How Cheese Came Into My Life: An Ocean Away
We are at the end.
Is there more to my love affair with cheese? Certainly.
Did I leave out a few stories over the course of the series? Probably.
Have you learned a bit about one of my first food obsessions? Hopefully.
The culmination of all these weeks of cheese pornography happens after I had been smitten with a cheese for the third time (the first was my Nana’s cheese, the second was my own selection, and the third was possibly by divine providence). I had gained the respect, or at least the curiosity, of the cheesemongers at the Pasta Shop in Oakland.
This week’s story begins as I was planning a trip to London with the woman who would later become Mrs. Fussy.
When one thinks of foreign cheeses, most people think of France. And certainly I love French cheeses, and know that the best ones never leave the country. Should they happen to leave the country, you can bet they are not coming to America given our strict guidelines for food safety. While eating young raw milk cheeses is commonplace in France, it’s illegal over here. Bummer, huh?
But one should never forget about the cheeses of the British Isles: the cheeses that were apparently saved by this man.
When you walk into a good cheese shop, they will have at least a few large grey cylinders of cheese on display. These impressive drums are the most visually dominating British cheeses. And likely they will all have a sticker on the top that reads Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Neal’s Yard Dairy works with the producers of traditionally made English cheeses. My favorite cheddars come from Keen’s Farm and Montgomery’s Farm. And the Stilton that started it all is Colston Bassett. Neal’s Yard takes these cheeses, ages them, and then ships them around the world. They also have a retail store in London.
When I was planning the trip, I was very excited to try the cheeses that I knew never leave the country. And I had mentioned the trip to Cheese Girl. She said, “You should go to Neal’s Yard Dairy, and tell them we sent you. We buy a lot of cheese from them. They’ll treat you well.”
So I did. And Cheese Girl was right, yet again.
In fact, they treated us so well it caused a little bit of a problem. I had planned on the shop visit to be a brief stop on the way to lunch with my cousin. What I had not planned on was the cheesemonger at Neal’s Yard Dairy, having learned of our whereabouts, literally giving us a taste of EVERY SINGLE CHEESE IN THE STORE. He systematically worked us from one end of the case to the other.
And when he was done, he asked, “Would you like to see where we age the cheeses?”
My cousin would just have to wait.
He gave us two pairs of booties and sanitary head coverings, and brought us behind the counter and down the narrow stairs into the cheese cave. There we were surrounded by the cool damp surroundings that coax all of the grassy, earthy, funky, and fruity flavors out of some of the most underrated cheeses in the world.
A staff of cave dwellers was lovingly attending to these cheeses. They were responsible for turning the cheeses and keeping an eye on their development. Only when the cheese was ripened would it get to leave the cave. It made me think of Plato. But it was invigorating being around all of those shelves of living cheese. I’m geek enough to admit it.
When it came time for lunch with my cousin, the best I could do was to poke at a salad and have a few nibbles on a roll. Luckily he is a real bon vivant, and he was very understanding.
Many years later, when I was considering a career in cheese, I met with the American representative for Neal’s Yard Dairy. I am still of the opinion that she has the best job in the cheese world. And I think she knows it. But as you probably have guessed by now, the cheese path never really materialized for me. Yet still it remains a subject I am passionate about. And while I’ll likely be taking a break from writing about cheese for a while, feel free to ask your burning questions anytime.