Category Archives: Delicacies in London

I Work in Cheese!

I think it is time to admit that for the past 12 months I have actually been working in a cheese shop. Much unlike the Monthy Python example, we stock over 160 types of cheese, and we rarely run out.

We have:

cow’s, ewe’s, goat’s buffalo’s,

hard, semi-hard, semi-soft, soft,

runny, pungent, mild,

bloomy rind, washed rind, natural rind,

crumbly pate, spring pate, clay-like pate,

whatever one desires, we almost got everytime.

It started out of sheer curiosity, and also a bit of obsession with cheese.

I had always worked in media before, mostly behind the camera, producing a whole array of programs for various audiences in multiple countries.

But I always had a little dream.

Whenever I decided to leave the media industry, perhaps in my sixties, I would be back in Istanbul, and I would start up my cheese shop.

A small, cosy, smelly shop where I would have my regular clientele, with whom I would chat about the weather as I gave them a slice of Morbier to taste, or a tiny bit of Comte to nibble on. And we would smile, and be merry as the cheese melted in our mouths. I would bring into their life a bit of something nice.

It happened sooner that I thought.

At a moment when I was having a tougher time than usual to find the kind of work I was really intersted in producing in the media field, I thought to myself, who don’t you give cheese a try.

And so I retailored my CV. One of my key strengths became “Passion for Cheese.” Within a few weeks, I had found a job as a cheese assistant at one of London’s top cheese sellers.

I started working with cheese everyday.

Every morning as I entered the cheese shop, a very particular smell reached my nostrils, that of cheese and wood, and mould (the good kind).

My first moment of fascination was when I discovered that the three cellars we have, goat’s and bloomy rinds in one, hard cheeses in the other, and washed rinds in the third, smelled completely different than one another, while all leaving a sugary taste in my mouth, as the odours hit my nasal passage.

Then came affinage.

My fingertips stank with cheese all night after that day, even though I washed my hands at least six times afterwards. But it was all worth it.

To this day,  a whiff of the Livarot washed rind, sweet and sour, and alcoholic, makes me salivate.

Since then, I’ve tasted all the cheeses in the cheese room, every single one of them.

I’ve fallen in love with a few of them, Persille du  Marais (Goat’s) and Zelu Koloria (Ewe’s) from Blues,

Ami and Livarot from Washed rinds,

Ticklemore, St. Maure, Valencay, and especially Truffe Noire from Goat’s

Tomme de Cleon, Comte D’estive, and Fribourg from the hards,

And Gabietou, and Napoleon, oh so sweet, oh so delicately sweetly perfumed milky beauties from the Ewe’s,

And yes Brie aux Truffes, a whole Brie de Meaux cut in half, smeared generously with  a secret Truffle concoction, and put back together again for a measure of frivolity.

I  work with cheese;

I smell, clean, cut, wash, cling film, sell cheese, all sorts of cheese every day, day after day, sometimes from seven in the morning until early evening, and I still love it.

I guess this love really is a keeper.

Maybe one day, I’ll marry the two, my love of media, and my love of cheese. This is just the beginning:)

Surrounded by cheese!

(I had written the first version of this article about five months ago. Since then, my love for cheese has directed me into a path that I never thought I could make a career of. I am still very much in love with the product that is cheese, but have now decided to widen my horizon. There is still so much to learn, so much to experience, and to write about. This is all a wonderful experience.)

Vacherin! It’s finally here!

Vacherin season is finally here! Well almost, as they need a tiny bit more time to mature.  They’re already out on sale in cheese shops across Paris, but it may be wise to wait for a couple more weeks, as they may not have reached their optimum level of maturity, and the paste may be too young to showcase a mature Vacherin’s complex flavours.

Vacherin boxes lining La Rue Mouffetard, Paris

As a side note, I actually met the cheesemaker, a petite and yet strong French lady who provides the Vacherin Mont D’or du Haut Doubs to a specialist cheese shop in London when I was in Morteau last June. I have been waiting for October to arrive to taste the cheese she so lovingly and meticulously was rumored to produce. I would actually love to go back to Morteau now to experience the Vacherin production there, as Vacherin is only produced seasonally between end of September to March, and this is traditionally the time when there is not enough milk to produce Comte, and yet easily enough to produce these semi soft, milky washed rinds that are winter favourites among many.

