Most days I love my blog. Some days, I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of a time-sucking drag. Then every now and again I have a day that makes me want to jump for joy and give my blog a big fat smack on the lips. Last week I had one of those days. The clouds parted, the angels sang in immaculate chorus, and heaven’s benediction fell upon my head: I had been anointed as “the chosen one”. Thanks to my blog (I love you bloggy blog blog) I was invited to come down to the newly opened Brighton outpost of La Cave à Fromage and have a cheese tasting. If you don’t know, cheese is like the holy grail of food. And I was going to eat it all…
I’m going to keep this pretty brief because you don’t need me to tell you how awesome cheese is. We all know it’s awesome. It’s bloody awesome in fact and if I could eat cheese all day every day without turning into a giant hefferlump then my life would be insanely amazing. Saying that, I hadn’t really appreciated just how awesome cheese is until I stepped through La Cave à Fromage’s doors.
La Cave à Fromage shop in Brighton is modelled on the hugely successful original shop founded by Eric Charriaux and Amnon Paldi in 2007 in South Kensington, which Time Out herald as ‘the best cheese shop in London.’ Eric and Amnon’s company, Premier Cheese, supply the top restaurants around the UK with cheese including The Fat Duck and Le Gavroche. The new shop offers us lucky Brightonites the same unrivalled selection of farmhouse cheeses sourced from around Britain and Europe, with several cheeses made exclusively for them (some of which I tried and are sensational).
However, it’s not just cheese on offer, La Cave also sells a range of charcuterie and some rather posh condiments such as truffle honey and pomegranate infused balsamic vinegar. They even have a high-tech cheese maturing room which makes sure that every cheese is served to perfection.
Oh my! Look at all that cheese!!
When I arrived, two excited friends in tow, we were shown to the seating area situated at the back of the shop in full view of the cheese maturing room to await our tasting platter. I tell you what, the sight of all that magnificent fromage is enough to work up a serious appetite. We ogled and drooled over the cheeses on display, growing increasingly impatient for CHEEEEEESE!
Luckily, I think Dorothee (the very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly cheese goddess) must have heard our rumbling bellies and brought us a little amuse bouche to whet our appetites. And boy oh boy, did it. What she put down in front of us is simply one of the most incredibly creamy and decadent little cheeses I have ever had the pleasure of popping in my mouth. Served on brioche and topped with truffle honey, the cheese was Brillat Savarin. Created in the 1930s by cheese-maker Henri Androuët, this triple-cream (yes, I just said that) Brie is named after French gourmet legend Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Dorothee slightly marred the experience by highlighting the fact that it is 75% fat, but hey ho it was well worth it (you need fat for a healthy diet, innit? So it may as well be this!).
With our bouches well and truly amused, we were ready for the main event. Dorothee brought out a long slate platter dotted with cheese. She explained how she had selected the cheeses (none too mature as it was lunchtime and she wanted to keep the palate quite light), what each cheese was, the order that we should eat them in and left us to explore.
Armed with a selection of fine breads and some different condiments we went at it, like three half-starved lunatics, wildly stabbing off exuberant hunks of cheese whilst muttering excitedly about each cheese that we tasted and mildly panicking that we were running out of bread (though it was quickly replenished before stocks completely dwindled). It was simply and utterly heaven.
I’m not going to go through all the cheeses, but I thought I might highlight my top picks from the selection we were given (which was evidently just the “nose of the Stilton”). In no particular order:
An ewe’s milk cheese from Corsica, its rind is rolled in herbs such as rosemary and thyme, and savoury, aromatic herbs that are found in the rocky, brambly underbush landscape found on the island. The cheese is uncooked and unpressed and requires a maturing period of at least a month. The dried herbs give the cheese an original and subtle flavor and the taste is slightly sour. (£3.55/100g at La Cave).
Le Chabichou du Poitou
Le Chabichou du Poitou is a semi-soft goat’s cheese made in the very limited geographic area above the chalky soils of the threshold of Poitou, halfway between Paris and Bordeaux. It has a crinkly skin (the 2nd cheese from the left in the front row below) and has a kind of chalky texture that melts in the mouth. Delicious and firm, with a lingering, tangy finish. La Cave served it with a saffron honey, that went beautifully. (£6.10 each)
Tomme Brulee la Cave
Exclusive to La Cave, this ewe’s milk hard cheese is from the Basque region of France. At the end of the maturing period its rind is singed with a naked flame, making it hard and burnt. This process gives the cheese its distinctive sweet slightly smokey flavour. (£3.55/100g)
Soltocenere al Tartufo
This was my favourite cheese of the day, and very possibly the best cheese I have ever tasted. An Italian cheese made with cow’s milk, it has slices of truffles imbedded in the cheese. In my opinion, anything with truffles in it is a-ok with me. “Sottocenere” literally means “under ash” and once the cheese is made it is rolled in ash and aged. The ash rind helps to preserve it over a long period without losing flavour. And the flavours! Phwoar! The layers of flavours you get are incredible. I won’t try to explain them, but they dance around in your mouth and leave the nicest aftertaste imaginable. And did I mention it’s got truffles in it? (£3.85/100g)
A little cheese from Somerset with such a cute name! It’s a soft goats’ milk cheese, washed in Somerset cider brandy and wrapped in vine leaves. When it’s young the cheese has a nutty and lemony flavour, but this changes as the cider works its magic. The texture is really smooth and silky. It would look fantastic on your cheese board, I reckon. I think it is made by Alex James’ company, Evenlode partnership, but that could be a scandalous falsehood so don’t quote me on it. (£8.50 each)
This quirky cheese made by the Shorrock family has a fantastic sense of humour. Apparently, a customer wanted to take some cheese on a plane but he didn’t want the cheese to be too pungent. The story goes that Shorrock covered the cheese in thick black wax to make it appear like the customer was taking a bomb on the plane! However, this cheese is not just a gimmick, under the bomb facade lies a fierce and powerful Lancashire cheese made with unpasteurised milk. It was a little too strong for me (tasted of a dairy farm) but the staff at La Cave were singing its praises… and look, it’s da bomb! (£13.50 each)
Other cheeses of note were the Manchego (below) and the Stilton La Cave (made by Quenby Hall exclusively for La Cave, £2.5/100g).
Lucky us, we were also given an amazing platter of charcuterie which we grazed on alongside our cheese. Those particular worth a mention were the smoked duck breast and the salami with truffles (seriously, anything with truffles and I’m yours).
If you’re in Brighton, La Cave à Fromage is a must visit. Go and stock up on some amazing cheeses to make the ultimate cheese board, or pop in for some nibbles and wine. I’m seriously planning a cheese and wine night to give me the perfect excuse to go in and buy the whole shop. The staff are really knowledgeable and are happy to advise you about the cheeses (without any snootiness I can assure you). I’m so happy that La Cave has opened in Brighton (not 5 minutes from my work) – it is a glorious day for Brighton. I’m not sure my waistline will be quite so thrilled, but bugger it all to hell: if you can’t eat cheese then you’re not living. GO. Eat Cheese.
6 cheeses and a glass of wine = £14.50 (without wine = £10)
6 meat charcuterie platter and a glass of wine = £14.50 (without wine = £10)La Cave à Fromage 34-36 Western Road Brighton BN3 1AF 01273 725500 http://www.la-cave.co.uk/home.php
I was invited to La Cave for a tasting.