Neal’s Yard Dairy in London

Disneyland is often called ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’.
I don’t know about that.

For me, Neal’s Yard Dairy is that place.

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I’d been anxious (well, more than anxious, practically hysterical) to visit them in London ever since I first tasted their cheeses, which are imported by my gal-pals Peggy Smith and Sue Conley at Cowgirl Creamery in the San Francisco bay area.

Neal’s Yard Dairy has been making cheese since 1979. The founder, Randolph Hodgson stated the cheesemaking operation in London’s Covent Garden. On their web site, he states “We didn’t know what we were doing and so we gave the customers a taste of everything and asked them what they thought.”

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And indeed, I was a bit startled when I inquired about a cheese and the affable salesperson (who wear knee-high white rubber boots and other cheesemaking garb) grabbed a knife, plucked off a nice slab, and handed it to me. When I wasn’t sure (yes, really), he repeated the process with several of the other cheddars (someone once asked why in France they don’t give tastes freely, and a French friend replied, with a bit of derision, and perhaps sadness, “That wouldn’t be ‘correct’.”

(Incongruously, the fellow who helped me at Neal’s Yard was French. Maybe he should come back and start a new trend?)

When I entered Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, there were huge rounds of cheddar piled way, way up high.

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And Neal’s Yard cheddars are the best in the world.
The exteriors are covered with dark, dusky rind, but when cut open, the interior is revealed. The cheeses are a sunny, golden yellow, often with little streaks of blue mold running through. Dry and crumbly, they left an indelible sharpness when eaten.

My favorite was the Westcombe Cheddar which was well-aged and had a sweet-sharpness that I knew would be fabulous. And it was.

I think I tasted every cheese in the shop, at their suggestion, and I waddled out with lots of wedges of English cheese to bring home and savor. The best blue, I think, was Harbourne Blue, a rather crumbly sort of cheese, yet soft and tangy. I purchased a stack (well, actually about 7 stacks) of oatcakes which are the perfect vehicle for the blue cheese.

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I also loved the slightly dry Gorwydd Caerphilly. Even though I could barely wrap my tounge around the name, the cheese went down quite well. Both cheese, including the Harbourne Blue, I’ve been enjoying with a salad every day since I got home.

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On Saturday at Borough Market, across the Thames, locals line up outside Neal’s Yard for freshly-grilled cheese sandwiches made with Montgomery’s Cheddar, finely diced red onions, and heated on a griddle between pain Poîlane. The other option (which I passed on…how can I pass up a perfect grilled cheese sandwich?) was raclette. Ok, it was an easy decision: My fingers were so frozen that I didn’t think I could wield a fork properly and was afraid that most of it would end up on the ground. The sandwich was the prudent option. I would hate to waste a single, delicious morsel.

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Raclette is often made over an open fire. The ritual is a big, sexy affair. A huge slab of cheese is heated until super-hot and bubbling, then the hot, gooey stuff is shaved over a plate of sliced potatoes and gherkins (or cornichons, but it’s a relief to me typing in English and not having to code everything in HTML, so I’m using gherkins today.)

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I also brought back several blocks of Montgomery Farmhouse Butter, which boasts a whopping 85% butterfat (I think. I was in a butterfat-induced haze by that point.) I thought it would be tasty when spread over a warm, toasted crumpet, and sure enough, I was right. I ran out of crumpets at home before I ran out of butter and will have to make a batch to finish off the buttery block. I guess I wasn’t spreading on enough butter?

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If you’re interested in learning more about Neal’s Yard, I urge you to visit their website, which is full of excellent information and lots of terrific photos of the cheesemaking operations.

In the United States, Neal’s Yard cheeses are available at Cowgirl Creamery and Central Market stores. If your local cheeseshop carries any of their cheeses, don’t hesitate to bring a slab or two home.

You won’t be disappointed. Just make sure to pick up plenty of oatcakes, and perhaps some crumpets, as well.

