Say cheese to this excellent new cheesemonger near Marble Arch, off Edgware Road, which opened around four months ago. It’s a small, bright, contemporary, vaguely fromage-hued shop with a striking roquefort wallpaper (photo-printed with the cheese — not made of cheese itself, obviously). What sets it apart from many of the other cheesemongers in the capital is that it has its own cooling and maturing rooms in its cellar. As it’s important to ripen cheeses slowly to the optimum degree of maturity for the correct flavour and texture, there’s a cold room here for the soft and blue cheeses, and a maturing room for the hard ones, where temperatures and humidity levels are regulated.
Scottish owner Rhuaridh Buchanan — whose first name is pronounced as ‘ru-ri’ — trained as an affineur at the renowned Paxton and Whitfield, who he was with for nearly a decade until last year. Prior to that, he worked in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Indeed the business started life as a wholesaler, supplying to hotels and dining establishments — often on their delivery bike parked outside. The shop, which is open to retail customers from Wednesdays to Saturdays, launched this summer.
There are approximately 150 artisanal cheeses available at any given time — not all on display "in case it overwhelms customers with too much choice" — mostly from across Britain and Europe, especially France. The British cheeses are sourced directly from around 30 producers; and for the French ones they have a Paris-based consolidator who also works with small, independent cheese-makers. They range from little-known curiosities to well-regarded classics. There’s cathare (£6.50 each), an ash-dusted goat’s cheese from Languedoc decorated with the cross of the Cathar crusading knights; saint-féicien (£7 each) a soft cow’s milk cheese from Rhones with a very oozy centre; mayfield swiss (£26/kg) from East Sussex which tastes a bit like jarlsberg; 18 month-old comté (£27/ kg) from Jura; and the curiously-named dutch mistress (£40/kg), a washed-rind goat’s cheese, not from the Netherlands but from Shropshire.
Deliciously creamy, savoury, golden cross (£8.75 each) from East Sussex has a flavour that’s at once subtle and assertive. “The trick is in managing the low temperature correctly to achieve the creaminess,” says Buchanan. According to legend, valençay (£8.50 each), a goats cheese from Berry in central France, was originally made in the shape of a pyramid. When Napoleon returned from his disastrous campaigns in Egypt, he stopped at the Valençay castle, where the pyramidal fromage triggered such unpleasant memories that he cut their tops off with his sword in anger, leaving them the distinctive flat-topped shape that survives to this day. The shop is also developing its own flavoured varieties. These currently include tunworth foxwhelp (the latter is a type of apple) cheese with Somerset apple brandy and an oatmeal and breadcrumb crust; and morn dew from White Lake Cheeses in Somerset fermented in the marc (pressings leftover after wine-making) of red and green grapes.
There are a few other high-quality products, too, carefully selected to pair with dairy. “If something doesn’t go with cheese, we won’t stock it,” says Buchanan firmly. These include a regularly changing selection of seasonal fruit and nuts (recently: cobnuts, chestnuts, wet green walnuts and muscat grapes); chutneys and pickles; biscuits, crackers and oatcakes; fruit ‘cheeses’ made from quinces, damsons, pears and figs; truffle honey; and olive oil pressed from this season’s freshly harvested olives. Sweet, creamy little jars of Brown Cow Organics yoghurts (£1) are scrumptious, and the shop even supplies them to the Ritz.
There are also acclaimed Lalani & Co teas (“their Himalayan green tea goes beautifully with goats cheese,” says Buchanan), soft drinks specially selected to match cheese, plus beers and wines. He says they stock a particularly good selection of white wines as “these go better with cheeses than reds, contrary to what people think”. Cheese domes and cheese boards are also available to buy. You can try every cheese or wine before purchasing (they’ll open the bottles for you); and well-trained staff are on hand to advise on what matches best with which cheese. London’s cheese community is peopled by characters who are passionate bordering on obsessive about the subject, and here it’s no different. In addition to Buchanan himself, his friendly staff Sam Wilkin and Alice King’s enthusiasm and knowledge shines through.
There’s a small row of seats at the front, plus a cosy dining area at the back, where you can enjoy cheese and meat platters, cheese toasties, accompaniments such as salads and pickles, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. (As a bonus, the cheeses on the menu clearly state whether they’re made from traditional or vegetarian rennet.) You can also order four year-aged jamon iberico bellota, which staff have learnt to carve at Brindisa’s Ham Carving School. The shop hosts its own classes and events, too, for both the wholesale and retail customers, including bespoke tutored tastings, ‘meet the cheese-makers’ events, a cheese school for professionals working in the industry, and sociable evenings on which the cheeses are paired with wines, beers, teas and even chocolates.
We could’t resist asking Buchanan what he would recommend for a Christmas cheeseboard. He says: “Fewer cheeses in bigger pieces! Try luscious, creamy capra nouveau, a goats cheese from Shropshire; Mrs Kirkham’s lancashire; and the buttery, peppery Welsh blue cheese, perl las. Blue cheese and Christmas pudding is a winning match”.
Buchanan’s Cheesemonger, 5A Porchester Place, W2 2BS. Tel: 020 3441 8010
All images courtesy of Buchanan's.
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Note: businesses featured in this series are chosen editorially, and not as part of a promotion.