Popular ale and food pub in the city centre, The Cambridge Brew House, recently hosted its first beer and food matching event showcasing in-house brewed ales from the pub's microbrewery. Head Brewer James joined forces with Head Chef Christian and Mr. Trotter's Rupert Ponsonby to treat a group of discerning ale drinkers to a lesson in the creation and tasting of the classic pub snack, our beloved pork scratching...
Gathered in a private room upstairs known as the Tank Room, overlooking the vats in the pub's brewery, we tucked straight into the good stuff: the Cambridge Brewing Company's King's Parade, Night Porter, and Misty River beers, which were generously distributed around the table in pitchers and regularly refreshed throughout the evening. It didn't take us long to get onto some cracking (sorry) homemade pork scratchings, courtesy of the pub's chef Christian, either. Incredibly moreish and reminiscent of the ultimate pork crackling from your Sunday dinner, we all agreed that Christian's first attempt at making pork scratchings was a huge success. They weren't your usual fat-laden, bristled scratchings, but they had a great crunch and a sweet, sticky glaze to offset the bitterness of the ales.
Much to my delight two of my obsessions were rather well catered for during the evening: knowing where my food comes from, and condiments. Pork scratchings expert, and generally awesome raconteur, Rupert from Mr. Trotter's had me totally enthralled by his detailed field-to-fork explanation of the perfect pork scratching, peppered with pig poetry and hilarious name-dropping. I learned about Rupert's passion for supporting British farmers, pork traceability, that people who love potatoes can't write poetry, and how David Cameron finds the time to respond to his local constituents. I listened intently to tales of healthy hind legs and celery salt and bacon flavourings whilst taste testing an array of pork-friendly condiments. The apple sauce was a standard partner for the salty pork; the tomato chutney didn't stand up to the rich fattiness; and the clear winner, the smoked garlic mayo, injected an unexpected touch of Spanish tapas to proceedings.
Yet more unusual matches were explored throughout the evening. Gooseberry jelly smothered on a salty slab of scratching apparently hits the spot. I made a mental note to sprinkle some pork scratchings on my next fish pie and made plans to add a touch of pork scratching seasoning to a dark chocolate fondant cake (if I ever perfect one). The best liquid partners to pork scratchings can be found in soft wheat beers - the milder the better, not too dark - and a warming glass of Tio Pepe sherry. Almost full to the brim with food matching inspiration and recipe ideas, one final treat awaited us. Head Brewer James unveiled his latest brew: a special chocolate malt beer created for the upcoming Cambridge Beer Festival. My taste buds finally let me down; no amount of supping, swilling and wild guessing could lead me to the secret ingredient. It simply tasted of Christmas. A few days later, at the 40th Cambridge Beer Festival on Jesus Green, I finally got it: the Festival Special was a mildly spiced chestnut bitter. And it went fabulously with a big bag of pork scratchings on the side...
The Cambridge Brew House plans to hold regular beer and food matching evenings. Head Brewer James also holds open evenings at the brewery in the pub. The next one is on Tuesday 11 June 2013, where he's also unveil a special new brew using locally sourced ingredients for the #CamDrinkLocal campaign.
I attended as a guest of the pub.