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Neal’s Yard Dairy
17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden
and
6 Park Street, Borough Market
London

Categories:

Europe

21 comments

  • Oh, I love this place! When I lived in London, I lived Covent Garden and would drop by this place to check out their cheese every now and then. The best part was having sample tastes of any of the cheeses. Oh, another reason to miss London…

  • I adore Neal’s Yard. Just love them. Too bad you didn’t try Tymsboro. It puts to shame every single Valançay I’ve ever tried.

    xx
    P

  • so excited to read your post on Neal’s Yard–it’s the first place i go whenever i can get to london, it’s HEAVEN! you’ve just made my day (and made me quite jealous!)

  • Fabulous post. Gorgeous photos as always. I am soooo envious. And so hungry for cheese! : )

  • I am SOOOO jealous. I’ve been wanting to go there for years and somehow have never made it.

    However. You know you CAN get their basic cheddar and Stilton here in Paris, don’t you? Go to Rose Bakery in the 9th. The only place in Paris that knows how to store a cheddar…

    Sigh.

    I’m still jealous.

  • Whole Foods here in Cambridge has some incredibly beautiful wheels of cheddar from Neal’s Yard. I am blown away every time I see them.

  • So wonderful to see such a delicious homage to Neal’s Yard. I happen to love cheddars and have to agree with you on them being some of the best in the world.

    I think I’d liked to be locked up inside that cheese shop eternally :)

  • Excellent. I can’t wait to tour the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station.

  • Those look like some really nice crumpets. I believe you said you made them. Could you maybe share your recipe?

    I’ve done alright making English muffins, but so far haven’t produced any crumpets worth repeating.I like the look of those.

    And the cheese sounds sensational.

  • Oh, David, you make me want to drive to the Cheese Board in Berkeley. I know it’s not the same but it’s the closest thing I’ve got…

  • At the risk of repeating everyone else here — I’m jealous. So jealous.

  • I gotta say – that perfect grilled cheese sandwich you were eating smelled like the most heavenly thing on earth on an icy Saturday morning!! Next time I go, I am definitely skipping breakfast & feasting on one of those!

  • Im coming over right now to butter your crumpets.

  • i was in london recently. i ate a lot of very good food (including a fabulous meal at St John Restaurant). however, the single most amazing thing i ate was the grilled cheese sandwich at that stand! how could you pass it up!? it had a mixture of finely chopped leeks and red onions and that cheese… all on buttery sourdough. was so good i went back for a second. you MUST go back for one soon. it is THAT good.

  • whoops~ i read too quickly. you did have the grilled cheese… hope you liked it as much as i did!

  • Neal’s Yard Dairy has been my favourite place in London since a trip in 1984. How do I know this is the best cheese? my sister & her family made me store my leftover 6 year old cheddard in the trunk of our rental car & eat my lunch in the ditch instead of sitting at the picnic table with them. Now that is good cheese!!

  • The Pasta Shop in Berkeley and Oakland carries lots of yummy Neal’s Yard cheeses, and the Montgomery Farmhouse cheddar is what gets eaten with apples and the occasional (non-html’d) cornichon around our house.

  • Thanks for the entry on Neal’s Yard. Love the place. I’m also very fond of the Neal’s Yard brand of fancy bath stuff as well as the Lush store nearby. :)

    Thanks also for talking about the grilled cheese sandwich. :) You’re the coolest!

  • The picture alone is enough to make one swoon!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your pilgrimage with us. Like you, I would be hysterical with excitement to visit Neal’s Yard. Your photos left me drooling for some raclette (and cheddar, blue, etc.).

  • After reading so much about the grilled sandwiches, I traveled from NZ to Neal’s for “the” sandwich (I arrived on Friday afternoon into London and went to Borough market first thing on the Saturday – no breakfast…I was on a mission…) only to learn on that fateful Saturday morning that they only serve them in the winter.
    It was a disappointment that only true cheese lovers could begin to understand…I’m still not over it nearly a year on..