For those of you already rubbing your hands in delight at the thought of baking your Vacherins and dipping boiled new potatoes as mini screams of ecstasy escape your lips, here’s an alternative recipe from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/bakedvacherinwithher_79883

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Cabecou-la-la!

Young Cabecou du Rocamadour, with two weeks affinage

Young Cabecou du Rocamadour… What a treat! with a size of four to five centimetres in diameters, and a height of about one centimetre, this small but mighty raw goat’s ilk cheese from the midi-Pyrenees is said to be one of the oldest and un-changed goat’s cheese recipes brought north by the Saracens. The one I’ve had, and i quite like them at this stage of maturation was about two weeks old, with a tender soft rind that’s bearely formed, and a melty interior, very much like what you would expect from a similarly aged Banon a la Feuille. The creamy soft pate (the interior of the cheese) is not too salty, and with just the right amount of goaty acidity without being too overpowering. There’s also the hint of mould from the barely-there rind that adds a very slight twist to the taste. The aftertaste is quite pleasant with a light and yet distinctive taste of hazelnuts. The cheese gets harder and smaller as it matures, as its sheds its moisture with affinage (the French term for maturation). I must say, two weeks old Cabecou is just the perfect mini-treat after dinner on a wednesday! Do be aware that some cheese experts argue that Cabecou’s shelf life is about 14 days, but it’s quite easy to come across much more mature Cabecou in cheese shops across London. Do not be afraid to ask for younger Cabecou if what you’re after is the mild and melty goat’s. The mature ones will taste much stronger. Of course to each her own poison!

We paired the Cabecou with a slightly young peach (that’s all the fruit we had at home!) but a sweeter starchier fruit such as a pear would be the better alternative. To keep in mind for next time.

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La Dolce Vita!

Barbera? Check.

Chianti? Check.

Prosecco? Check.

Limoncello? Check.

Olive Oils of Puglia? Check.

Sangiovese? Check.

Massive amounts of Prosciutto dangling? Check.

An actual roasted pig (Porchetta di Ariccia is the proper way of saying it!)being cut up? Indeed check.

Itsy bitsy pieces of Provolone and Pecorino being served? Yes, but not enough!

I made it to La Dolce Vita. Smack in the middle of London’s Islington, the new venue for the “Italian Festival in London.”

I had actually been meaning to attend the event on a weekday so I could properly visit the stands without hoards of people ramming against each other, but my procrastinating evil side got the better of me, and by the time I made it to the Business Design Centre with my friend, it was already mid-day on Saturday. So, lunch hour for all the people who had come to Upper Street, and who wanted to get a bit of all the pleasures the “Festivale” had to offer.

They didn’t have to wait long. Even before I purchased my entrance ticket, smiling girls were handing out Spinach and Ricotta Tortellonis by Giovanni Rama, ready in a minute, if you just pop them into the boiling water kind. I gladly accepted the gift!

At the Door - Tortelloni!

Making our way in through the crowd, (I did buy a ticket:)) we could see floors and floors of stands, displaying everything from “How to Make Pasta Competitions” to Pizza corners, to Luxurious Italian getaways, to my favourite kind of stands. The food stalls, yes, and the wine ones.

Here’s a brief(?) summary of what we did.

We stood behind a bunch of people to get a taste of what looked like a 2000 bottle of red, but after 6 minutes got a little smushed in the corridor.

Instead we made our way to the Limoncello Corner, and as we tasted the Limoncello, which was delicious, we also got introduced to this other digestif, Ratafia, tasting of heavenly cherries, made with a base of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Between the Limoncello and Ratafia, my vote’s in for the latter, though it tasted quite sweet.

The Limoncello and the Ratafia

Next was an extremely rich stand of pancetta. Made by a company called Nero di Calabria, the pancetta was nothing like I had seen before. It was apparently made from a black pig, but was so white, I wasn’t sure I wanted to taste all that fat. Contrary to my preconception, it was delicious, oh-so-soft, and I loved the fat! They also had a spreadable salami on the table, it was basically this huge chunk the size of three cricket balls meshed together, and people were just spreading bits of it onto semi-stale pieces of bread. I loved that too, I must confess. It tasted very much like chorizo, and like what the Turks call Cemen on the side of their Pastirma (cured ham made of cow).

