Let's get cheesy because there aren't many food products out there that can rival cheese.
Cheese is one of the most satisfying and indulgent products on earth. It has been prepared for centuries and is enjoyed worldwide, allowing people in cities like London to delight in amazing cheeses from all over the world. And, I doubt there's someone out there with a stronger passion for cheeses than me - I even have a 'super cheese' tattoo, but that's a story for another post.
When thinking of cheese, it's almost impossible not to associate it with a the following countries: France, Italy, Switzerland, and the UK*. These countries have produced cheese for centuries, and most of the world-renowned cheeses come from there.
*UK cheeses are not as popular beyond the island, but if you live in the UK, you'll know how much cheese culture thrives in Britain. If you don't believe me, have a look at the highlights of this year's edition of the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling competition.
Interesting fact: One of my all-time favourite movies is The Shining, and rumour has it that Director Stanley Kubrick had Jack Nicholson fed nothing but cheese sandwiches for two whole weeks, to get him into the zone.
But what exactly does cheese do to people when consumed in large amounts?
In a survey conducted by the former British Cheese Board, it was reported that 75% of volunteers involved in the research experienced unusual and vivid dreams when they ate stilton cheese before sleep.
Going back to cheeses and country association
As I said earlier in the post, it's almost impossible not to associate cheese with the following countries:
Most popular cheeses: Camembert, Roquefort, Brie, Comte, and Emmental.
To me, France has the most unique and robust cheeses on earth. They might not be everyone's favourite, but they do offer an extravaganza of choices for people who love stinky cheeses, like me. French cheese can be categorised as intense and not to everyone's taste; it is usually enjoyed by itself and not as part of a meal, unless it comes as a dessert. I still remember on a visit to Provence, where I ordered goat cheese for dessert, but to my surprise, an entire one the size of my palm came on top of a rocket base and a fig. That was it, no crackers whatsoever… I guess that's the French way.
Most popular cheeses: Parmigiano, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Ricotta and Mascarpone.
This country has had the biggest impact on cheese consumption worldwide and mostly thanks to Parmigiano and pizza, being eaten in almost every corner of the world. Their cheeses are easier to enjoy and are smooth to the palate which allows versatility of use, being added to salads, mains, and desserts. Clearly, pizza is a staple dish that doesn’t require further explanation as well as pasta, most of the time having to be sprinkled with a more than discrete amount of cheese. And what about an incredibly famous dessert using cheese as base? Tiramisu!
Most popular cheeses: Gruyere, Emmentaler, Raclette and Appenzeller.
The immediate association we all have with their cheeses is either Emmental (Tom & Jerry cheese style) or Raclette, despite there being an ongoing dispute with neighbouring countries on its origin, but let’s address it, it’s Swiss! And Raclette is not only the name of the cheese, but the indulgent dish normally consumed during the winter period. I had the luck of having to travel to Switzerland quite often and had one of the most memorable raclette experiences shortly after Christmas. I enjoyed a raclette, the way it should be, at the right time, on top of a mountain, surrounded by snow making it the right setting.
Most popular cheeses: Stilton and Cheddar.
Perhaps not as famous as the cheeses from other countries mentioned above, but if you live in the UK, you'll agree how good cheeses are in this country. But the discovery journey of British cheeses is challenging, as most of the cheeses take the name of towns where they specialise in that kind. Also, the exposure of these cheeses beyond the UK is not that common, given the fierce competition from the countries mentioned above.
What are my absolute favourites?
I love most cheeses, making it difficult to narrow them down to a few but normally I’d say the stinker the better. However, if I must list my top 5 for usual consumption - which is what we do at our place 2-3 times a week - the following cheeses are the ones that make it to our table regularly:
Let's cut to the cheese (chase) and with all of the above said, where can you find amazing cheese shops in East/North London?
Neil’s Yard Dairy – Islington
This is London's most iconic cheese shop, and since the late 90s, it has been the primary wholesaler of cheeses to shops and restaurants in the UK and abroad. Although their shops tend to be touristy, Neil’s Yard excels in showcasing and offering the best of British and Irish farmhouse cheeses.
A visit to any of their shops is a must as they will undoubtedly leave you in awe. If you're looking to introduce foreigners to the essence of British cheeses, Neil's Yard Dairy is the ideal destination.
They have a total of 4 shops, including the renowned ones in Borough Market and Covent Garden.
Pictures: Neal's Yard Instagram
La Fromagerie – Highbury
This boutique French cheese shop is the definition of cheese heaven. Despite its small size, the shop is packed with a delightful selection of cheeses, allowing buyers to immerse themselves in the world of cheese as it should be experienced. Customers step into a glass-divided section that provides the perfect environment to choose their cheese products.
The shop boasts an impressive variety of French cheeses, and the knowledgeable staff members are always eager to assist you in finding exactly what you desire and more. In addition to the cheese selection, the shop offers a little café and grocery shopping, as well as cheese events where you can enjoy cheese paired with wine or cider.
La Fromagerie has a total of 4 shops, with the Highbury branch being the smallest in terms of size. Most of the bigger events take place either at the Marylebone branch or the Bloomsbury restaurant.
Pictures: La Fromagerie Instagram
Jumi Cheese – Newington Green
This Swiss shop is located in Newington Green and takes pride in utilizing the best ingredients Switzerland has to offer. They stay true to their traditions by crafting their products with raw milk sourced from the Emmental valley in Switzerland. As their popularity and demand grew, they expanded their offerings to include freshly baked bread, a selection of products to accompany their cheeses, and even hosting raclette and fondue nights during the winter season. If I’m not mistaken, they’re the only shop in London providing such an extensive Swiss selection of cheeses, with a particular focus on raclette.
They also have a shop in Southwark, South London.
Pictures: Jumi Instagram
Pistacho & Pickle – Angel
This charming shop focuses on British produce, offering the perfect combination to complement your cheeses. It also features a cosy seating area on the first floor, where you can enjoy your cheese selection along with a glass of wine.
Additionally, they specialize in "baking" bespoke cheese wedding cakes and platters for various occasions.
Da Mario – Highbury
Although not strictly a cheesemonger, this Italian deli shop offers a great selection of Italian and European cheeses. This was and still is one of my favourite shops in north London, where you can find groceries, various deli items from Italy and a good selection of wines. A visit to this delightful shop is a treat for any food enthusiast, especially those with a love for Italian delicacies and cheeses.
Provisions Wine and Cheese – Holloway
This shop is special because they specialise in raw milk cheeses, natural wines and artisan food products. They also have a wine school allowing you to become a wine connoisseur or you can simply join one of their various wine events.
You can enjoy a fantastic cheese and wine tasting at either of their locations, Holloway or Hackney.
Funk – Hackney
Funk is part of a bigger group called 'The Cheese Bar' and it's their only proper cheese shop. This is their latest addition to their portfolio and specialise in British cheese, natural wine, craft beer and fine cider.
Their concept is all about cheese experiences and you can try them at the Cheese Barge (Paddington Central), Pick & Cheese (Seven Dials Market), The Cheese Bar (Camden Stables Market) and of course, The Cheese Truck (London everywhere).
La Fauxmagerie – Shoreditch
This shop is the UK’s first plant-based cheesemonger in the UK and they pretty much excel in proving cheese aficionados wrong. Indeed, “fake” cheese can also taste good and this is a great shop for trying them out. With that said, I don’t think fake cheeses can ever replace the true essence, maturation process and textures of real cheeses. Give them a shot and let me know what you think.
Enjoy these recommendations and let me know where to find new ones for me to try!