers the minutes of The Maastricht Dinner
We were presented with a trio of wonderful cheeses, my personal pungent favourite was Herve (pronounced Harve), a Limburger cheese originating from the Duchy of Limburg. It is still produced in nearby Belgium. Herve has a distinctive aroma, supposedly because the bacterium used to ferment it is also found on human skin, I’m guessing from the armpit and foot? We also sampled two more excellent cheeses – Val Dieu, which had the added attraction of having beer as one of it’s ingredients. We also sampled the cave matured Brigand (Bry-en), this was a hard cows milk cheese. Many thanks to George and Andrew Morris for sourcing these and bringing them to the meal, their suitcases must have smelt like they were smuggling a dead dog into the country, which I’m sure we are now entirely free to do if we so wish.
Next up was Tart with Slagroom, which brought back happy memories …. of a lovely pie that I ate in 1998. Despite promising much, this was a fruit pie served with whipped cream and was most probably wrong, although not as wrong as the service station biscuits wrapped in plastic that enraged George.
This was followed by Coffee and a biscuit or Stroopwafel, which should be placed on the rim of the coffee cup so that the caramel inside melts. Needless to say our biscuits were incorrectly placed.
With that, the meal was over, without featuring any other Dutch coffee shop delights. George informed us that Maastricht coffee shops are closely regulated and only open to residents over the age of 18, not a problem for the rest of us Bucklanders, should we ever feel like planning a field trip.
All in all, an informative evening not completely ruined by the food, so no surprises there.
Once again the Buckland Club fully embraces nepotism
I’ve known George since he was a few years old and I was very proud of his performance, probably not as proud as his father, but it was an assured and mature display.
6th November 2019
Extracts taken from the sponsor’s notes:
As a resident of Maastricht, and current student at UWC (where I’m studying for an International Baccalaureate) I hope to enlighten you about this delightful city. As part of my course I’m spending time as a tour guide; plus from a family point of view I am the fourth generation to have ties to the Club. I trust that you’ll find that I am adequately qualified.
Maastricht is situated on the River Maas, in the south-eastern corner of the Netherlands. That’s Netherlands, not Holland that is a separate region. This is a common mistake that people from the UK make. Maastricht lies extremely close to both the Belgium and German boarders, in the Limburg region, and historically the city has incorporated influences from France, Spain and Britain to name just three other nations. Indeed the first invaders were the Romans, over two thousand years ago. They build the original bridge to span the Maas, although the town maintained the “tricht” part of its name, which translates as a crossing point in the river. We see this in English with the suffix “ford”, as in Oxford.
However, it is time to concentrate on tonight’s food and drink. Anyone feeling anxious about tonight will, no doubt, have settled their nerves with some “Dutch courage”. The Bobby’s Schiedam Gin reflects the Dutch influence from Indonesia. I’m convinced that the refined palates of Buckland Club members will have noted the taste as floral. I’m sure that you will agree that it opens with fresh rose, followed by a hint of red berry sweetness. Coriander gives it a fragrant spice throughout – does it not? In terms of the nose I detected an earthy fennel and cut grass, with peppery whiffs of malt and juniper underneath!
The raw herring, served with onion and gherkins is typically Dutch. It is eaten throughout the year, nowadays, although previously the season would be around May. We thought that it would make an interesting start to the evening. I trust that it has met with approval?
The opening course, Snert, is a thick pea soup with the addition of chopped sausage. This is also common to several of the more northern European countries. The soup is generally a winter dish, frequently served at Christmas, and traditionalists would tell you that you should be able to stand your spoon up in it. Enjoy!
The main course that you are about to sample is a regional stew – Zuurvlees– that is a specialty of Limburg. Tonight, at vast expense, you will be enjoying cuts of rabbit. We could equally use beef or indeed horse meat, which would have been as authentic. The meat is marinated in vinegar to tenderise it, which is one of the unusual aspects of the recipe. Red cabbage is a familiar accompaniment, and the good citizens of Maastricht would either serve fries or mashed potatoes with this dish. We have gone for the latter. To remind the Club about the connection between the Dutch and Britain we have included carrots. Originally they would have been purple, yellow or white, however as members are no doubt aware the orange colour of this vegetable come from the Dutch ability to cultivate orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange.
For the delicious Loire red that you are being served tonight we need to thank your President, Roger Hale.
