The Welsh Colleges’ Easter tour 2020 was due to be held in the Cardiff area on 2 to 5 April, but as with so many things it was cancelled due to the Covid19 pandemic. As a touring society with members spread across the country that left us with the prospect of many months without seeing each other, and with most people having regular video conferences through work the obvious choice was to do something similar with a more social perspective.
In recent years, cheese has become ubiquitous on Welsh Colleges’ tours, usually appearing late at night after the pubs have closed. As a result, it seemed appropriate to have a curated virtual cheese evening on what would have been the Friday night of the tour.
The Mousetrap Cheese Shop in Hereford offers online ordering and home delivery across the UK and Waitrose Cellar sells wine for Click and Collect from your nearest store or home delivery. For this event, the suggested cheeses and a red and white wine were all from British producers. The original idea of also having a beer suggestion proved to be logistically too tricky, so people brought their own choice of beer. A guide to the cheeses and wines with space for notes was circulated before the event for people to print at home.
The curated selection was:
However, the idea was always to keep it inclusive, and happily, those that were unable or unwilling (or too disorganised) to order the specified cheeses still joined in with whatever they had in the house. This included Dairylea triangles from one ‘connoisseur’.
Over the course of the evening over thirty people joined in, including members from as far flung places as Suffolk, Washington DC, and, er, Wales. Some were there right from the start and others dropped in and out as the evening wore on. Much like the first evening of tour in the pub there was a little cheer and a flurry of waving whenever someone new arrived. Paul and Sarah Parker were characteristically ostentatious, as they appeared in their sitting room perched on a giant inflatable peacock. A hard core of seven even moved on to single malt in the early hours, another thing that is a familiar feature of Welsh Colleges’ tours.
Of course, anything like this online is not the same as doing it in real life. Simultaneous side conversations are impossible, so it was necessary to focus on one household at a time. Much like the Eurovision Song Contest, we took turns to hear from the Weybridge, Stockport, Long Crendon, and St Albans juries. Having the cheese to talk about gave it a bit of structure, but we also managed to catch up with everyone’s lives.
With a number of keyworkers present we were proud to hear about our friends’ vital jobs in hospitals and frontline services, and the rest shared their experiences of the pitfalls of work video conferencing (always remember to mute and unmute, and don’t stand up if you’re not wearing any trousers).
As well as the evening being a huge amount of fun we were reminded that a key part of Welsh Colleges’ is that our friendships endure and are just as strong whether we’re separated or by quarantine..
Let’s all keep going!
Author: Rhiannon Meredith
Four cheeses worked really well and meant that those living alone didn’t end up with a huge surfeit of cheese afterwards. Most online cheese shops offer 250g portions.
Think about the order in which the cheeses should be eaten. Generally this will be in increasing strength of flavour (usually ending with the blue cheese). If you’re having beer and/or wine with the cheese, encourage people to try all the options with all of the cheeses rather than sticking with traditional pairings.
Have a designated ‘chairperson’ who can facilitate the discussions and ask questions of participants. This stops it descending into chaos but also keeps conversation flowing.
There are plenty of platforms that work for this kind of thing. We used Webex, but Zoom works just as well. Do think about how it is ‘hosted’ though – it can be a bit of a disappointment if the ‘host’ has to leave when everyone else is in full flow and cuts the whole thing off.
It’s ok if people can’t all take part for the whole session or if they don't have the same cheese or wine. It should be a relaxed experience.