Nero di Calabria's Pancetta

The stand across from all this deliciousness was that of Gustardivino, specialising in the products of the Piedmontese territory. Their tables were practically  bursting with open bottles of wine, and coincidentally with people buzzing around trying to get another sip of the Italian beauties on display. I’m more of a red-wine person so that’s what I went for. After trying a bunch, including a Dolcetto and a Nebbiolo, I went ahead and bought a Barbera del Monferrato, 2007. (altomonferrato.com) It was smooth, fulll-bodied, none of that light, and crispiness that some people like. I like my wine to have a taste in the back of my throat, not  in the middle of my tongue.

Bring on the Barbera

As we walked toward another stall filled to the brim (yet again) with sweets, cookies, marzipans, all kinds of pastry stuff, I almost hit the Prosciuttos hovering above ground! They looked good though.

My next purchase was at the Puglian olive stand. Tons to choose from, not a lot of time. But I already knew this company, they set up shop in the Borough Market as well as at other markets around town, including Broadway on Saturdays. I love the flavour of truffles so my impulse purchase was the White Truffle Extra Virgin Olive Oil of San Pietro a Pettine. Compared to the other truffle oil that I tried on the stand, this one was much more potent, much more flavoursome, and in a much smaller bottle.

Extra Virgin with Truffles, please.

After munching on a bit of Ciccola and Salami from one stand, and tasting a 2008 and a 2004 Reserve Sangiovese from another, we decided to take a break from all the wandering and sit down. At Theo Randall’s little stand/ restaurant. And for a fiver, we got ourselves some scallops! Warm, moist, flavoured with capers and bell peppers and all kinds of other stuff I’m not even sure about, it gave us a bit of a break from all the cold cuts we’d been consuming. Took us towards the sea.

Thank you Theo Randall!

A little side note here, even though the Pecorino was in abundance, in the whole event floor, which is huge, I only came across a single proper cheese stand. Shame. Moving on.

Another impulse purchase(s) came in the shape of an absolutely delighful Chianti, 2007, by Fattoria di Polvereto, and an extra dry Prosecco Conegliano – Valdobbiadene. In tasting both, I had the feeling that they could both be consumed quickly, and with pleasure. The Chianti had apparently been such a favourite that that they sold out of full sized bottles, and all I could get was a half bottle version, which was a slimmer version, but of the same height as the original bottle. We’ve already finished that one, and recommendations are in order.

As we sipped on a tiny peach coloured bottle of Bellini, we came across the famed Porchetta di Ariccia. The stand owners delightedly posed with the butcher’s knife stabbed in the back of what was now a “gastronomic specialty”.

Porchetta di Ariccia!

The only proper cheese stop we’ve had came at this moment, about two hours in from the time we entered. The Pecorino, the Parmigiana, it was all there. And so was a new discovery for me, Robiola D’Alba, which came either “Naturale” or “Rucola”. I wanted to get the uncompromised taste so went for the naturale. It was a fresh, subtle, slightest bit crumbly cow’s cheese, though from the colour, very white, one might’ve mistaken it for a fresh goat’s.

Finally...

Making our way towards the exit, we realised, the crowd had dissipated, and we were free. So we did go back, and tried the 2000 red. The Brunello di Montalcino, though with a slightly unpleasant looking label, was the finishing touch.

The Last Sip.

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I want more of that Foie Gras please! And the Lamb!

Bistroteque is a fantastic place in Bethnal Green, away from the crowds. Although Peter Prescott of Terence Conran’s Bluebird (their joint book Eat London has become my restaurant bible) lists it among his top 5  restaurants in London,  you’re also on the same street as a little transvestite bar according to our cab driver, which makes the experience all the more real. There are two rooms, the main dining hall, which you can only reach by going through the  open kitchen, and the smaller room which over the week is reserved for private parties, but is opened to the restaurant clients over the weekend. We dined on a Saturday evening in the smaller room, with about eight tables, which is basically partitioned from the main hall by a very library-esque decor. You almost expect butlers with tattoos to serve you.

The appetiser, seared foie gras with orange confit and brioche was superb. So was the steak tartare. My companions even commented they could eat the steak tartare for an entre as well as main course! I opted for the lamb rump. The meat was soft, succulent, absolute perfection. It took me back to my childhood where I happily ate away the juicy fat off of my lamb chops.

