Over the past decade, seemingly everyone who enjoys eating, owns a smartphone and regularly uses social media accounts is a self-declared foodie – or unabashedly uses the #foodie and #omnom[nom(nom)] hashtags. Functioning taste buds aren’t even a pre-requisite to fake-it-till-you-make it as an Instagram foodie. Yes, eating should be enjoyable (unless you want bland formulaic nutrient supplies – the human equivalent to dog food) – but the pretenses that can accompany these foodie havens can detract from your food love affair. So if you’re in London, and want to avoid these grating behaviors – dash to Hampton Cheese and Wine Company for a cheese and wine tasting session. (Punny, hey?) The sampling was therapeutic enough to temporarily bury SW’s depression about the recent Brexit referendum, so a visit is certifiably valuable.
The heavy smell of cheese smacked us in the face as we walked through the door, half an hour before the tasting began. We were led to the light and homey back room, where we enjoyed a cup of coffee and chatted to the owner, Steve. As we waited, he filled the many glasses for two simultaneous wine and cheese tastings until the other attendees filtered in.
Five years ago, over a plate of cheese and meats in Spain, Steve thought that England should offer similar food experiences. Hence, the Hampton Cheese and Wine Company was born. Now he samples 200 wines per week, which he keenly differentiates from drinking, though readily admits that he does both. Steve had decades of experience in the wine industry before opening shop, and his love of knowledge is apparent in the books scattered around the establishment – including the restroom! And once I mention I am from Wisconsin, he casually mentions that he is writing a book on cheddar, informing me that only three uniquely American cheeses exist – and that cheddar is not one of them. (However, Colby is.)
The five wine glasses were set in front of each seat were enticing, but my eyes were drawn to the cheeseboard and basket of bread and crackers to be shared by pairs. The introductions to the cheese and wine pairs before our actual cheese and wine tasting were enjoyably brief: a bit about each element and how they complemented each other. Throughout, Steve added interesting tidbits about history of regions where the products were made and finished his spiel by handing us a sheet with the names and origins of each product. Then we were left to experience the cheese and wine for ourselves.
Encouraged to chat amongst each other, we ate our way around the plate and shared our opinions, which became less restrained as the wine glasses were drained. There were also different tasting techniques – one woman decided to forego the fresh bread and crackers in favor of a cheese on cheese method, placing soft cheese on a hard one. A more practical technique was to halve each cheese to do two rounds of tasting.
The cheese and wine selection was fantastic – minus one cheese that reminded me of the bitter Spanish Torta del Casar… But some attendees enjoyed it, and it was more palatable during round two. Once our plates were clear, I would have been content to stay holed up in the dining room, napping and nibbling until the next morning, but I drained the rest of my coffee and rolled out the door with the perfect amount of food settling in my belly. If this looks like a delicious and enjoyable time, make sure to sign up early for a cheese and wine tasting session, as they can book up quickly.