Tuesday, August 7, 2012

London Cheese Shops

Neil's Yard Creamery
John and I made it by two specialty cheese shops which sell mostly British artisanal cheeses. Our first stop was Neil's Yard Creamery in Covent Garden. Neil's Yard Creamery opened in 1979 and actually faces Shorts Garden (Rd.) to the south of Neil's Yard. The Neil's Yard Creamery gained some notoriety after opening when former Neil's Yard resident, John Cleese of Monty Python, tried to buy cheese there and they had none.

Montgomery's Cheddar
We tasted many very good farmhouse cheeses, including a Montgomery's Cheddar, but left with a quarter Colston Bassett Stilton. I've been shopping at Neil's Yard for the better part of 10 years of traveling to London and their service and the quality of cheeses is always exceptional. During a visit on a slow day several years ago, the shop manager took about 20 minutes and extracted core samples from a half dozen wheels of stilton sitting on the shelf to show me how each one, even from the same dairy at the same time, had a unique flavor. I didn't put them through this trouble on our visit and just tasted and bought what was already out and sliced. Our stilton happened to be made in February (most stilton selections were from February and March, about 5 months old). It's all very good, but I've gotten picky over the years and prefer cheese made during the late spring and summer months.

We didn't buy any cheese at the next shop, Paxton and Whitfield, on this trip, but I've probably bought most of my cheese here over the years. Paxton is located on Jermyn St. in central London, was founded in 1797, and currently holds a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Whales. Paxton's atmosphere is a little more formal than the farmhouse feel of Neil's Yard, but the friendly and helpful service of the staff is truly exceptional.  Paxton will always hold a special place in my heart when about 12 years ago, after a conversation with the shop manager about labrador retrievers (and my lab who was then dying of lymphoma), the manager went to the back of the shop and returned with a large slice of cheddar. He told me it was for my dog and had come from Prince Charles' private stash. "Cowboy" enjoyed it as one of his last meals.