London’s finest cheese shops: a festive guide

London has a vibrant, world-class cheese scene.

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London has a vibrant, world-class cheese scene.

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http://www.falstaff.com/en/nd/londons-finest-cheese-shops-a-festive-guide/ London’s finest cheese shops: a festive guide From traditional purveyors of fine cheese to funky new arrivals, London’s artisan cheesemongers go into overdrive at Christmas time. http://www.falstaff.com/fileadmin/_processed_/b/c/csm_Header_Cheese_792ed87607.jpg

London is home to some of the oldest and most respected cheesemongers in the business. Add a new guard of smaller independent shops and some seriously good market stalls, and you have a vibrant, world-class cheese scene. Falstaff sniffs out some of the best in town for your Yuletide and New Year celebrations.

Over the festive season, the sleepy-eyed affineurs of the capital work hard to source some of the finest cheeses from around the UK, across Europe and beyond, bringing them on to perfect ripeness just in time for Christmas. These shops are true shrines to handmade, artisan produce and are a joy to visit. Many offer in-person or online festive events and tastings, and most now deliver nationally too.

Cheese is at its heart a simple, if clever, method of preserving milk. A seasonal cheese board can really show this off to its best. Whilst Stilton and the blues preside imperiously over festivities, hard cheeses made with the richness of this year’s summer milk, or matured for 18 or even 30 months, are now coming into their prime. Similarly, majestic Alpage cheeses like Gruyère, Beaufort and Salers – from the high pastures of the Jura, Alps and Auvergne, respectively – are at their peak. French and Swiss vacherins, in all their unalloyed luxury, clamour for attention. ‘Tis also the season for the aromatic spiciness of Langres, a speciality of the Champagne region that comes with a handy dip in the top to fill with the famous sparkling wine. Still in doubt as to what to serve this year? Have a chat with any of the specialists below – they live to talk cheese.

Paxton & Whitfield

In the weeks before Christmas, the queue for the Stilton counter inside P&W, the UK’s oldest cheesemonger, stretches out of the door and a considerable distance down Jermyn Street. Not surprisingly – it’s their top-selling cheese, made especially for them by the artisans at Cropwell Bishop. Trading Since 1797 and holder of two royal warrants, this is a quintessentially English affair but with a truly international customer base. Their St James’ headquarters, plus a second shop in Chelsea (and another in Bath), source the best from farmhouse producers across Britain and abroad (the 18-month matured Comté comes courtesy of Paris’ master affineur Androuet). Their Christmas shop groans with cheese gifts and hampers, and there’s a subscription service for the truly committed. 

Paxton & Whitfield offers a subscription service.

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Neal's Yard Dairy

With shops in Covent Garden, Borough Market, Islington and Bermondsey, Neal’s Yard is a London institution. In addition to an extensive range of individual cheeses, their talented affineurs put together some lovely bespoke selections, including Stilton, this time from the experts at Colston Bassett, intense Camembert-style Tunworth and light, buttery St Jude. There’s even a selection that comes with a pre-recorded virtual tasting so you can munch along with the experts. Their lovingly reared cheese is also sold through some of the finest cheese shops in Europe, the US and beyond. Gift vouchers and a subscription service also available.

The affineurs at Neal´s Yard Dairy put together some lovely bespoke selections.

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La Fromagerie

Patricia Michelson’s La Fromagerie family has shops in Marylebone, Bloomsbury and Highbury. Each is a foodie Aladdin’s cave, but impeccably sourced and reared cheese (as the name suggests) remains at the heart of what they do. They offer some thoughtfully balanced cheese boards for Christmas, including French, British and Irish, and Italian selections. The Fromagerie Collection, true to their original inspiration, eschews the usual blue for the delights of Bleu d'Auvergne. But fear not, their British Classic Board pairs a generous slab of Colston Basset with soft, bloomy Waterloo and Montgomery's Cheddar. Their Beaufort Chalet D’alpage, the “raison d'être of La Fromagerie” as they put it, is extraordinary. Gift boxes come in very smart black livery and include a delightfully designed canvas bag.

