I am a squeezer. I fondle tomatoes and peaches for ripeness, I press the ends of melons, and I don’t buy mangoes unless I can pick them up and smell them. I rarely go shopping with a plan; I buy what looks and smells nice, and I’m an impulse buyer. For this reason I’ve never gotten into online grocers, despite their convenience. I want it if I can touch, prod, and smell it, and my beast brain tells me to eat it. A company like the Cheese Boutique presents a conundrum. On the one hand: lovely cheeses! Delivered to my door like a present! On the stroke of a key! On the other hand: I have to cede control over my cheese-squeezing to someone else.
The Cheese Boutique is a cheese stall in Surrey that has blossomed into an online cheese delivery service. They contacted me a couple of weeks ago at the suggestion of David at Elitist Review (to whom I shall be forevermore grateful) to see if I would be interested in writing a review in exchange for a cheese delivery. Think about it: FREE CHEESE. I said yes immediately, and hinted, “It is true that I am a lover of all things cheese, particularly stinky unpasteurised cheeses.” (I am nothing if not subtle.)
(This is the part where we pretend I placed an order online like an Ordinary Consumer.)
My cheeses arrived packed tidily with ice packs and plenty of wooden shavings, along with helpful instructions on “taking care of your cheese,” rather as if it were a small furry pet (don’t confuse the two), and a sheet with mini celebrity bios of the cheeses in the box.
The attractive young lady in the Amish country bonnet sells Camembert; the Cantal Vieux and Crottin de Chavignol aren’t so attractively garbed, but rip off their demure blue-and-white plaid wrappers and they’ll show you a thing or two.
According to my Cantal bio, it’s the only cheese made in France according to the cheddaring process used to make many English hard cheeses. Unpasteurized (natch), like an aged Montgomery cheddar this cheese was nutty, dense but moist, and flecked with delicate crystalline shards of calcium lactate (you know, the lovely crunchy bits that form in certain aged cheeses). I swiftly manufactured an excuse to tell the friends I’d offered to share the cheeses with, and texted it to them.
I love raw milk goat cheeses, but I tend to favour the ones that ooze lasciviously, as opposed to the grassy crumbly ones. Crottin falls in the latter category. It’s a much-benighted cheese, since inferior underripe specimens tend to squat damply on limp salads in mediocre French bistros. Those have usually been pasteurized (a dreadful thing to do to cheese) and have as little to do with REAL Crottin as American cheese slices. This Crottin was a different beast altogether. Gently yielding to the touch and just as ripe as it should be, this Crottin was tart and fresh but creamy, and crumbled and spread and melted on the tongue wonderfully.
Sadly, the only let-down of the bunch was the Camembert. I shared it with the aforementioned friends and we agreed that it wasn’t as saucy as the packaging promised. The rind was thickish and ammoniac, while the cheese was at once underripe and unusually sharp, rather than silky and musky and goaty as a Camembert should be. It was decent, but if I’d been able to prod it at a cheese counter I wouldn’t have bought it.
The good thing about a cheesemonger is that he or she can answer all your questions and make recommendations. I emailed the Cheese Boutique to see if they’d do the same. They said the telephone number on their site is manned from 9 until 6 every day and they’re more than happy to answer questions. They respond to online queries within an hour. They’ll also assemble a custom box on request and – important here – if you’re unhappy, they’re unhappy. Meaning, complain enough, and they’ll send you a new cheese, a refund, a troupe of carollers, furry slippers, and free drinks.
Would I order from the Cheese Boutique again? Actually, yes. Underwhelming Camembert notwithstanding, these people know their cheese, store it properly, and their prices are pretty darn reasonable. Their site is user-friendly, informative, and they’re ideal for when, say, you’re throwing a party and can’t be arsed to go to Borough Market and don’t want to be gouged by Selfridge’s prices. It’s also the kind of impulse buy I could see myself rationalizing on a drunken evening when I’m feeling too virtuous for shoes.
This cheese-prodder is (bought and) sold.