A few weeks ago I was treated to a tour of London’s Borough Market, a covered market of over 100 pitches, including a few permanent stores, all devoted to the very best of produce, artisan food and cooking. A market on the same site dates back to medieval times and beyond. My guides were experts, David Matchett, head of Food Policy and Development for the Market, and Ellie Costigan, sub-editor of the Market Life bi-monthly magazine.
London was quiet, this was August and the locals had wisely fled on holiday to sunnier beaches. All the more space for us to view the treasures on offer. First stop was a brisk reviver of black americano at the landmark Monmouth Coffee Shop, no wonder a queue was already snaking out into the street. I was parked at an outside table for a friendly photo with the Borough Market banner in the background overhead.
First stop in the market was at Neal’s Yard Dairy, where I was able to indulge my passion for cheese to my heart’s content, focusing on the relatively new English cheeses, which are treasure trove for me. We launched into Bath Soft Cheese with a delicious bloomy rind, then on to Little Rollright, its soft paste enclosed in a band of spruce wood. We closed out with a firm, mature Lancashire, a deep-flavored winner that I was forced to admit, despite my genetic ancestry from Wensleydale, just over the border into Yorkshire.
Next stop was at the baking school, Bake Ahead, where we were instantly drawn in by the yeasty waft of baking bread. So much yeast is circulating in the air that starters for raising the various bread doughs take off in record time. Matthew Jones, head baker and owner, showed us the commercial mixers with their waist-high vats for mixing and kneading the dough, with behind them the commercial floor-to-ceiling ovens equipped with vents of steam to ensure a crisp brown crust on the loaves, some dark with rye or dotted with a snowy oatmeal finish.
My assistant Ali grabs an armful of loaves in a multitude of shapes to take home. Upstairs we see the baking school, where classes are held for both professional and home students. This morning pizza is on the menu and I watch a bemused housewife lifting her floppy ball of dough, trying in vain to replicate the even round that looks so easy in practiced hands at the local pizzeria. I must mention the delicious lunch that David assembled: cheeses, early plums, some very English homemade crackers, from the Cracker Kitchen and an English sparkling white wine that was surprisingly good with the Bath soft cheese and Moorhayes butter.
I pause for a quick sniff of fresh summer truffles, stopping at a glass jar with the sign “smell me!” Last port of call is back near the coffee shop where I had spotted the largest oysters ever, at least 6 inches from hinge to tip. I imagined they were inedible and just for show, but no. To prove it I was handed a giant open shell, given a wedge of lemon with a knife and fork and challenged to the attack. The invigorating, salty tang comes back to me now as I sit at my prosaic grey screen, an invitation to a rapid return in search of more treasures. Very soon, I promise myself! In the autumn there will be more, and very different temptations.
If you are planning a trip to London, Borough Market is a great place to visit, please click the link to begin your culinary journey: http://boroughmarket.org.uk/