For dessert, we opted for the cheese plate, which was predominantly French, with only a single honorary British addition. Valencay, Epoises, and Roquefort were the big boys, complimented by the UK’s Golden Cross. I have to say, after reading about the Golden Cross in Arthur Cunynghame’s Book the Cheesemonger’s tales (he’s the ex-owner of Paxton & Whitfield, a renowned specialty cheese shop in London), I was slightly disappointed. Perhaps I was expecting fireworks, and it was just a pleasant sort of cheese, not-so-special. The Epoisses was not as stinky as normally expected of it, and was soft, and melts-in-your -mouth and leaves just the right amount of potent after-taste kind of delicious. It was a great accompaniment to my digestif Calvados. The Roquefort, I unfortunately cannot comment on, as my two dining partners gulped it away before I could get my oatcake out!  Interestingly enough the cheeseboard and oatcakes were served with a pickled cauliflower relish, coloured with saffron. Delicious.

Bistroteque’s wine selection is also quite commendable. The majority of the reds were french, but we started with a Sangiovese, medium-bodied and pleasant, as they no longer had the Pinot Noir we had in mind. And we made our way towards the Chateau Bel-Air, Graves de Vayres, France ‘04, which we enjoyed immensely with the tartare and the lamb.

Just an additional food-for-thought, I do believe it is in the best interest of a restaurant’s business if the serving staff  know the names of the cheeses they serve, and how to pronounce them. Our server even called her colleague to help her with the names, which was quite nice, but perhaps it is the manager’s duty to oversee such little details that compliment the whole dining out experience.

For those of you looking for a fun night out, but not necessarily in the mood for a three hour-long dining experience (our last drinks were on the house, as we waited for about 40 minutes between the first and second courses), there’s also a cabaret room and bar in the ground floor. Just don’t expect them to stay open until after you’re done with the Bistroteque dinner!

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Afternoon At Dean Street

Dean Street Townhouse is quite the hotspot these days. And an afternoon tea there sounded like a good opportunity to take a closer look. However, given that both my friend and I were in need of something a tiny bit more stronger than tea, our little tea party turned into a wine and cheese get together.

Apart from the dining room, Dean Street townhouse has a separate tea room, which is then also separated into two sections. Velvety Nile green arm chairs adorn the space by the windows, while the back of the room boasts a more rosy decor, the tables are cosier, more intimate. Perfect spot for two ladies to share the latest gossip, they might just look onto either side to make sure none of the parties being mentioned are around.

Rioja is always easy to drink, pleasant on the palate, not too full-bodied, and not- too-fruity. The one we chose was a Rioja Vendimia 2008, Bodegas Palacios Remondo. Definitely recommended, as long as one’s not looking to match it with a dish too rich, it has the potential to be overpowered.

The contents of the English cheese plate has changed since the original menu on display on their website.  They apparently used to serve Ragstone, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, and Dorset Blue Vinney, but we had the pleasure of nibbling on a Double Gloucester, Perl Las, and Stinking Bishop. In all honesty, the double gloucester was nothing to go on and on about. It was pleasant, ticked the box for a yellow hard cheese on the board, but easily forgettable. The Stinking Bishop, contrary to its pungency, was quite subtle, reserved in taste, and melts-in-your-mouth creamy. The Perl Las, on the other hand, was quite exceptional. A perfect English blue, it made its presence felt, on the palate and on the nose, and yet it was delicate, sublime, no steely aftertaste like you might get from a Roquefort. Imagine a softer blue than a Colston Bassett Stilton, silky, and not crumbly. A definite recommendation.

As for the combination of the Rioja with the cheeses, although there wasn’t an instant match, the gloucester was a better pair than the stinking bishop which overpowered the wine. And I didn’t want to wash the taste of the Perl Las with anything.

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The Manganiyar, the Wurst, the Beigel, and the Leicester

In all honesty, I might’ve just had one of the happiest weekends of my life. Not because I was on a tropical holiday, I wasn’t swimming with the dolphins by a turquoise beach, I wasn’t bathing under the sun.  It was cold, dreary, old London that gave me this gift.

Everything started at the Barbican. We had bought tickets for this musical performance/theatre/installation called the Manganiyar Seduction. Forty musicians, sitting in red velvety boxes, on top of one another, covering the stage with blood red, light, and magic. The Manganiyars of Rajasthan are apparently the only musical Muslim (Sufi) community in India, if not the world.

