Wednesday, March 19, 2008

By George, I Found It!

I didn't know I was looking for it. But there it was. Right in front of me. Just waiting...waiting for me. And By George, I Found It!

I was traveling with George in France and it was a cold and dreary day. Our plans to ascend Mont Blanc had been scuttled due to the bad weather, so a trip into town to a warm cafe had to suffice. As we watched the rain pound the pebbled street, we sat by the fire and contemplated the menu. When George looked at me and smiled and proceeded to order a feast, I knew that the plans for the day might be changed due to the weather, but in no way would they be dull. And so, we finished our feast with exquisite cheeses and delicious breads by the warm fire.

I wanted to create part of that delicious meal again, especially the cheeses. Once one has tasted really high quality cheeses, the stuff sealed in plastic in the grocery store just tastes like cardboard. I had to go in search of the real thing.

Since 1749, London cheesemaker Paxton & Whitfield , has been selling some of the most fantastic cheeses made in the United Kingdom. A stop into the Jermyn street store yields the most delicious pleasures. As one opens the door and steps into the shop, it feels as though you have stepped back in time. The wooden shelves on the right contain every accessory you might need for enjoying cheese, but it is the cases of cheese on your left that run the length of the store that will sweep you away. These cheesemongers are well versed in describing each available product, and it is wise to listen to their recommendations. The aromas are fabulous, and one can purchase anything from a small slice of cheese to an entire gift hamper and accessories. This is a jewel in London often overlooked by the tourist, but I highly recommend a visit to this amazing local shop.

It's difficult to compete among the chains, especially the better ones like Whole Foods and Fresh Market. But saavy Atlanta entrepreneurs , January and Robert Hodgson decided to do just that at Savor in Buckhead. Having a large selection of artisanal cheeses as well as accessories make a visit here perfect for entertaining or gift giving. The shop is small enough to be accessible and not overwhelming, but it is large enough to contain a variety. It does not feel fussy or gift-shop-cute; rather it is focused on the product and the best ways to serve it. In a city as busy as Atlanta with much of shopping focused on big chains, it is refreshing to find such an accessible specialty shop.

Seattle is one of my very favorite cities, especially because of Pike Place Market. And one of the very best cheese shops is Beechers Handmade Cheese. Founded in 2002 by Kurt Beecher Dammeier and named for his great grand-father, Beechers is a fabulous Seattle destination. The clean sleek stainless and wood interior represents the Seattle aesthetic of clean design; however, it is the ability to watch the production of cheese that is so fantastic. Huge plate glass windows line the right side of the store, so whether from the inside or out on the stree, one can watch delicious products in the making. And if you can't get to Seattle? You can order online and have it shipped.

Vermont, Oregon, Washington, California, and states throughout America produce fine artisanal cheeses. In almost every state, one can find local products made from fresh milk that are lovingly crafted to yield decadent cheeses. So by George, I found delicious cheeses in my travels, and you can too, even if you shop online! Google "artisanal cheeses" to find sites worldwide.

My current favorite cheeses include Stilton from Neal's Dairy Yard in Yorkshire and Thomasville Tomme from Georgia.

St. Andrews from the Cathedral