Where better to start than these spectacular emporiums in Highbury and Marylebone? Despite the French name, La Fromagerie stocks hundreds of cheeses from eleven different countries including stacks of British classics from Appleby’s Cheshire to Richard III Wensleydale.
It might also sound French but La Cave - which has branches in South Kensington, Notting Hill and Hove - also sells a variety of British cheeses. Go soft or go hard, opt for cow’s, goat’s, or ewe’s milk, and snack your way round the shop in preparation for our tour.
The obvious first port of call on any self-respecting cheese tour. Cheddar is the most popular cheese in the UK, accounting for 51% of all cheese sales, but while it originated from round here it doesn’t have a Protected Designation of Origin, so anyone can make it. The only actual cheddar made in the region is by the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company.
5. Stilton, Cambridgeshire.
Daniel Defoe was scoffing the famous blue in this small village 300 years ago, but it’s actually Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire that have the honour of producing the cheese. Melton Mowbray is probably your best bet nowadays.
George Orwell had it about right when he turned his thoughts to the subject: “Then there are the English cheeses. There are not many of them but I fancy that Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world.”
Head southwest for another protected cheese, the majestic Dorset Blue. Made only in this county from partially skimmed, raw milk and pressed, rubbed, salted and matured over several months, it’s a shining example of cheese alchemy. Exmoor (for Exmoor Blue) and Staffordhire (for Staffordshire Cheese) are two other counties with protected products worth a visit.
7. The Cheese Pantry at Connage Highland Dairy, Scottish Highlands.
Watch cheesemongers in action, sample cheese, buy cheese and grab cheesy accoutrements at this award-winning organic mecca. The nutty, golden Connage Dunlop (pictured) is worth the journey alone.
Come for the Stichelton, the first raw milk Stilton produced in Britain since the 1960’s which is made exclusively from their herd of Friesian Holstein cows, and stay for the Wellbeck Abbey ales, local breads, meat and chocolates. But mostly come for the cheese.
Thomas Hardy called Sturminster Newton “the vale of little dairies”, and little has changed since in the cheese stakes. If the names Bath Soft Cheese, Lyburn Farmhouse, or Norsworth Goat’s Cheese mean anything to you, get yourself down there. If they don’t, get yourself down there.
These cheese experts specialise in Aged Leicestershire Red (aka real Red Leicester), but offer everything from Stilton to Tabasco cheddar. Their signature cheese is buttered, cloth-bound and matured for six months, producing (in their own words), “a flaky, open texture cheese with a slightly sweet, caramelised flavour and rich orange colour”. Their farm shop is open two days of each month, so time your visit wisely.
One of the four dairies in the East Midlands that make the majority of the country’s Shropshire Blue stock. Essentially a Stilton with annatto added to the milk to turn it orange, it’s a mellow blue, and the farm shop next to the dairy push it to eager punters. There have only been four cheesemakers in 100 years at this hallowed place.
Less of a cheese shop and more of a cheese theme park, this place is part museum, part visitor’s centre and an all-encompassing cheese wonderland. They say the experience makes cheese come to life, but really it’s all a long prologue to the tasting.
Laurel Farm in Dymock is the home of Stinking Bishop, the smelly joy whose unmistakable aroma comes from the perry in which the rind is soaked and ripened. Wallace and Gromit’s favourite is created from a combination of Gloucester and Friesian cow’s milk and only 20 tonnes of the stuff is produced each year.
They sell cheese wedding cakes too.
These guys also specialise in cheese wedding cakes, such as the Jenny cake which boasts an embarrassment of creamy riches: Cornish Yarg, Snowdonia Extra Mature Cheddar, Delice de Cremiers, Cashel Blue and Coeur Neufchatel.
They call it the world’s largest cheese awards and they may be right. The cheese marquee has recently been enlarged to 80,500 sq ft and houses in excess of 4,400 cheeses from 26 countries. You really can’t get much more cheese in one place.
An institution and rightly so, Neal’s Yard buys cheese from around 70 cheesemakers in Britain and Ireland, and sells them to hungry Londoners with passion and knowledge. Whether you’re after Kirkham Lancashire or Duckett’s Caerphilly - or perhaps a cheesy surprise - they’ll be able to sort you out.