A surreal event proved to be a literal and metaphorical cheese dream as Georgia Lewis took a French fromage tour in the heart of London
Cheese, France, and the EU funding things that would cause ragefits in the offices of certain newspapers are among the things that I enjoy. As such, I jumped at the chance to head to the dark and stylish Eve Bar in London’s Covent Garden to take part in a cheese speed-dating event, which is part of the EU’s “Enjoy, It’s From Europe” agriculture initiative. French cheeses and romance – what’s not to love?!
The idea was simple, yet surreal. Six cheeses from across France would be represented by six different characters. The guests got to sit down with each character, taste the cheese, try the cheese with different accompaniments, chat about the cheese – chewing the fat, if you will – and see if they could find their cheese perfect match. A bell rang every few minutes to keep everyone moving.
I went blue early…
I started the speed date with Bleu d’Auvergne, represented by a blond-haired, flirtatious farmer-cum-inventor character who kissed my hand and complimented me on my reptile print shirt (£3.50 from a Cats Protection charity shop. Tres chic!). Bleu d’Auvergne became an early favourite. And not because Farmer Jacques was laying the flattery on as thickly as the honey. This cheese from central France was a gentle blue, rather than one that punches you in the bouche with a slap of ammonia. It went really well with honey, and I made a note to myself to do this more often. The cheese that is, not the farmer.
A challenging cheese
Saint Nectaire was not a cheese for the faint-hearted. Definitely the Marmite cheese of the night. The flavour was big, brash and earthy to the point of being rural. It gave me flashbacks to childhood days spent on the family’s farm in the Australian town of Cowra, where, coincidentally, cow farmers are pretty successful. This Lyon-made cheese was represented by a mushroom-hatted girl-about-town who was honest about the divisive nature of Saint Nectaire. I found it more palatable when she gave me some aromatic leaves to accompany it. But one of my fellow tasters thought the leaves made it worse. I took a glug of white wine and moved on.
Dream toasties incoming!
Is it gauche to suggest that a fine cheese, only made in summer in the French alps, would be absolutely amazing on toast? If so, I don’t care, because the Cheddar-on-steroids lush-fest that is Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage is made for melting on a thick slice of bread with a slathering of real butter. Represented by a sexily stubbled man in lederhosen and a flower-festooned hat, he explained that this cheese is made in summer. The cows are chowing down on assorted flowers, which creates the unique flavour. It was several cuts above cheap supermarket Cheddar. A classic case of getting what you pay for when it comes to a better class of toastie.
A nutty heart
Nutty, creamy Neufchâtel is presented in the shape of a love heart. Cute! Adorable! And it was so yummy that I was happy to overlook my general disdain for anything remotely twee. This one comes from the village of Neufchâtel-en-Bray, a village of 5,000 people in Normandy. It comes with plenty of history, as it was likely first made in the 6th century. It had its heyday between 1050 and 1543, even remaining popular as a festival cheese during the Hundred Years’ War, which actually lasted for 116 years. As a bonus, this cheese was represented by a spectacularly-hatted woman who did not break character. Not even when I ran into her in the loo at the end of the night and she struck up a conversation as we washed our hands.
Cream, cream, and more cream
By this stage of the evening, I was very glad I’d had a light lunch. I rolled myself over to my speed-date with Brillat-Savarin, represented by a jovial Champagne Charlie type who was not interested in low-fat anything. The Brillat-Savarin cheese comes from the Forges-les-Eaux region of Normandy. It’s a triple-cream cheese, so called because full-fat milk is added to double cream to make this bad boy. It was so rich and creamy that it resembled luxury hotel scrambled eggs when punctured with a cheese knife. It had a Brie edge, but it was so much better than Brie.
Dark and mysterious…
I concluded the evening’s cheese dates in a darkened corner of an already dark bar, where I met Epoisses. Represented by the character of a non-binary meditation teacher, Epoisses was resplendent in a black polo neck jumper and thick glasses. Epoisses is the much calmer sibling cheese to the massive flavours of Saint Nectaire. The Saint Nectaire earthiness is there, but it didn’t transport me quite as far as the family farm 10,000 miles away. Another history-laden cheese, this one was first made in the 16th century by Cistercian monks at Citeaux Abbey, just south of Dijon. For all that time, they’ve been rinsing the rind with brine and a local brandy. I tried Epoisses with a little dollop of blackberry jam, washed down with white wine and wanted to have a whole session with just this cheese, wine, jam and an open fire for company.
Did I find my perfect cheese match?
In short, nope. Instead, I found a few matches that I really want to go back to for further, less speedy dates. A good cheese is designed for a lingering session, not a quick fling. And now that a whole new world of French fromage fabulousness has been brought to my attention, I am going to indulge in some cheesy threesomes with just me, something rich and creamy, and my husband.
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing… When she’s not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.
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