For turophobics, it is a new and rather pongy circle of hell. In fact, even for those without the (admittedly rare) fear of cheese, the smorgasbord of nearly 100 fromages, sourced in Lyon and shipped weekly, is the stuff of nightmares.
The inebriating whiff of Roquefort draws one to the door of L'Art Du Fromage, the first speciality cheese restaurant in Britain. The menu is built around cheese-based dishes: there are fondues, raclettes, a glorified version of cheese on toast and even cheese ice cream. One of the few dishes not to arrive with cheese are the snails. Because that would just be wrong.
Step inside and Julien Ledogar clutches a wedge of Le Marechal to the light, for inspection. "This is the first cheese that I fell in love with!" declares the co-proprietor.
Mr Ledogar and his business partner Jean-Charles Madenspacher, who are both 24, have left their village outside Strasbourg, Alsace, to move to the UK. Their mission: to banish the British obsession with mild cheddar and ignite an altogether fierier relationship with aged milk curd.
Their restaurant, off London's King's Road, near Chelsea, has just opened for business. Experts believe they could have a battle on their hands. Cheese has traditionally failed to capture the imagination in the UK beyond the dinner party set. "Much of this is down to the running order of the traditional British meal," says Bob Farrand, chairman of the Guild of Fine Food and author of The Cheese Handbook. "In France, it comes before the pudding. In Spain, it's accompanied by tapas before the meal. In Britain it's stuck in a limbo – after pudding, if at all, where most diners barely have any appetite left."
Indeed, yesterday, it transpired that the sole debonair couple tucking into their cheeseboard lunch at L'Art Du Fromage were actually French relatives of the proprietors. But Mr Ledogar is convinced that things are changing. "The English are naturally nervous about trying new things," he says, citing the cheese ice cream offer which initially made diners recoil in horror. A few big reviews later and it's now a favourite. "Someone just needs to give the green light and then everyone follows."
Unsurprisingly, cheddar has missed the cut. Instead, the cheeseboard offers Roquefort (replete with the Penicillium roqueforti fungus and its "healing properties") and Langres (bathed in Champagne). One of the dearest, the Salers de Buron, emerges from an awkward production process. "The trick is to convince the cow that it is feeding her calf not a farmer," explains Mr Ledogar. "So you carefully remove the calf from the udder and continue extracting the milk while maintaining the illusion that the baby is still there." Running a cheese restaurant is a fiddly business too: after opening all windows and doors every morning, a deep clean begins.
Several cheese shops around the country have "tasting cafés" – notably La Fromagerie in Highbury, north London – but there is nothing, Mr Ledogar insists, quite like sitting down with an entire meal of the stuff. Clutching a piece of Camembert, he exclaims: "If you close your eyes and taste this, you can almost feel the variety of fauna that the cow has consumed, sense the maturity of the cheese."
From the menu: L'Art Du Fromage
*Fondue Savoyarde – combining Emmental, Comté and Beautfort fondue flambéed in Kirsch.
*Triolet de glaces au frontage – Assortment of home-made cheese ice creams and sorbet.
*Munster pané – Munster cheese coated with breadcrumbs, served with Bayonne ham and walnut and baby leaves.
*Plateaux de Fromage L'Epicurien – board allowing the taster to discover the seven cheese families.
*L'Assiette de l'Etable – an Assortment of three cheeses on toast, served with lettuce and cooked sliced ham.
*Cloche à Fromage – Cheeseboard served in a cheese bell with jams, fresh and dry fruits.Reuse content