To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published February 5th 2012
We always assume that the French are the world's best, and most prolific, cheese makers, but I would like to wave the banner for British cheeses. I don't mean the pre-packed supermarket stuff that tastes like rubber (especially the portions of Cheddar that are offered on 'planes'). I'm talking about the artisans throughout the British Isles who make superb cheeses, using milk from local dairy herds.
Whenever I go near Borough Market I can't resist popping into Neal's Yard Dairy. My dilemma is always deciding on which cheeses to buy, so of course I have to sample lots of them first. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and can advise on different types of cheese, and even explain if a particular favourite is slightly different than usual.
The original shop was opened in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden back in 1979, before the area was as trendy as it is now. Even then customers were encouraged to taste the cheeses and offer feedback to the staff. In 1986 Neal's Yard Creamery was set up to produce cheeses and yogurt and this is now carried out in the Wye Valley, Herefordshire. 1996 saw the founding of the Borough Market shop, which was originally intended for packing and maturing cheeses, but public demand ensured that this unit was also turned into a retail shop. The cheeses are now stored and ripened in the company's own separate temperature and humidity controlled facility.
The range of cheeses stocked includes hard and soft cheeses made from cows', goats' and sheep milk, both pasteurised and non-pasteurised. Last week I tasted a blue cheese that is made from each of the three different milks, although the same recipe is used throughout, and they were as different as chalk and cheese. There are also artisan butters, creams and yogurts. Moving away from the dairy side, you can buy speciality breads, oils, vinegars and preserves and gift vouchers.
Inside the Borough Market Branch. You may have to queue at busy periods.
Don't be shy to visit one of their shops next time you're passing. The staff will make recommendations based on your own tastes and will happily let you sample to your heart's content. The company runs regular tutored tasting sessions that have to be booked in advance and they also highlight cheeses of the month.
In addition to the two London shops, customers can purchase cheese at various markets and events around the country, or they can be ordered direct from Neal's Yard Dairy.
If you haven't acquired a taste for locally produced British cheeses that have been nurtured to the point of perfection, it's time you started.