29 September 2010

Neal's Yard Dairy, London

I'm not a wine drinker. Never have been and never will unless somebody invents a pill to fend off my allergy to alcohol. Instead, I decided long ago to set my sights on cheese. I am not an expert by any means, but I have fine tuned pretty reliable metrics: I like. I don't like.

So one can imagine how I spent over an hour at Neal's Yard Dairy in Borough Market. Typically, when one first enters a cheese shop, one smells cheese. But in this case, I felt cold before anything other sensation was registered. This homage to cheese keeps the temperature cool enough for the counter of cheeses to remain happy. A barrel catching a shower of cold water also kept the shop moist enough. Me? A scarf in summer.

With a history that began in 1979 with the making of fresh cheeses, Greek yoghurt and creme fraiche, Neal's Yard Dairy today supplies the curious types as myself, local connoisseurs, international addicts and local restaurants who credit them on their menus. So why so special? Available are only local cheeses from British farms. And the staff behind the counter are just as local and addicted.

Fitted with blue aprons and matching blue caps, each attendant takes his time to explain the provenance of each blue, creme, white and yellow colored blocks, offers tastings and educates those on the other side of the sometimes overwhelming threshold. There's nothing more captivating than being fully engaged with someone thoroughly educated about a specialty. The staff from the top down personally visits the farms, tastes the cheeses as they arrive and maintains a fluid and collaborative partnership with their cheese makers. This results in a fine selection and its variation.

After a long series of tastings, I wanted to buy a truck load. But alas, I had to do with a small selection. My favorite of that day? The Stinking Bishop. I had all intention to eat the soft cheese out of the bag, but my "instructor" warned against it. "There's a reason why it's called Stinking Bishop. Your fingers will smell of it for hours." Warning accepted. So back to the hotel I rushed. Bags in hand.

Neal's Yard Dairy Borough Market I 6 Park Street London SE1 9AB I +44 (0)20 7367 0799
Neal's Yard Dairy Covent Garden I 17 Shorts Gardens London WC2H 9AT I +44 (0)20 7240 5700

Covent Garden Shop

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