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The first mention of an ‘Oxford Sauce’

When it comes to describing what ‘Oxford Sauce’ is, many would likely differ in their answers, if they were aware of its existence at all. Some seasoned foodies might point to Georges Auguste Escoffier’s Oxford Sauce, mentioned in the last book he ever wrote himself, titled Ma Cuisine (1934). Escoffier is widely celebrated for his contributions as a chef, known amongst French media as the ’king of chefs and chef of kings’. He popularised and modernised the French haute cuisine style of cooking and brought it with him to London, where he lived for 32 years. He began his apprenticeship in the kitchen at the young age of 14 and by 27 he was already chef de cuisine in the Parisian restaurant Le Petit Moulin Rouge.

A grand room with a red carpet and people wearing Victorian clothing socialing

The large restaurant at the Savoy c 1900. Source: Wikipedia.

A few years later he began to work with the famous hotelier Cesar Ritz at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. From 1890 to 1898 the pair both worked at the Savoy hotel in London, until dismissed for ‘gross negligence and breaches of duty and mismanagement’.

However, the duo had already established the Ritz Hotel development Company, which went on to open Paris’ Ritz Hotel in 1898 and London’s new Carlton Hotel the following year.

 Ma Cuisine (1934), written post World War II, when high dining and haute cuisine were in decline, focused more on recipes developed in modest kitchens using local ingredients and became a staple for French family cooking. In this book Oxford Sauce is described as a cold table sauce, based on fruit, similar to Cumberland sauce, but eliminating citrus peel. According to him it is: ‘A British sauce of red currant jelly dissolved with port and flavoured with shallots, orange zest and mustard; usually served with game.’

a book with a green cover with the writing A. Escoffier Ma Cuisine printed on the front

Ma Cuisine by A. Escoffier. Image courtesy of GNU Free Documentation License.

It should be noted that this is not the earliest mention of an Oxford Sauce, with one of the earliest belonging to the book called ‘The Englishwoman in India: information for ladies on their outfit, furniture..’ written by a ‘lady resident’, published in 1864. This recipe, meant to be served with something called Tonbridge Brawn, which is slow-cooked pig’s head and feet, looks very different from Escoffier’s version. The ingredients for this recipe include: brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, salad oil and vinegar (this recipe was found by blogger and author Janet Clarkson aka ‘The Old Foodie’ – whose blog is linked below).

The Green Baron and the Oxford Cheese Company

Robert Pouget aka ‘the Green Baron’ also devised a version of the Oxford Sauce recipe. However, before doing so, he established another one of Oxford’s most widely recognised and celebrated local businesses – the Oxford Cheese Company. As the story goes, Pouget and his friend Gerry Stevens wandered into the Covered Market one day and fell in love with it. Having noticed that one of the units was vacant, they decided to open up a cheese shop, having little expertise around this, other than their fondness for the dairy product. As it were, Pouget was interested in art and furniture design, while Stevens managed pop-up groups. However, Pouget was also a Director and shareholder of a company developing Southern malls, one of which Peter Glanville, a cheese specialist who went on to establish the Cheltenham Cheese Company, worked at. Glanville provided the two with the fundamentals and the right contacts to get them started. As such a cheese shop was opened up in 1983, and, three years later, the Oxford Cheese Company was founded. Due to there being very few specialist cheese shops around Britain at the time, it became popular overnight.

A photograph showing a portion of cheese with some of the wrapping visible which reads Oxford Blue

Oxford Blue Cheese. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1995, the company produced their first batches of the Oxford Blue Cheese, at a time where there was little blue cheese variety to compete with, other than the Stilton. In fact, it was produced in the style of Stilton, but had a creamier consistency.  It was intended to supply the city’s University Colleges, pubs and restaurants with blue cheese, but quickly garnered national and international buzz. In 2003, Pouget and his son Harley developed the Oxford Isis, a washed-rind cheese with a strong flavour, that is washed in local honey mead. Another notable cheese, the College White cheese, is a brie-style cheese created for the first time in 2009 by the company and named after Oxford University’s collegiate system.

The Oxford Sauce – reinvented

At the turn of the millennium, Robert Pouget wanted to develop a product to mark the occasion and he settled on developing his own recipe of Oxford Sauce, in the company kitchen on Stanley Road. This recipe would be very different from the previous ones mentioned, its ingredients including tamarind, anchovies, garlic and birds eye chillies, dates and molasses. It has a complex sweet and spicy flavour, the latter coming about more or less accidentally when it was being developed: while experimenting with the chilli content, the decimal point was misread. However, this was kept for the final recipe, resulting in a quite piquant product. This sauce is now being sold commercially and can be found everywhere from local food stores to the tables of pubs and restaurants (buy your bottle at the Museum of Oxford Gift Shop!).Four bottles containing brown liquid with a yellow label printed with Oxford Sauce

Written and researched by MOX volunteer Iulia Costache.

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