La Fromagerie founder Patricia Michelson's cheese odyssey began in 1991 when she returned from a Meribel ski trip with a wheel of Beaufort Chalet D'Alpage. As she opens her third outlet, this time in bustling Bloomsbury, we caught up with Patricia to talk about London’s changing palate, how to create the perfect cheeseboard and why London, and cheese, still excite her.
How has London’s appetite for artisan cheese changed since you first started La Fromagerie?
Tastes have evolved as people are more travelled and want to taste new cheeses and charcuterie. In 1991 the cheeses were behind the counter, you weren’t expected to ask questions and there was none of the expertise to call on if you did. We offered a completely different perspective: we always gave people a proper taste and we were always very approachable, with precise tasting notes.
Is that what makes La Fromagerie different?
Yes, whenever I asked a question in a cheese shop, there were no details and you were treated almost snobbishly. Right from the get-go, we wanted all sorts of people to get to know cheese, moving ahead to the next phase of how you put together a cheeseboard, getting the right biscuits and wine to create glorious celebrations of locality.
So, what makes a great cheeseboard?
Some of our staff have different specialities – our sausage maker makes all 27 varieties so can answer any question or create something bespoke if, say, you have an allergen concern. Some of our customers from Italy, Portugal or France might not know quite how to describe a particular cut in English, but our staff from across Europe can help translate.
Begin your board with something fresh and light, all the way through to something strong and blue, with crumbly or perhaps washed cheeses in the middle. You want to create a fantastic journey of flavour, with explosions and layers of taste.
Isn’t this approach to cheeseboards something you’re evolving with your latest opening in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury?
Yes, we really want to take this into the next phase, enjoying a plate of cheese with wine to give you new experiences of taste.
You have shops in Highbury and Marylebone, how are you finding Bloomsbury?
Lamb’s Conduit Street feels like a little village, everyone knows everyone, it’s a really lovely area and only five minutes’ walk from King’s Cross and Holborn. It’s an extraordinary satellite to lots of areas of central London.
How did it feel when the directors from the Howard de Walden Estate asked you to consider opening a shop in Marylebone?
It was a joy for me to come back – my family moved to the area in 1966 and I grew up around there. I know the area intimately, and how it’s changed, and I loved the building on Moxon Street, just away from the High Street. I was looking for a second shop, but at that time, we were untried. The retail directors of Howard de Walden could see the validity of having an independent shop on Moxon Street and were really supportive.
You’ve lived in London most of your life and have been running La Fromagerie from the shop floor since 1991 – does London, and cheese, still excite you?
London is still the most exciting place in the world to me. Whenever I’m away, I can’t wait to get back home. London is so open-minded and you can find something interesting in every area. As for cheese, it still gives me a tingle. Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage is the cheese that started La Fromagerie and the cheese produced in June, when the animals head up the mountain pass to taste the sweet grass and enjoy the clean air, remains one of my favourites. I also love what some of the young producers experimenting and taking old recipes and tinkering with them are doing. Just half an hour north of London, they’re making the most delicious feta and halloumi from raw unpasteurised ewes’ milk.
Where do you go to enjoy good food and wine when you’re not in La Fromagerie?
We work with Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street. They have beautifully curated cheeses, that are so well thought through with the wine. Recent opening Neo Bistro in Mayfair has such an intelligent approach, integrating cheese so it’s absolutely part of the menu and not an add-on. Clipstone in Fitzrovia and sister restaurant Portland are also so interested in cheese, and I love The Laughing Heart in Hackney, it has a very nice wine list.
52 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LL, lafromagerie.co.uk
NEAL’S YARD DAIRY WC2
The original cheese shop opened in 1979 at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, selecting and maturing farmhouse cheese. Order early to get your hands on their famous Stichelton, a soft and creamy raw milk blue cheese.
17 Shorts Gardens, WC2H 9AT, nealsyarddairy.co.uk
Rhuaridh Buchanan’s Marble Arch cheesemonger, established only three years ago, is a centre of excellence for all things cheese. After spending a decade at the coal face in some of the UK’s top restaurants, Buchanan knows his cheese, and is incredibly proud of his company’s flexible and bespoke approach.
5A Porchester Place, W2 2BS, buchananscheesemonger.com
PAXTON & WHITFIELD SW1
Operating for over two centuries, Jermyn Street’s Paxton & Whitfield is a St James’s institution. The company caters to both retail and wholesale customers with exceptional expertise, customer service and high quality cheeses, as well as hampers, biscuits, chutneys and pâtés.
93 Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6JE, paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk
LA CAVE A FROMAGE SW7
Billed as “the world’s third most amazing cheese shop,” by the Daily Telegraph, La Cave’s flagship South Kensington shop stocks the finest cheeses the world has to offer. Expect creamy Welsh Perl and French Brillat Truffe among its 225 available cheeses.
24-25 Cromwell Place, SW7 2LD, la-cave.co.uk
CHEESE AT LEADENHALL EC3
Anyone for cheese by the Cheesegrater? Leadenhall, an independent cheese and wine shop in the heart of the City, serves as a restaurant for those who prefer to sit down and savour great cheeses and incredible wines.
4-5 Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LR, cheeseatleadenhall.co.uk