A Manganiyar Musician - courtesy of roystenabel.com

Their performance is complex, their music part prayer, part wedding celebration, part Indian, part Islamic, part playful and part hymn.

The rhythm of the kartal mixed into the vocals of the elders with the white turbans. The sound of the ornamented, pink and gold Indian dhol and the constant beating of the dholak made each moment more triumphant, more rapturous. I could feel my shoulders moving to the rhythm, I could feel my fingers tapping to the rhythm, I could feel a smile spread across my face. It was pure ecstasy.  The musical and the visual experience swept over me and left me excited, positive, in love with the world.

Not much can match the pleasure of the Manganiyar Seduction, but good food definitely comes close. Good street food that is.

About a five to ten minute walk from Barbican, at the cross of Cowbrook and St. John streets, along the same side of the Smithfield market as the notorious Fabric is Kurz & Lang, one of the best German wurst places in town. Not only does it serve seriously amazing sausages, pork, beef, spicy, cheesy, and boiled Frankfurter are all options, but you can also compliment them with one of my favourite beers, the Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. On the side, you can either have these fried potatoes cut up into tiny cubes, or a proper cold and oh-so-good potato salad. Save some space on the plate for the Sauerkraut as well. For the post-Manganiyar session, I went for the Rindswurst (the pure beef one), as they did not have the cheesy Käsewurst on the grill. I always go for the potato salad, as it makes more sense to experience the warmness of the sausage, mixing in with the mild coolness of the salad. I dipped my sausage into the curry ketchup,  swept it gently across the mustard, and bit into it. It was, to say the least, eye-popping good.

After we were sadly finished with our sausages, we made it a night in Shoreditch. But after a few glasses of wine, a bit of Sambuca, and a few sips from an awful fishbowl cocktail, one is in need of some more food-therapy!

Beigel Bake's Salty Beef - courtesy of B. Chien

The last stop of the night prior to bed ended up being the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. You can see how good the food is from the queue that forms inside the shop, curling outside. Their specialty: the mighty Salty Beef. I am embarrassed to say, yes I also had a Beigel smack in the middle of the night, after the sausage, and the beer, and the wine et al. But I am not going to feel guilty.The beef was succulent, the mildly sweet cucumber pickle cold on the tongue against the warmth of the beef, the mustard adding that extra umph factor, going up the nostrils, and the beigel, a touch on the cool side, but sweet, and soft. I don’t think late night food can get any better, even with cheese, and that’s saying a lot.

I do admit, Saturday was a blur, except for a fabulous Comte, Leerdammer and Stilton open toast I made, a very delicious alternative to pizza in my oven, and the labneh, zaatar, sea salt,  drizzled with extra virgin olive oil fabulousness that I had learned from a Lebanese friend, and that I still eat regularly ( I can’t seem to get enough of it). I also should not forget to mention Alice in Wonderland. It’d be quite fun to bake little eat me cakes, and throw an Alice party.

London was cold on Sunday, so no difference there, but the sun was out in full force, a sight for sore eyes. And the Farmer’s Market across the street had all kinds of local produce that I was keen to fill my fridge with. The usual suspects were there, cheeses of the Hurdlebrook farm, the Buffalo man, with all sorts of cheese made of buffalo milk that he advocates is the closest to breast milk, and one  I had seen but not yet tried before, the Green’s of Glastonbury with their red cheeses. As we’ve been having a bit of a toast craze at home, we’ve been on the lookout for new cheeses that may compliment them, so the reds of the green’s drew our attention. They also had a couple cheddars out there too, one with blue veins, reminiscent of the Montgomery’s. After sampling the bunch, I decided on the Red Leicester Vintage. It was sharp, nutty, and melted in the mouth. And I must say, quite pungent.

Staying true to the start of the weekend, I have completed it by applying lessons and products from the east. Iyengar yoga at Yogabase to feed my soul, and Tejasvi facial ubtan from Forest Essentials to bring back the smile on my face.

London treats me well.

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A Vacherin for Your Birthday!

The Birthday Melt

Special days require special wine and cheese. The birthday of one of my favourite people in the world, definitely required that “special” emphasis.

