Since quite some time London has been a constant fixture of the Heinzelcheese universe, and my cheese steps almost automatically lead me in direction of Neal’s Yard Dairy and their wonderful store on Park Street at Borough Market whenever I’m over in England. A short glance back, in order to avoid loosing touch with the past over all the Brexit-dominated speculations about the future right now: when Neal’s Yard Dairy, then still under its cofounder Ralph Hodgson, established this second shop on top of the tiny one at Covent Garden in 1996, Borough Market as such didn’t even exist, as the market was still exclusively restricted to wholesalers. Then Hodgson together with Henrietta Green initiated the first farmers market in 1998 – and the rest is history, for us to taste!
The great thing is that Hodgson’s readiness to take risks and his vision not only helped Britain to „become an artisanal cheese hub“ (as someone recently wrote in the Financial Times) but served as role model for other countries – and it’s been attracting a whole number of other cheese vendors to set up stalls under the train tracks at London Bridge.
And therefore – sorry, I know I’ve been burying my lead – I never even made it to Neal’s Yard Dairy this time! Because suddenly I found myself in front of a small paradise, like a small child before a Christmas tree. There was marzipan in small parcels, tall glass jars with dried fruit and nuts, honey glowed in golden hues, dark red chilli pepper garlands draped amongst capers, acciughe, salami, olive oil… and in the midst of all this and much more, a few wheels of cheese: smaller ones, larger ones, hard ones and soft ones.
The Heinzelcheese effect of all this was obviously an immediate stop-in-your-tracks-ask-taste-and-buy impulse! Francesco, a super friendly, soft spoken curly head readily made me try them all, explained that he was working for the owner, Giuseppe Mele, and like him originated from Calabria, the very tip of the Italian boot. Everything on offer was from their home region and came directly from the farmers. Giuseppe would talk to this and that one, driving from farm to farm, always searching for the very best, most original… a principle many pretend to follow but few actually enact as successfully and as unpretentiously.
All the cheeses were outstanding: a very fresh goat’s milk soft cheese, a more mature version of it, an eight months old, lightly smoked goat ricotta (which reminded me of Swiss Mascarplin from Graubünden) and – Pecorino. Wow. 24 months old, the brownish grey rind somewhat similar to a Fiore Sardo, again with a hint of smoke, but then significantly more „moisture“, the complex, concentrated sheep milk flavour supplemented by a certain fruity sweetness… great stuff. Grazie tanto, Francesco and Giuseppe!