If you like cheese then you and I have something in common. If you love cheese then you and I share a passion. If you love cheese but have never been to La Fromagerie in Highbury then we really have nothing more to say to each other.
La Fromagerie (in conjunction with Frank Godfrey – one of London’s best butchers, their Directors sausages are worth a trip alone, but be prepared to queue – and Da Mario Italian style delicatessen – where they sell the insanely delicious Fiat (yes, as in ‘the car’) pralines) makes Highbury Barn’s little row of shops one of the best places to go and spend a Saturday morning when you’re feeling hungry and keen to splurge.
Walking into La Fromagerie is where the fun begins. The front part of the store is a coffeeshop/patisserie so there’s often people sat at tables, in the window, whiling away the hours eating cakes, reading papers and chatting with friends. The staff welcome you in whilst trying not to smirk at the expression of childish delight and excitement spreading across your face as you scan round the shop, your eyes feasting upon all of the delicious treats tantalisingly within reach. As well as fresh breads, drinks and a range of impressively expensive French and Italian larder fillers (pasta, sauces, preserves etc) they also have a wide variety of cakes, flans, and sweet treats that make your eyes, and tongue, pop out of your head. I’m not a great fan of sweet snacks particularly – I’m always happiest munching on chunk of Pecorino as opposed to a cupcake, but even I can’t help but drool at the sight of La Fromagerie’s pastries.
Despite the enticing array of sweet treats, I’m here for the cheese. As you wander towards the cheese room at the back of the store, the aroma that waltzes through the air to meet you draws you in like the proverbial moth to the flame. This is the most dangerous time for me. I’m always just inches away from blacking out from sensory over-ride and before I know it, it’s 35 minutes later and I’m stood outside on the pavement with bags full of cheese and no money left to pay my rent. As I was celebrating the end of the annual Jan/Feb detox by taking cheeses round to a friend’s for supper that evening I did allow myself to go just a tad overboard this time. The staff in the cheeseroom (which also stocks a small, but delicious, charcuterie selection, and all the obligatory crackers and quince jellies etc to accompany your cheeses) are often very helpful and mostly enthusiastic if they can tell that you’re a big fan of cheese in general. I have witnessed, on many occasions, customers just wandering in with a brief of “I don’t know anything about cheese, but I’m going to a dinner party and would like to bring along a range of nice cheeses”, and the staff are always able to accommodate and take the time to make recommendations, explaining which cheeses are nice, and why. Fortunately I already knew exactly what I wanted, and it barely fell short of just “a slice of everything please”. If you’re a cheese fan, and love nothing more than being surrounded by the stuff then I strongly recommend you pay La Fromagerie a visit. It does get pretty busy on a Saturday morning however so be prepared to be patient.
If you’re wondering what I opted for in the end then my list comprised Vacherin; Saint Nectaire; Pecorino di fossa; Stitchleton; Golden Cross and Montgomery Cheddar. All of which were delicious, and were stripped off the cheeseboard, by my friends, with all the gusto of a plague of locusts stripping a field of fresh crops.
Once you’ve bought your cheeses however, you may wish to pop just a bit further down the road to Highbury Vintners to pick up a couple of bottles of nice wine, or beer, to wash your cheese down with. The staff in HV are both incredibly friendly and highly knowledgable about their wines. Plus they’re one of the few places I’ve found that stocks my favourite Morellino di Scansano wine, so it’s a regular haunt for me.