An evening birthday at home with a bunch of friends could only be transformed into a culinary fest through the injection of delicious, smelly, savoury melted cheese. I had actually been meaning to use my fondue set for the night, but as the number of our guests slightly outnumbered our fondue forks, I decided to go for a Vacherin. Patricia Michelson (owner of La Fromagerie in London) has an easy recipe to turn the night into cheese heaven.

To prepare for the night, I first took a five minute ride up to Highbury Grove, where I made my first stop for the Vacherin Mont D’Or from La Fromagerie’s Highbury branch. I couldn’t stop myself, when I saw  the coeur Neufchatel, a heart shaped, soft, bloomy rind cheese from Normandy, and bought it to add to my separate birthday cheese board.

For the Vacherin experience to be successful, I also bought cornichons (both the salty Turkish kind, as well as the sweeter German kind), new baby potatoes, and a fresh french baguette from the Euphorium Bakery.

Du Vin et Du Champagne!

For wine, I almost always visit the Sampler (www.thesampler.co.uk) on Upper street as I love the idea of sampling wines, and they have a great selection of both white and red wines, stuff you won’t find at a Threshers or Odd Bins. I was certain I would be able to choose among at least a few Savoie whites, as Patricia Michelson suggests to pour into, and serve with the Vacherin, but I was disappointed to find out they had none. As I needed a fruity white, one of the boys looking after the shop suggested I try a Pinot Gris. The one I tried was Anne Boecklin, a 2008 Pinto Gris, an Alsatian wine that had won a Medaille d’Or Paris in 2008. It was just what I needed, fruity, light, but made itself felt, and smooth. Even as the wine got warmer during the night, it still retained its pleasant flavour. I’ve also been told it’s also a good complement to a Foie Gras.

As it was a birthday cheese party, I decided to add a bit of sparkle, and also went for a Champagne – R.H. Coutier from the grand-cru village of Ambonnay. It was pleasant, dry, easy to drink. I must admit, I also loved the label, the combination of bronze titles with the subtle Nile green background, and the  bright fuschia injected on the foreground.

As the Baked Vacherin recipe suggests in “The Cheese Room”, I wrapped the box of the Vacherin in foil, and baked it for 20 mins, in 180 degrees C. I then removed the foil and the lid, and cut out a circle around the top of the cheese, revealing the melted interior. I then swirled in a bit of my Vin D’Alsace. To dip into the cheese, I also prepared slices of baguette that I grilled, as well as new potatoes that I boiled (rather than steamed, as the recipe suggested – pressure cooker malfunction!). To bubble up the cheese a bit, I admit, I placed the Vacherin under the grill of the oven for a couple minutes more, with the lid open. (Just make sure not to burn the edges of the box!)

My end result had the desired effect. The cheese was gooey, hot, smelly, wonderful. We first dipped the halved baby potatoes with forks, then proceeded onto using our fingers as tools. We  mixed and matched with the two kinds of cornichons, we did give the baguettes a try. It was so good that the cold meats board, with the San Daniele Prosciutto, and Milano Salami that normally becomes the center of attention at our gatherings didn’t even get a second look, until a couple hours later!

The Vacherin with The Potato

The Pinot Gris complimented the Vacherin, and was not overpowered by it. Next time, I will give Chignin a try, to compare the two experiences. A sauvignon-blanc is another wine for the Vacherin, the Cheese Room suggests, so that’s for the third time.

The Champagne only entered the scene a while after we had devoured the Vacherin, but complimented the Beaufort Alpage and Comte D’Estive on the cheese board nicely.

On another note, the quince paste from La Fromagerie, coupled with the Gruyere style cheeses also drew compliments of another foodie friend. It’s definitely worth a try.

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The Elk in Camden Passage, with a Hint of Chili!

Camden Passage

There’s a beautiful little restaurant in Camden Passage, quite close to the Angel tube station. Among the many little  antique, vintage, and environmentally conscious fashion boutiques that line up the tiny street that’s called Camden Passage (definitely the best part of Angel), Elk in the Woods is a fantastic little spot that serves good inventive food, with good wine and cocktails.

My last visit took place in the late afternoon on a Friday, after having perused the little vintage shops for over an hour, trying on one old hat after another (I even settled for a white furry one from Annie’s vintage store – another must-see) and my feet were starting to go numb from the cold. (London’s been cold this year!)

