November 9th 2011
Neal’s Yard Dairy opened in 1979, selling yogurt and fresh cheese in Covent Garden. I came across the shop in the early 80s and was instantly impressed by the huge wheels of cheese sitting in the window. The business itself specialises in British cheese, Randolph Hodgson (the proprietor) discovered early on, that there were hundreds of small cheese producers throughout the country, with very little outlet for their products. Like cheese crusader Major Patrick Rance before him, Randolph and Neal’s Yard Dairy have done much to champion British cheese and put it back onto a world stage.
The Dairy has a winning method of selling cheese – they insist that you try it! I think that, unless you dislike cheese, once you’ve tried a few cheeses, it’s impossible to leave the shop without buying some. What makes it even harder, is that fact that all their cheese is exceptional. Even when there’s a queue outside the shop at Christmas, you’ll be encouraged to taste the cheese – they’ll bring it out to you while you wait!
My favourite Neal’s Yard cheeses would have to be Montgomery Cheddar (deep, rich and nutty), Cornish Yarg (a pale, semi-hard cheese from Cornwall, wrapped in stinging nettles), Waterloo (a soft, creamy rich cheese, which beats any Brie I’ve tried, hands down) and Stichelton (a Stilton like, blue veined cheese). The Stichelton story is particularly interesting, since it’s a recreation of the type of cheese Stilton once was – a rich and creamy blue veined cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk. After a Listeria scare in 1989, Stilton ceased to be made of raw milk and whilst it’s still good, it’s not quite the same as it once was. Using an original, saved, Stilton culture, Randolph Hodgson and cheese maker Joe Schneider were able to recreate an old style cheese with a rich and complex flavour. Since Stilton has a Protected Designation of Origin status, Stichelton cannot be called a Stilton, so they decided to name it after the original Stilton village named in the Domesday Book – Stichiltone/Sticiltone.