Weekend of Food: A delicious and illuminating visit to La Cave à Fromage
This is a guest post written by Craig McNee: a dear friend, a partaker in the Weekend of Food and an eloquent cheese lover.
La Cave à Fromage, with its black and yellow signage, is in elegant contrast to the bustling Portobello Market stalls that crowd around it. Peering through the glass, we see a broad array of products to enlighten any whose memory of high school French has failed them: cheeses, British and European (principally French), ranging from tiny balls of goat cheese decorated with herbs to the larger wheels of cheese that adorn many a cheesemonger.
Besides the fromage, an assortment of Spanish style dried meats, a selection of gorgeous sandwiches ready for a quick lunch, fresh take-home baguettes, and of course wines and dried fruit accompaniments make La Cave a one-stop haven for anyone craving a gourmet snack or planning a French soirée.
Notting Hill’s La Cave à Fromage is welcoming and light, with tables dotted around the walls from which the customer can scan the whole shop and eye up something to take home with them. We were met warmly by Nicolas, the manager of this branch (one of three in the UK: another in South Kensington and one in Brighton), which will be celebrating its one year anniversary on November 22nd. Nicolas shows us over to a table and we get down to the business of cheese.
Nicolas is himself French, and hearing other French voices in the shop convinces me that this shop will deliver the goods. We are, after all, doing our research for the cheese board for our French Weekend of Food 2014. A few minutes after stating our mission, Nicolas returns with a selection of six French cheeses, sliced baguette, wine, and water. He guided us through his choices and what factors to think about when creating a balanced cheeseboard: soft or hard cheeses; ewe, cow or goat milk; seasonality; and what sort of food was eaten before the cheeseboard. He even helped clarify the secrets of wine and cheese pairing!
Before this experience we had never thought about seasonality in cheese, but Nicolas pointed out that two cheeses made exactly the same way but using milk from springtime grass-fed animals versus autumn and wintertime hay-fed animals could have quite a different character. He also expressed his belief in the importance of the AOP (Appéllation d’Origine Protégée – Protected Designation of Origin), the European framework for guaranteeing the authenticity of traditional products. La Cave à Fromage is clearly dedicated to bringing the best cheeses to its customers and even works with the producers to experiment and innovate.
The cheeses we tasted were all delicious and very different, and the Pouilly-Fumé complimented the lighter cheeses marvellously while showing different sides of itself with each cheese tasted. You can read detailed descriptions about the cheeses we tasted and our French cheese board here and here (we had to split it up into two parts!).
We left La Cave à Fromage with satisfied stomachs and enlightened minds. Whether it’s wine, cheese, cars, or jazz, I always find I only need a little information from an enthusiastic source to start making sense of a new field. I cannot recommend enough that you book into one of their many tasting events. With staff as passionate and hospitable as Nicolas, La Cave à Fromage is an outstanding cheese shop for any food lover to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of dairy. A très bientôt!