We started off with the fried calamari, which came to our table straight form the pan. It was hot, hot, and delicious. They serve the calamari with a quite unconventional sauce, it was sweet, transparent, with chopped little red chilis drowned in it. Little did I know that it was just good honey that the chilis were placed in. I gave this a try at home, and I quite liked the Acacia flavoured Rigoni di Asiago, an organically farmed Italian honey, with the chilis. Just make sure the honey’s not too golden in colour.

The Veal Doorstep of Elk

My mother, who’s been visiting me, decided to go for the Veal Doorstep sandwich, with grilled veal, sauteed onions, gherkins, mustard, and deliciously melted swiss cheese on top. It is a wonderful choice for lunch. It sat in a grilled sourdough bread which complimented the cheese and the juice of the veal.

The Pilaf at Elk

I opted for one of my favourite mains from the menu, the Bulgur wheat pilaf. It is a bit of a jumble I must admit, with pine nuts and  chopped red onions mixed in with the bulgur, laid on top of a bed of spinach, and roasted red peppers, topped with peppercorns and sourcream with cranberries. There is also the subtle flavour of cumin, which goes beautifully with the pilaf. It is the perfect vegetarian dish. It is not at all overwhelming, as one might expect from the list of ingredients, and is quite mellow in taste.

To compliment my pilaf I had a glass of Rioja. The red wine just goes so well with the ambiance of the place, with the massive wood panelled wall on one side, and the pink washed wall with the various sized odd but wonderful mirrors on the other side of the first room.

On a prior visit, I had started the dinner with their cucumber martini, and had selected their vegetarian board, with all sorts of odd but delicious food (think pea guacamole, roast garlic, and beetroot and walnut dip) as a main course. I was also satisfied then.

We decided not to go for dessert afterwards, after all, we were a shop down from one of London’s best chocolateries. If you are ever on Camden Passage, you must, must go in to paul a. young. Their selection of chocolates is immense, and oh-so flavourful.

The Stilton Truffles wrapped in blue

I went for a box of four truffles and selected two of their seriously interesting Port and stilton, made with Taylor’s Tawny Port and the sublime Colston Bassett Stilton, one champagne truffle, and the sea salted caramel. The sea-salted caramel is apparently an award winning one, and the Stilton came back onto the menu by popular demand.  As to a favourite, I am between these two I must admit.

Paul. A. Young.

I also decided to get one of their artisan bars. There are about 20 different flavours you can choose from, from 100% dark Venezuelan chocolate to Dark Stem Ginger to Lavender. I chose the 70% Dark Chocolate with Chili, owing much to my liking of the movie Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche, where she mixes the two ingredients as an ancient Mayan recipe. i have hadit on its own, I have had it with Turkish coffee, and I seriously like it. The spice, the chilli only lingers on the middle/back of your tongue, and it is very mellow, combined with the rich experience of the 70% dark chocolate.

In short, Elk in the Woods + Paul A. Young, a sure foodie experience.


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Bring on the Ste. Maure! Better yet the Stilton! Or just bring all 16!

Saturday Morning,

London,

Gray as usual.

At the King’s Cross train station at 7:30.

Board the train to Hull, leaving at 7:36.

Half watch the green pastures go by, and half sleep on the way to Nottingham. I love how flat the land is.

Get out at Retford.

The weather’s nice, sunny and cold.

Charlie, the friendly taxi driver picks me up. A 10 minute ride later, we’re at the Welbeck estate.

I’m in the Sherwood Forest, at the School of Artisan Food.

I’m taking a course on the ” Great Cheeses of the World”, taught by Chris George, tastings and events manager at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and one of London’s top cheese experts.

We are to try 16 kinds of cheese in a matter of 4 hours. No wine, no embellishments.

Just pure cheese.

Mostly unpasteurised.

A bit of goat,

A bit of sheep,

A bit of blue,

A bunch of cow and

A lot of French.

Sharing is Caring!

Here’s what we tried:

The Perail: Gooey, sharp, hits the back of the throat with its sharpness, and it lingers. Very sheep. Very salty.

The Perail

The Ste. Maure: A definite favourite, savoury goat’s cheese that has a straw running across its middle. It tastes mild and fresh and yet not crumbly. It’s a silky goat’s!

