Emily Green suggests: Six cheese shops

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The Independent Culture
Covent Garden: The revival of world-class British and Irish cheeses was led by a world-class shop: Neal's Yard Dairy 17 Shorts Gardens, WC2H 9AT (071-379 7646). Staff are, to my mind, the best food-handlers in the UK. They buy cheese directly from smallholders as far north as the Orkneys and west as Schull, Co Cork, then mature stocks in immaculate, humidified stores.

Customers never need buy a cheese without having tasted it. Samples, say a slice of perfect Appleby Cheshire (pounds 4.50/lb), will be offered as a matter of course. Open 9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun. Access, Visa, Switch.

Mail order.

Muswell Hill: Muswell Hill's handsome Edwardian parades were designed for a gentler time, when Britain was run by shopkeepers instead of supermarkets. One of the few shops that seems to wear its bentwood and glass frontage with natural grace is Cheeses 13 Fortis Green Road, Muswell Hill N10 (081-444 9141). Ownership changed last March, but it was taken over by former staff member Vanessa Wiley. For a tiny place, its range of 150 French and British cheeses seems large, but traditionally quality is good. Montgomery cheddar, sold from 12 to 18 months old, costs pounds 5.06/lb. Open 10am-6pm Tue-Fri, 9.30-5.30pm Sat. Cash & cheques only.

Richmond: Delicatessens run by first generation immigrants are dying out, to be replaced by food 'boutiques', whose stock has tended to become a bit frivolous. And so when Vivian's 2 Worple Way, Richmond (081-940 3600) opened in the early 90s, one found the likes of a cutely packaged French version of Smash. The real attraction, however, were always the farmhouse cheeses, which may include Mrs Smart's Double Gloucester, or Devon Oke, a hard cow's milk cheese from the West Country costing pounds 4.85/lb. Open 9am-7.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-6pm Sat, 8.30-noon Sun. Major credit cards, cash and cheques; no Switch.

Soho: Some popular commercial foodstuffs are not so much charmless as actively unpleasant - pre-grated parmesan is one of them. The cannisters of the stuff so popular with late night convenience shops bear as much similarity to proper mature parmigiano reggiano as dessicated garlic does to a sweet spring bulb. Young block parmesan, now appearing in supermarkets, while an improvement, remains a travesty. Only one London shop invariably sells parmesan properly mature and in perfect condition at pounds 5.90/lb: I Camisa & Son 61 Old Compton St, London W1 (071-437 7610). Open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat. Cash and cheques.

Highbury: Patricia Michelson started out maturing French cheeses in her garden shed and selling them from a stall in Camden Lock before opening a tiny shop in north London. A year ago, she moved to larger premises and opened La Fromagerie 30 Highbury Park, London N5 (071-359 7440). Here one finds a particularly pleasing selection of Normandy cheeses and butter. Among the British and Irish samples is the delicious Irish fondue-style cheese, Gabriel (pounds 8.80/lb), perfect for melting with a dash of Beamish and a pinch of Colman's for a delicious rarebit. Open 11.30-7.30 Mon; 10am-7.30pm Tue-Sat; 10am-4pm Sun. Major credit cards and Switch. Mail order.

Holland Park: A month ago, a third branch of Jerobaum's 6 Clarendon Road, W11 (071-727 9359) joined the cluster of breath-takingly expensive (and not always good) provision shops near Holland Park Tube station. Prices are high, but staff are civility itself and a good selection of cheeses include an unusual and wholly delicious hard Scottish goat's cheese called Ballindalloch (pounds 7.20/lb). Open 9am-7.30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat, 11am-3pm Sun. Major credit cards and Switch. Branches also at 24 Bute Street, SW7 (071-225 2232) and 51 Elizabeth Street, SW1 (071-823 5623).

As a rule for hard cheese, cover cut surfaces with clingfilm, leaving the rind exposed to the air so it can 'breathe'. Store in a cool, well-ventilated place, preferably not the refrigerator. If you have a whole round of semi-soft, slightly unripe cheese, store it in straw or crumpled newspaper in a cardboard box. Spray the cardboard with an atomiser so it is slightly damp. This will create a humid microclimate for it to mature. Turn over each day, so the cheese is sitting on the opposite side.

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