Dutch cheese is often thought of as spherical balls of bland Edam – as stereotypical as clogs or tulips. By the way please help yourselves to the tulips on the table at the end of the meal. They have been ordered to represent the Maastricht colours, green, yellow and red. More of this later.
However, for the Buckland Club more pungent cheeses are on offer. The most famous local cheese in Maastricht is the notorious Herve (pronounced Harve) a Limburger cheese that originated from the Duchy of Limburg. It is still produced in the province of Liege in nearby Belgium. Once it reaches three months old the cheese produces its controversial smell. This is supposedly because the bacterium used to ferment the cheese is the same one found on human skin that is partially responsible for body odour and especially foot odour. Another Limburg cheese being served tonight, also made from cows’ milk, is the local Val Dieu. Similar to Herve, this cheese has regional beer added to it. The third cheese you are to try is Brigand (pronounced Bry-en). This is a hard cows’ milk cheese that is matured in caves. Maastricht, and the surrounding area, has an abundance of man made caves due to the limestone being mined for centuries in order to build the historic trading city.
To compliment the cheese there is some local wine. This is from the Apostalhoeve vineyard, situated just outside the city border, and is an Auxerrois 2017. Expect an apple and pear taste from this Pinot Blanc variant. It should also be somewhat sweet. I guess that it you really don’t like it you always have the option to wash your feet with it …but I think that this is unlikely for the Buckland Club.
Our final dish is a Limburg pie or tart. Limburgse Vlaai. Traditionally it is a fruit pie, frequently cherry, with a lattice pastry top. This is a popular dessert, and features prominently in the shop windows of local bakeries. This is served with “slagroom”, a strangely popular word with Brits, which translates as whipped cream.
Afterwards you can enjoy a coffee – the Dutch have been famous for their coffee for centuries – with an internationally renowned stroopwafel. The stroopwafel should be placed on the rim of the coffee cup, so that the caramel inside melts somewhat. Of course, in the Netherlands the image of the coffee shop is very different than in less liberated areas of the world. In Maastricht coffee shops are closely regulated, and only residents of the city – who are over eighteen – can enter. As well as coffee I am reliably informed that a wealth of marijuana may be purchased. The law is different to cities like Amsterdam, where tourists flock to purchase legal weed. A little known fact is that, in typically Dutch fashion, the River Maas itself does not come under city byelaws. Therefore anyone visiting Maastricht who wishes to indulge legally should seek out the coffee shop on board a large boat tethered to the riverbank. I am sure that you will agree, this is a splendidly pragmatic solution to a tricky legal problem.
Maastricht is a wonderfully vibrant and beautiful city, which is definitely worth visiting. From a gastronomic point of view it is a real melting pot of cuisines and history. To many in this country Maastricht will forever be associated with the Treaty of 1992 that bares its name. Members might be relieved to know that this is very much a Maastricht Dinner, rather than a Brexit Dinner. The reasons should be obvious. A Brexit Dinner may not have been delivered, and should it have actually happened it might well have been late! With many it may well have stuck in the throat!
An aspect of Maastricht culture that is certainly worth a mention is the annual Carnival… from which notable members and guests have just returned. Carnival is not exclusive to Maastricht, and there are several large cities in the Limburg region and beyond (for example Germany) that have their own celebrations. Carnival ties up with the beginning of Lent, and historically is a Catholic tradition.
In Maastricht the Carnival preparations continue throughout the year and culminates in wholesale celebrations that continue night and day for over 48 hours. Locals are bedecked in the city’s colours, red, yellow and green and/ or extravagant fancy dress. Generations of families march through the streets whilst music pumps through the air. Marching bands add to the festivities and can be found on random street corners. These are affectionately known as “tipsy bands”, an appropriate moniker since the whole area is flooded with alcohol. Costumes are inevitably eye catching, ranging from variations of 18th century court costumes and military attire to futuristic sci-fi outfits. In effect, anything goes!
As a tribute to the randomness of the alcohol consumed at Carnival, members and guests are presented with a shot of Bols liqueur to enjoy with their coffee.
I trust that not only have members and guests enjoyed their meal this evening, but also that they might now be tempted to visit Maastricht and sample its various delights. Perhaps start planning your costume for Carnival next year!
As ever, our deepest thanks go to Roger Hale for producing another magnificent menu card.
Maastricht Dinner flyer emailed to members