On a sunny October afternoon in the London neighborhood of Bermondsey, a cool breeze surprised me with the winy smell of apples. It brought on a sudden sharp craving for a nice chunk of Cheddar, the fruit and the cheese together being a favorite after-school snack when I was growing up in Connecticut. This was an appropriate prompt, too, since I was on my way to a very privileged lesson in British farmhouse cheeses at the beginning of an eight-day, cheese-themed trip to London and Somerset run by the specialty tour company Cheese Journeys.
My destination was the empyrean address for anyone who really loves best-quality British cheeses: the aging cellars of the Neal’s Yard Dairy. Not normally open to the public, they occupy a set of soaring, neatly vaulted spaces created from four arches of a sturdy red brick Victorian railway viaduct. Here, along with the rest of my group of 18, I’d be getting a fascinating tutorial in both British cheeses and the cheese-mongering company that saved many of them from extinction. This trip was also a sort of homage to my paternal grandmother, since she’d been the one who’d first pricked my curiosity about cheese with her love of crumbly black-waxed extra-sharp New York cheddar.
On this trip, I’d learn how these cheeses, especially Cheddar, are made and aged from the cheesemakers who produce mighty rounds on their farms in Somerset in the West Country.
The hosts were also steeped in cheese: Anna Juhl, the founder of Cheese Journeys, and Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo from Fairfield & Greenwich Cheese Company, a pair of cheese shops in those Connecticut towns. They were great company and a deep source of information about everything cheese during our days together.
The journey had started earlier that day with a fascinating morning tour of Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food halls in London, by the American-in-London guide and cookbook writer Cecilia Brooks. That had been followed by a superb picnic lunch of gigantic sausage roll sandwiches from the Ginger Pig, a stall in the market that specializes in free-range British meat and poultry and is well-known for its delicious sausages.
Neal’s Yard Dairy was founded by Randolph Hodgson in a ramshackle corner of London’s Covent Garden in 1979, and it launched the renaissance in British farmhouse cheeses not only by creating a retail showcase for them, but also by building an efficient international distribution network, aging cellars and partnerships…