I've recently come back from a month-long trip to Europe. Last week, I covered my cheese findings and favorites in Italy.
Today, the report on cheese in England, including my top cheese pick in London.
If I could have, I'd have stayed much longer in England, but France was calling my name (stay tuned next week for news on French cheese.) But even in four days, I could see that cheese is alive and thriving in the England, which didn't come as a surprise, considering their rich history of cheesemaking.
My findings come mainly from the Borough Market, where I spent a hefty chunk of a day, and Neal's Yard Dairy, where I spent the other hefty chunk. In both places, the quantity of cheeses was only matched by their quality.
At Borough Market, I found a burgeoning small farm cheese scene, reminiscent of some of the dairies that appear regularly at my own farmer's market at Union Square in New York. In addition to the cheddars and Stiltons, there were countless others, along the lines of Caerphilly, Lancashire, and Cheshire, those cheeses of the firm, toothsome variety, best enjoyed alongside a robust English Ale. Most surprising were some styles I'd never seen in States from England: bloomies, many small-format, raw-milk goat cheeses, and mountain cheeses, all original inventions that departured from traditional, better-known recipes.
And while at Neal's Yard, I tasted mainly English cheeses of the French goat cheese variety, all beautifully aged, in the most excellent condition. As if we didn't already know, Neal's Yard is seriously adept at keeping delicious cheeses tasting as they should.
As I mentioned last week, keeping it local was incredibly prevalent in Europe. England, however, was much less defined by solely English cheeses; while in France I saw only French cheeses and in Italy I saw only Italian, England showcased a much more worldly selection. Italian, Irish, Spanish, and French cheeses sat directly next to the English greats. There was even a stand at Borough Market which sold only Parmigiano Reggiano delle Vacche Rosse, a Slow Food-endorsed cheese made from the milk of an endangered species of cow.
In fact, one of the best cheese things I ate wasn't English at all: a simple pressed sandwich at a seriously excellent Argentinian restaurant, made with chorizo, arugula, and thick slices of Monte Enebro goat cheese from Castilla y León. All served, appropriately, with a sweet and spicy English chutney. Not surprisingly, this combination came close to what made the most impression cheese-wise. But it didn't quite make the cut.
What actually gets the mention is Bath Blue, from the award-winning Bath Soft Cheese Co. in Kelson, England. Quite possibly one of the better blues I've tasted ever, and so much of this praise is due to its textural qualities, which I found so compelling. It was nearly velvety-- in that way that only blues can be, luxuriating on the tongue. It was reminiscent of the best of Stiltons: earthy, sweet, and lingering, incredibly complex in body, with large, creamy pockets of blue veining and smooth, nearly curd-like clumps making up the paste.
If you're fortunate enough to go to Borough Market, please seek them out. The stand is just across from the Italian guy selling Parmigiano Reggiano.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an Assistant TV Chef and food stylist on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Nora Singley)