I love cheese. Do you? Cheese would be my luxury item if the BBC ever cast me away on their desert island. Being born in Guernsey, I can claim to be partially French as my father’s ancestors invaded the island at the same time William the Conqueror was busy invading England in 1066. However, their invasion activities didn’t get further than the Channel Islands which are geographically closer to Brittany than Britain – perhaps their boat capsized, I don’t know.
My family therefore consider themselves more French than English. My grandparents’ first language was the local patois and when I was a child, I used to be taken to the covered market in St Peter Port. A bustling warren of a place, with dry-cured hams hanging from the rafters, stalls decorated with strings of onions, baskets of herbs grouped on the stone floors, which were dusted with sawdust, and tables laden with rounds of different coloured cheeses. I can remember being overwhelmed by the heady cornucopia of smells and, most exciting of all, I was encouraged to taste as well as to touch.
Perhaps that’s why now I find it difficult to buy cheese in a supermarket, uninspired by their odourless shrink-wrapped blocks. So at least once a month I cross London, changing trains three times, to get to the French enclave of South Kensington in search of cheese.
As I step across the threshold of La Cave à Fromage in South Kensington, I step into the cheese heaven of my childhood. The air is pungent, with a nutty earthiness that seeps into your pores and sets your taste buds on high alert. Senses overwhelmed I look longingly at the few high tables where boards of cheese and charcuterie are being served for lunch, accompanied by tall balloons of wine. It’s a Saturday and the tables are full. My melting tastebuds will have to wait.
From the back of the cave a smiling Spaniard rushes to serve me. He is knowledgable, but biased, and tries to turn me away from an aged Roquefort to a less salty French cheese from near his home town in the Basque Country. I stand my ground. A Roquefort is a Roquefort and its unique properties make it ideal as a digestif. I am persuaded to try a slither of Blue de Basques. I’m hooked and another neatly wrapped chunk finds its way into my bag. It is shortly followed by a long firm roll of English chevre, a triangle of sticky figgy cake and a slab of gruyere for cooking. The month’s cheese budget having been blown, I start on the long trek back, still savouring the taste of Blue Bresse lingering on my tongue.
“As De Gaulle said “How can one be expected to govern a nation with 246 kinds of cheese?” – finding a place to buy cheese in France is never a problem.” Judi