Panic! At the cheeseshop
Unfortunately, my sense of direction was slightly off (uncalibrated by too many noodles, no doubt), and we ended up on streets I didn't recognize until suddenly we were on Piccadilly, perfectly positioned to dip into Fortnum and Masons.
We probably would have been more impressed had we not already been dazzled by Selfridges (on top of which, most visitors were evidently tourists picking up souvenir teabags and elaborately decorated Easter candy). And while there's an extensive produce/charcuterie department in the basement (goose eggs, entire sides of jamon serrano, mangoes bigger and more aromatic than any found at WholeFoods), there weren't many customers; one had to wonder how often the contents of the olive bar were refreshed.
From FoMa we strolled through Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square (where people were already gathering for the exciting premiere of The 300), down St Martin's Lane and through Covent Garden to Neal's Yard Dairy.
I'd been wanting to check this out for a while; but somehow I'd assumed it was more like a supermarket cheese department, with stuff you can pick up and stuff you can smell. Instead, it's a dark, narrow store, half taken up by a long counter piled high with wheels and wedges, behind which stand a half-dozen white-coated cheesemongers ready to answer all manner of rennet-related questions.
As I'd been hoping to browse, and as the line moved quickly (despite the fact that everyone was being offered multiple samples of whatever the cheese guys had on the end of their knife), I wasn't quite ready to order when it came to our turn. So I kind of panicked and said, "Ummm ... give me something I've never tasted before," hoping to buy some time.
Without hesitation, Cheeseman bent over and took a generous slice from a pale wedge. "Unpasteurized goat's milk," he said, holding out the knife, "thickened with thistle, rather than rennet."
It was creamy, mild, with a delicate caramel note. We took a quarter-pound (and then had to hurriedly figure out how to translate £37 a kilo into old-school weights and measures). Our chunk o' cheez turned out to be just over £3 (or $6, which we'd hesitate over only momentarily in WholeFoods).
The only problem is, I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. Cardo? Crodo? Corolla? Extensive Googling(™) has yielded no clues. So if anyone can help out, please do!