La Fromagerie shop in Marylebone, London.

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Mons Cheesemongers

Growing from their roots in the Auvergne, Mons now has shops in Bermondsey and East Dulwich as well as regular spots at Borough Market and Brockley Food Market. They offer a handsome selection of traditionally made continental and British cheeses, ripened in their London cellars and back home in the Côte Roannaise. Unsurprisingly, the French selection is second to none, including “1924”, a cheese made from ewe and cow’s milk to a traditional pre-AOC Roquefort recipe. Their classic Brie de Meaux is from famous fromagers Luc and Jean-Philippe Dongé. Specially curated festive selections and subscriptions for that regular fix are available.

Hamish Johnston

Over at Hamish Johnston’s emporium in Battersea’s Northcote Rd, you’ll find Cropwell Bishop Shropshire Blue nestling next to their traditional Stilton and slower ripening Brie de Melun alongside the wheels of Brie de Meaux. There’s a beautifully curated selection of goat’s cheese here too, from delicate, chestnut-leaf-wrapped Mothais sur Feuille, to British favourites Golden Cross and ash-coated Tor. The shop hosts tasting evenings, designing bespoke events for customers on request.

Funk

This perfectly formed little shop in east London’s Columbia Road is the latest from the stable that brought a trio of innovative cheese-focused restaurants to the capital. Like its sister restaurants (Camden, Covent Garden and Paddington’s Cheese Barge), the focus is on the best of British and Irish cheese. There’s a subscription service, of course, but this time boxes come with a bottle of small producer wine as well as a DJ-curated playlist.

Buchanans

Located on Porchester Place, just north of Hyde Park, this little independent gem boasts about 100 British and continental cheese in their maturing rooms. Only those at perfect ripeness make it to the shop floor, guaranteeing a daily-changing offering of peak cheesiness. This is a shop to visit in person for friendly, professional advice and help putting together bespoke hampers or gift boxes.  Vouchers are on sale over the counter or via email. 

The London Cheesemongers

Crediting its birth to procuring 200 kilos of Swiss Gruyère in 2016, this newcomer has proudly set up shop in Chelsea’s Pavilion Rd, in a new enclave of “village” shops just behind Sloane Square. They have a frequently changing range of about 30 cheeses with selections including a Mountain Cheese Box (Reblochon, Tomme de Savoie, Comté and Gruyère) and pairings with red/white wine and sherry. Gifts, subscriptions and vouchers are available.

Borough Market

London’s world-famous food market comes with impeccable cheese credentials. If you can’t make it in person, they have a brilliant hook-up with sustainable online marketplace Good Sixty enabling you to shop from multiple traders and have your goodies delivered nationwide for a single delivery fee. 

Individual artisan cheese makers are well represented by the likes of Sussex-based Alsop and Walker, The Bath Soft Cheese Company, Somerset’s Trethowan Brothers, and Blackwoods Cheese Company. Local Kappacasein Dairy offers its wonderful raw milk cheeses from a tiny stall at the edge of the market. The toasted cheese sandwiches and piping hot Raclette they sell to hordes of eager cheese cognoscenti are worth the visit alone. Those looking for dairy-free inspiration should head to Palace Culture, whose genuinely different vegan cheeses include a hard, wine-washed cashew nut, a soft goat-style cheese, and smoked almond ricotta.

Specialist cheese mongers like The Borough Cheese Company and Heritage Cheese (now with a Dulwich Village shop too) sit cheek by jowl here with stalls focusing on the best of continental produce. French and Swiss regional cheese is championed by Une Normande a Londres, The French Comté, Le Marché du Quartier and Jumi Cheese. Gastronomica provides the Italian connection, along with Bianca & Mora, De Calabria, the wonderfully named L’Ubriaco Drunk Cheese and The Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand. Importers of Spanish cheese and other delicacies, Brindisa, have a lovely Borough outlet (as well as a deli and cheese maturing rooms in Balham). If you feel yourself flagging in your cheese quest, their grilled chorizo and piquillo pepper rolls work wonders.

Jumi Cheese at Borough Market, London.

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