Oxford and Cambridge Universities have been rivals since the former established the latter in 1209. Oxford produces more prime ministers; Cambridge Nobel prize-winners. But far more importantly for us – which boasts the finest food traditions? Let’s examine a balanced menu of sausages, beer, cheese and pudding.
The traditional Oxford Sausage, known since the 18th century, is made from pork and veal with beef suet, foregoing casings. But today a lighter version without the suet and in a casing is easier to find – check out Stroffs Speciality Sausages in Oxford’s covered market.
The Cambridge Sausage is also (and better) known as the Newmarket Sausage, and has more recent origins traced to the 1880s. Two rival butchers have different recipes, both all-pork, but Powter’s is spicier than Musk’s. These are apparently Clarissa Dickson Wright’s favourites.
No clear water between them yet.
Elgood’s Brewery in Wisbech can offer Cambridge Bitter, the 2006 Champion Beer of Britain. With its accessible 3.8 per cent alcohol plus the use of traditional Fuggles and Challenger hops, it’s a great all-rounder. Founded in 1795 it has historic weight too.
Oxford can counter with Hook Norton, dating from 1849, its Old Hooky a hefty 4.6 per cent, rich and malty. If Brasenose College members used that for their Shrove Tuesday ale tradition – adding nutmeg, cloves and sugar to beer – then nobody would recall the accompanying verses the next day.
With the village of Stilton in the same county, Cambridge surely takes a lead here. However, a judge’s ruling may be called for: though it probably originated in Stilton, the cheese is actually made in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, with a Protected Designation of Origin to back that up now. The cheese was made famous by Stilton’s Bell Inn, now selling Bell Blue, as Stilton made in Stilton can’t (yet) be called Stilton – glad that’s clear. The Notts-made Stilton from Colston Bassett is hard to beat.
Oxford would put up Oxford Blue, confusingly developed in a stilton dairy in the Nineties thanks to the co-founder of Oxford Fine Food. While lacking the heritage clout of its rival, Oxford Blue has the edge on creaminess, an excellent cheese.
We reach the last stretch with not a culinary canvas between the two varsities. And here Cambridge pulls away. Trinity Burnt Cream is a classic pud with evident links to that college – a thick and solid caramelised topping over unsweetened custard (rather closer to Crema Catalana than crème brûlée). In the city The Cambridge Chop House among other eateries features this dish.
Oxford has the hugely calorific and stodgy New College Pudding to its eternal credit, but you will probably need to make it yourself. A late substitute could be the Banbury Cake, a puff-pastry delight filled with dried fruit, and light enough to act as cox here. Versions from the village are available online.
What Oxbridge delicacies would you add to the menu (and argument)?
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