If you’re a cheese lover (check), and a particularly avid consumer of cheese (check), then you know that to love cheese is not just to love it per se, but to love the bread or cheese biscuit that goes with it. It’s a Fred and Ginger situation. Martin and Lewis. Laverne and Shirley. Beavis and Butthead. It’s whatever duo that floats your boat.
My narrative begins with an acknowledgement that ‘the partner of the cheese maketh the cheese’. There is nothing more rewarding than the perfect pairing of cheese to doughy or biscuity breaded goodness. It can be in the form of a crispy cheese wafer: seeded, seasoned, or adorned with toppings and baked-in flavours. It can be in a bread form: rich, chewy bread, with a perfect rustic crust, slightly acidic and sour at the same time, with the perfect ‘rip off’ texture. Me? I am a bread girl. The sourdough loving kind of girl. The girl who lived for the Sunday bread in Spain that her mother in law used to get that was only ever made that day of the week, and just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
I can’t think of anything worse than having to make do with a crappy cut loaf from the corner shop. Wonder Bread that drowns the soul in a bland, pitiful, meaningless white cube of processed and bleached flour. The kind that you can squish into a ball that never retracts or bounces back. Sacrilege.
My journey began after being unceremoniously dropped from my job after 13 years and recovering from the virus. Once I was able to get up and about I felt that I really needed to get out of the house and walk. We have lived at our current home since Nov.2015. It might shock you to know that it was a rare moment indeed that I ever left the house and turned to the right down the street. I always turned left.
Left was the way to work, the way to the shops, the way to get groceries, petrol, just about anything. Turning right out of the drive was to go almost nowhere unless we were taking the car and driving into Surrey on the weekend. About 50m away to the right is the ‘Welcome to Surrey’ sign along with Henry VIII’s former hunting ground and Nonsuch Park across the road.
I began to get adventurous and turn right. I walked in the park, enjoyed the spring weather, read my Kindle on a bench. It was all very exhilarating. I felt like I had only just begun (cue ‘The Carpenters’) to get to know my own neighbourhood. It’s hard to explain, but when you live and work in London it isn’t always easy to find the time to see things local to you. You’re always on the go and after a 12 hour day including travel, once you get home you just want to be home.
A few weeks later, I thought I should check out the nearby village of Cheam. Technically we live in North Cheam, the poor relation. The in-betweener dwellings between Worcester Park and Cheam Village. It’s not like I didn’t know Cheam Village, we had been to restaurants there and always drove through it en route to the airport. It just wasn’t somewhere we typically aimed for even though it’s only 1.5 miles down the road. I had friends ask me how I didn’t know the village very well, but like I said, I used to leave the house Monday to Friday at 7am and not get home until 7pm. Anything to do with Cheam wasn’t open while I was present.
So lockdown and being jobless became the impetus for taking walks and checking out the activity to me locally for the first time ever. It only took half an hour to reach Cheam Village and with a particularly lovely British Spring I took advantage of the weather and made hay. The best part was discovering that as I got close to the village junction, there was an old tudor style shop with a massive queue. I was intrigued.
Upon closer inspection, I realised it was a ‘boulangerie’. I had to stop myself. A real boulangerie, practically in my own ‘hood? This was too good to be true. Their sign promised artisanal sourdough bread, real ‘beurre viennoiserie’, and other French delicacies. My heart began to sing.
I duly queued, two metres away from my nearest shopper. The queue snaked down the street as I came to realise that it was very popular indeed. Once I finally made it to the front I peered into the window with excitement. What bread should I buy? How many varieties would I end up taking home? Would it be worth the hassle of the walk and the queue?
I entered. I grabbed a bog standard sourdough baguette. I figured you can tell a lot about a joint if you look at their most basic of provisions. If they can’t get that right, don’t bother spending more on the rest of their repertoire. At the counter, the man spoke to me with a thick French accent (yes, authentic!), and after processing my £1.50 I was eager to test my purchase. He thanked me in French, and I responded with a ‘Merci, bien’. Now might be the time to mention that ever since that moment we only ever speak in French. And he’s from the Loire Valley. So yes, this transaction resulted in an overwhelmingly positive outcome.
This damn bread changed my life. I can distinctly remember being on a video call to my friends, recounting my walk and the discovery of a potential bread find. A local bread find. The find that makes your cheese habit that much more intense. My bestie in France was so excited that it happened. I decided to just inhale a straight up piece of bread with some salted French butter while on the call. The result was obvious for all to see. I was in heaven. This bread was going to change my cheese loving self.
As someone who doesn’t have access to a decent fondue or raclette in London, who waxes poetic about such experiences with cheese when able to on past experiences in France and Switzerland, this was a revelation. Whenever I do go to Lyon, my must have is a fondue. I came to realise that this sourdough that I could source locally was almost an exact match and that it might be possible, just possible, that I could make one almost as good at home.
So this is my goal. I haven’t done it yet because being a Capricorn perfectionist I research everything to death and must have the perfect cheese blend. Currently this is Comté, Beaufort and Reblochon. With the de rigeur garlic rub in the pot.
It’s happening though.
And I’m so glad I decided to take those steps walking just to see what was out there. It’s rewarding to know what goodness there is in your own backyard.