The Ste. Maure

Camembert de Normandie (by the Fromagerie Reaux): Unlike most camemberts I have had so far, the middle is still fresh, the soft edge hasn’t taken over the middle of the cheese yet. It is supple, and surprisingly subtle as well.

Epoisses (by Berthaut): Another surprise, I expected it to stink, the French expect it to stink, but it was quite subtle, quite pleasant. The exterior has a bit of pungency, but the interior is quite different.

THE MOUNTAIN CHEESES

Ossau Iraty: A Basque cheese, very distinctly sheep’s milk. Nice, but not great. Would be a pleasant accompaniment or vice versa to a dessert wine or a Pinot Grigio.

Manchego: We had two Manchegos, a young 3-month one, and a curado (6 months or over) mature Manchego. In Tapas bars across London, I am quite used to being served a mature Manchego, but I have to admit, the younger Manchego (redder rind) was subtler, more complex. Pleasant. The mature one was saltier, more oily, and more condensed.

The Manchegos, young on the left

Pecorino Sardo: Sardinian Sheep’s cheese. Harder. Crumblier. Not a favourite on my part.

THE GRUYERES

Parmigiano Reggiano: Around 30 months old. With crystals in the cheese. The crystals are good, they’re called “well-seasoned.” I’m a bit jaded when it comes to parmigiano.

Beaufort Alpage: For the Beaufort to be called Alpage, it needs to be produced above 1800 metres. It’s rich. complex. nutty, with a sweetness. The Beaufort has a concave edge, which traditionally allowed the rope to sit nicely underneath. Another recommended one. Between a Beaufort and a Comte, it is hard to decide which one to go for. There are apparently only 18 Beaufort Alpage makers in the world.

The Mighty Beaufort Alpage

Grand Jura: The Grand Jura is produced at the top of the Jura valley, only 30 miles from Comte. It is very nutty, sweet and juicy, according to Chris “like you’ve just eaten flowers with it.” Another one of my favourites of the day.

******************

Gouda: The gouda we had was actually a Dutch family’s product, but they produced it in Ireland! It had a taste of toffee and burnt caramel. Sweet and salty!

Appleby’s Cheshire: The Cheshire is supposed to predate England. It is a very acidic cheese, crumbly, and makes your mouth water. Chris recommends Cheshire on toast. An apparent favourite on his part. i have to say, it is not my favourite among the bunch, I prefer nuttier, sweeter cheeses. It is a dry cheese.

Montgomery’s Cheddar: Montgomery’s is so potent, so flavourful. Unlike market cheddars, the Montgomery’s we had had a slight blue, thanks to the less lard put on, giving way to more air penetration, making it more flavoursome. You do not find the blue in the Keen’s nor in the Westcombe cheddars. Another favourite. I also had it with toast the following day, and it was wonderful.

Roquefort: As roqueforts go, this one is softish, leaky, smelly. I actually smeared it on a piece of cracker. It was strong, and it lingered, though it had a metallic taste. Not a good sign. Nevertheless, I’ll always have a soft spot for roquefort.

Colston Bassett Stilton: Subtle, sublime. Semi-hard, but melts in the mouth, in the mouth it is creamy, sugary. There’s not so much blue that blue is all you taste. Stilton is fantastic with dessert wine. And stilton doesn’t get much better than a Colston Bassett. After the Roquefort, it was easy to taste the superior quality of this cheese.

Stichleton: Actually produced about 10 minutes away from the school, the Stichleton is the baby of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Randolph Hodgson. It is made in the tradition of a Stilton, but made in the traditional method, that is, unpasteurised. Stichleton is actually the Saxon name for Stilton. It is creamier than the Colston Bassett, and stronger, darker, more intense. Although I prefer the Colston Bassett’s subtlety, Neal’s Yard’s is happy to let you try theirs. It is still an experiment, as it changes with each batch to get to the perfect result.

Neal's Yard's Stichleton

Never in my life had I tasted, savoured, smelled and observed this many kinds of of cheese in a single sitting. I have to admit, at the end, on the train back to London, my tummy did protest. But I told him, Shush! It was well worth it.

My ultimate favourites, and must-buys are:

1) Ste-Maure

2) Colston Bassett Stilton

2) Grand Jura

I wonder how this list would turn up if there was a Comte among them. Or a Burrata. I did miss the young ones, the Feta, the Mozzarella during the day.

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