My obsession with cheese has gone international! On a recent trip to England, I made cheese an important part of my itinerary, which included stomping around town with the English faction of my family. Our schedule read something like this: Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, Neal’s Yard Dairy. You can take the girl out of her country, but you can’t take the cheese away from the girl. Although it was a tourist affair extraordinaire, I needed to recall a bit of home: I needed some cheese!
Neal’s Yard, considered London’s most venerable cheese shop, has two locations: the original in Covent Garden and their bigger location in London’s Borough Market.
Found in 1979 by Nicholas Saunders, Randolph Hodgson, an employee who acquired the shop soon after its inception, was making his own cheeses at the time. Early in their business, they began buying and selling mature cheeses. After their requisite growing pains, they grew into a haven for high quality farmstead English, Irish and Welsh cheeses.
Their staff is armed with an arsenal of knowledge and I ended up spending a huge chunk of time in their Covent Garden shop, tasting everything I could fit in my seemingly bottomless stomach. I probably tasted more cheese in-house than I actually purchased in the long-run. I was lucky to have met Martin, behind the counter, whose passion for cheese equaled my own. We talked shop and tasted together. We compared English cloth-bound cheddars and blues, and compared quince pastes to accompany my selection; we sniffed stinky cheese until I burned all the hairs from my nostrils.
To give a sense of their undeniable and almost inconceivable generosity, I was able to sample Montgomery’s Cheddar, unpasteurized cow’s cheddar from Somerset, Lincolnshire Poacher, a hard cow’s milk, unpasteurized cheddar, Crozier Blue, and Irish blue sheep’s milk cheese, Mileens Dotes, a soft cow’s milk washed-rind cheese and Ardrahan, a semi-soft pungent cheese from Cork, Ireland, among others.
Cheese is piled high, cloth bound cheddars towering over the customers like lactic skyscrapers. This shop fired me up. If I could, I’d live in Neal’s Yard Dairy. I love the smell of a ripening room, I love the ammonia it emanates. Back in the States, I am missing Neal’s Yard like Dorothy missed Kansas while trapped in Oz. There’s no place like an artisanal cheese shop.