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On the subject of cheese…

This may sound like a bit of an advert, but frankly I don’t care. You have to be able to express joy in the things you like – I think – whether they be commercial or not. Only let me say that I have received no money or free merchandising for the following glowing endorsement. None at all. Not even the tiniest sliver of perfectly ripe brie…

Every year shortly before Christmas I pop into Neal’s Yard Dairy and get a selection of cheeses to take up to my family in Norfolk. It’s become a bit of a ritual. There’s something really primal and satisfying about bringing food back for a significant meal – particularly one so associated with the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun (oh and all that Christian stuff I guess). So to do my part, I go into Covent Garden’s most well-stocked and sensually stimulating shop, sample a dozen cheeses (they’ll let you try everything) and then buy a representative sample.

This sounds more like an advert than I’d feared, but let me continue anyway… The wonderful staff will recommend the Stilton that’ll be at its best at exactly the right time, they’ll tell you how to store your cheese (FYI: in a cellar or on a window-ledge – not in the fridge because it’ll dry it out) and they’ll even label each perfectly paper-wrapped block of cheese you buy – so that you can order them again or look them up later in your favourite cheese tome (I bought my father a book of cheese so that he can investigate the whole issue in more detail – I believe it’s been a tremendous success). In a nutshell – it’s one of the most pleasant experiences of my year and I heartily recommend it. Plug over. Well, nearly…

It occurs to me that this is an ideal topic for a random poll, so here we go: What’s your favourite cheese?

19 replies on “On the subject of cheese…”

Well, when being presented with new cheese from all over Europe every week at the market in Paris, as if there really are thousands of them, it keeps changing on a regular basis. Let’s say my recent favorite is the Etivaz (Swiss), but it’s a short winner from tens of others ;-). I wish I knew more about the British cheeses (if someone knows where to find good ones in Paris, I’ll be grateful).

Well if you are interested in British cheese, you can in fact order it from Neal’s Yard Dairy! Having said that I will now stop trying to push their beautiful, wholesome, often-organic cheeses onto you wise, admirable and tasteful people.

montgomery’s cheddar can be exceptional, although i’ve had a couple of batches which weren’t great. it’s available, funnily enough, from neal’s yard dairy. a good batch of it can exceptional.
the non-great examples of montgomery’s were bought from neal’s yard, with the warning that it wasn’t quite the right season for it, or something, and them insisting i tasted it before purchase to ensure i was happy.
in my experience they tend to insist you taste everything when you buy – which is a problem for me as a non-stilton eater who has, on occasion bought stilton for friends as a treat. 🙂
it’s a great shop – the staff really know their product, and they take pride in what they sell. the queues just before christmas, however, are a bitch.

I’ve discovered and love Reblochon, Roquefort and Cantal (these are in no particular order) in my Parisian market trawls. Red Leicester and a particularly strong/sharp Cheddar are old faves but impossible to find over here. Padawan, you’ll need to use the Chunnel to get the variety you’re looking for, or as Tom suggests, click away.

Oh my. One favourite cheese? Eeek. I think anyone brought up in England won’t look back to their childhood Cheddar, and whilst the 6 or 7 that Neal’s Yard offer are great, sometimes something a bit milder hits the spot. I’m partial to a New Zealand Cheddar I found at Waitrose – totally the wrong texture (slightly rubbery), but very smooth and creamy. I think a bit of heat helps a lot of cheese, and nothing can beat a runny Raclette, or melting Fontina or Reblochon over hot buttery potato slices that have caught slightly. On the wobblier side of cheese, a firm Emmental or Gruyere are something special, and a good Brie or Camembert with a hunk of fresh bread makes a fine lunch. For these it is best to head down to Neal’s Yard, negotiate the flailing knives with samples proffered, and take a while to pick and choose (but not at Christmas, when queues stretch out of both Covent Garden and Borough Market). (Kill me, I appear to have turned into Nigel Slater…)

Probably Wensleydale. Incidentally, I was once interviewing Peter Sallis (the voice of Wallace of Wallace & Grommit fame) for a student newspaper, and asked him what his favourite cheese was. Dolcelate, apparently. Hope that helps.

There’s St. Nectaire, which I really enjoy. It’s French cheese, slightly less mild than a Brie or a Camembert. I haven’t been able to find it outside France, unfortunately, but that won’t stop me trying again in Covent Garden this week…

A nice soft Brie or a bit of Roquefort.
I don’t normally advocate drinking beer with food, but I do enjoy a good bit of Sage Derby with a bottle or two of IPA. These days getting a proper IPA isn’t a problem, but Sage Derby? Tricky.
You’re going to tell me I get it from Neal’s Yard Dairy now, arn’t you?

Well that all rather depends. Neal’s Yard only does cheeses from the UK and Ireland, and I’m not sure how good they are with vegetarian cheeses (Sage Derby is vegetarian, right?) but if that’s not a particular anxiety I don’t have any doubt that they could find you something comparable and beautiful.

I have particular fondness for the cheeses from back home – Wales.
Y Fenni, Pant Mawr, and this gorgeous soft cheddar with leek that I forget the name of. And then there’s all those ewe’s milk and goats milk cheeses too.
I feel fat just thinking about it!

I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like, but one of those strong but slightly creamy traditional cheddars with a bit of a bite in it comes to mind right now (no metaphor or irony intended) B-)

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