Cheese me, cheese me, cheese me, cheese me baby. Need a hot cheese fix in the city? Hugh Thomas has your next mouthwatering London cheese hit covered.
The fact is this: We. Love. Cheese. And who can blame us? Mac ‘n’ cheese. Grilled sandwiches. Tartiflette. Fondue. Raclette. It’s little wonder cheese stimulates the same part of the brain as cocaine. With Maltby Street’s legendary The Cheese Truck selling around 500,000 grilled cheese sandwiches in their first three years, Londoners can’t seem to get enough. Which is why we’ve asked some top London cheese peddlers how to recreate their interpretations of classic cheese dishes in your own home.
Mac ‘n’ Cheese, The Mac Factory way
‘Always use unsalted butter,’ says Graham Bradbury, owner of mac and cheese slingers The Mac Factory. ‘Unsalted butter means you’re seasoning from scratch.’ With their street food outlet at KERB Camden and mac ‘café’ near Euston, Graham and co. have been keeping North London cheese dreams alive since 2014. How do they do it? ‘Try and use extra mature cheddar,’ says Graham. ‘As the flavour will stand out. Use the freshest ingredients – pizza toppings work well – and cook your pasta al dente, as you’ll get a much better finish and sidestep the soggy mac problem.’
As for specific ingredients, Graham recommends using Longman’s Mature Cheddar to give your cheese sauce that added punchiness. ‘And mozzarella and parmesan, which we use in our sourdough-based parmesan and thyme crumble. It’s delicious.’ How about toppings? ‘Our spicy chorizo, harissa and caramelised onion is always a winner. And you can’t go wrong with lobster poached in garlic and parsley butter.’ Only when you’re feeling a bit decadent, of course.
Cheese Toasties, The Grill My Cheese way
Lunch al desko is rarely dull if you work near Leather Lane’s bustling food market. Grill My Cheese is one reason why. To them, the perfect cheese toastie involves a combination of good melt, excellent stretch, and of course mesmerising flavour. They even wrote a book about it. ‘We recommend a blend of cheeses’ says co-founder Nishma. ‘A good sharp, mature cheddar with a creamy mozzarella is perfect. But for something extra special, play around with combinations including comté, fontina, and gruyere.’
Cheese experimentation is key. And with fillings, not much is different. ‘Even the simplest thing, like a slick of cream cheese, adds a layer of pure indulgence,’ says Nishma. ‘Our personal favourites are sweet and spicy flavours – something to complement the cheese whilst the spice cuts through for a clean finish.’ If we’re talking about GMC’s idea of the ultimate grilled cheese sarnie, béchamel is one of the first things on the recipe. Have some spare white sauce, some sourdough, and a few different cheeses lying around? You know what to do.
Cheese Toasties, The TOTA way
Double Gloucester in your grilled cheese sandwich? Surely not. And what’s this – brioche?! You must be laughing. Actually, turns out Gary Doherty of Tooting Broadway restaurant TOTA is quite serious. ‘A good quality sourdough works well for grilling,’ he says, ‘however we prefer a good brioche, not the sweet soft varieties you find in supermarkets. So hunt down that local bakery.’
Like Nishma, Gary recommends not holding back on finding the perfect cheese combo. Though he does provide a decent starting point. ‘We use a mix of three different cheeses. Gruyere with its unique ‘nutty’ taste, a sharp cheddar such as Montgomery or Mrs Keens, and a good Double Gloucester.
When bringing the ingredients together, ‘Get two slices of brioche – you’ll need to slice them at least half an inch thick. Mix your three cheeses up in equal measurements and sprinkle the cheese on one side,’ says Gary. ‘If you prefer a little sprinkle of Spanish paprika or maybe some Worcester sauce, then that’s just fine. Honey mustard is also good.’
Once sandwich construction has been taken care of, all that’s left is adding them to a hot pan and letting the Maillard reaction do its thing. ‘Add a good dollop of butter sizzling hot until it starts to slightly brown – this is important unless you want greasy brioche,’ says Gary. ‘Place sandwich in pan and turn over after about a minute, immediately turn down heat. This shouldn’t take too long: maybe two minutes each side. Let the sandwich sit for at least another minute with the heat off to enable the cheeses to properly melt.’
Raclette, The Androuet Way
What’s the best thing about visiting the Swiss Alps? Not the skiing. Or the cuckoo clocks. It’s all about the raclette. A dish Alex Guarneri and brother Leo are helping Londoners cook up, through their London cheese shop Androuet in Spitalfields.
Raclette is a rather theatrical dish where cheese is seductively melted over boiled potatoes, along with the odd accoutrement. ‘The raclette needs to be pre-sliced, then put into a tray,’ says Alex. ‘Then you can put the tray in a barbeclette, which is a little pan like the ones made by Boska. It works on induction heat or the barbeque.’
Alright Alex, but what cheese should we be going for? ‘The traditional French way is with raclette cheese. Then you have the sweet raclette, witch is more fruity and intense in flavour. Then there’s smoked raclette, chili raclette, and truffle raclette. And if there’s no raclette available, you can use morbier, which is ash-coated, from the Franche-Comté region. This one is so good for raclette.’
But French cheese, you may be please to hear, isn’t the only way. ‘We also love doing the British cheese Ogleshield by Jamie Montgomery too,’ says Alex. ‘Sometimes even taleggio. Or Quartirolo Talaggio, which is similar but made from sour milk.’
Whatever you choose, make sure there’s enough to go around. ‘We recommend at least 200 grams of cheese per person – the recommended is 250g,’ says Alex. And you mustn’t forget toppings and accoutrements. ‘We put gherkins and pepper and parsley on our raclette. It’s lovely to serve with cured meat like saucisson or speck ham.’
Cheese Board, The Sibarita way
Grilled cheese, macaroni cheese, raclette; perhaps these dishes lack a degree of sophistication. You certainly wouldn’t want to offer them up to friends with a glass of wine on a Sunday night. Cheese boards, however, are a little bit different. Victor Garvey, who owns Spanish wine bar Sibarita in Covent Garden, knows all about that.
‘A good cheeseboard,’ says Victor, ‘is like a symphony – everything on it needs to harmonise. You want to have a range of distinctive tastes and textures which complement each other – three to five different cheeses is optimal, but there’s a lot to be said for simply serving one great cheese for the table.’
Spanish cheese might not be the first which comes to mind, but variety is as good as anywhere else. ‘Idiazabal is a pressed ewe’s milk cheese with a slightly smoky flavour,’ says Victor. ‘Tetilla is a creamy cheese from Galicia, popular as a dessert; Garrotxa is a cave-aged goat’s cheese, slightly acidic; Murcia al Vino is a fatty, hard goat’s milk cheese with a wine-washed rind; and Valdeon “Picos Azul” is just the most amazing long-matured blue cow’s milk cheese – very salty and rich. They make a good cheeseboard because they’re all so different, but not so wild that any one overpowers the other.’
Usual procedure is to stick with a glass of red to go with all this, right? True, but if white wine’s your thing, Victor says some Spanish bottles stand up well to cheese. ‘A Catalan Priorat, or a flinty white Rioja work well with our cheeses. Sherry is great with cheese as well – a nutty Fino or dry, salty Manzanilla would be perfect.’
Hankering for a chunk of the good stuff? Recreate these dishes at home with over 80 artisan cheeses to choose from at farmdrop.com.
Or get your cheese fix with our recipes for British Tartiflette, the ultimate Cheese Toastie, classic Macaroni Cheese, a killer Mac & Cheese Toastie, and Honey & Thyme Baked Feta.
This article was originally published in November 2017.