Taste Test: Sampling Cheese in London
My original assignments for the London leg of this Around the World tour were ambitious. Without paying too much attention to the schedule, and excited about the endless possibilities, the editors and I happily decided on a cheese tour of London and a review of the newly opened Herzog & de Meuron–designed Tate Tanks at Tate Modern. Add to this tightly packed itinerary a gala farewell dinner hosted by TCS, 78 goodbyes and the time required to unpack and repack 100 pounds of luggage stuffed with Balinese coffee, Hungarian foie gras, Thai macadamia nuts and Bora Bora vanilla in the form of beans, oil, shampoo, cologne, extract, powder, soap and liqueur.
To increase my difficulties, my fifteen-hour London visit was cut shorter by a long immigration queue and a protest in the city that created gridlock. The Tate was scotched. But I was still determined to cover London’s cheese.
Knowing my interests and challenges ahead of time, the chef and the public relations director at Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane conspired to make my whistle-stop as efficient as possible. Minutes after I checked into my room, the doorbell rang and a labelled cheese platter with 14 different varieties quietly slipped in. This was not a planned affair, but I relished it just the same. With the platter came a card from Chef Adriano Cavagnini, a kohl-eyed Lombard from Lake Garda who wrote, “Enjoy this selection of my favourite cheeses.” Selection of 14 favourites? I thought. How many types of cheese does this joint have?
“London produces many of its own cheeses, which you can find at Neal’s Yard, the Marylebone Farmers’ Market and Paxton & Whitfield,” Cavagnini said, whisking me past a red velvet banquette at the Hotel restaurant Amaranto. “But this city still looks to France for cheese, while Italian and Swiss varietals are virtually unknown.” We sat down at his desk, and he opened an Excel database of cheeses. “We regularly sell hundreds of different cheeses here at the restaurant,” he said, scrolling through this matrix of curd. “It’s very popular.”
Before I could ask Cavagnini which cheese was his favourite, he said, “if I could choose one last meal before I die, it would be the pear and grana cheese I put on your platter. It’s the perfect meal.” Patricia Schultz, take note. Here is your collaborator for your next book, which you can call 1,000 Cheeses to Eat Before You Die. Of course, I want in on that assignment too.
My affair with the cheese platter continued late into the night, long after the gala dinner ended. In between some of my best luggage-cramming maneuvres, I nibbled on soft Gorgonzola coated in walnuts, scooped into a juicy Burrata, was seduced by a smoky Scamorza, and fell deeply in love with a ruin-sized crumble of Parmesan wading in a small puddle of 25-year-aged Tondo balsamic vinegar (which retails for more than GBP 200 per 100 ml bottle).
The next morning at breakfast, the rendezvous continued with two distinctive locals: a nutty Red Leicester and a hunk of black wax cheddar with a tingly sharpness that reached deep into the back of my mouth and gave me the stamina for the final leg of this journey.
Whoever said affairs are best kept secret hasn’t spent a night in room 802 with these 14 beauties. Sure, London is full of lovely distractions, some edible, some not. But you don’t always need to leave your room to get a taste of the land.