A Spot Of Cheese

Where: London, England

Great Britain's great cheese-making tradition has bounced back from near-extinction -- and that renaissance has at least in part been spurred on by London's two finest cheese purveyors, Paxton & Whitfield and Neal's Yard Dairy.

There's no question which of the two has the more venerable pedigree -- Paxton & Whitfield, at 93 Jermyn St. (tel. 44/20/7930 0259; www.paxtonandwhitifled.co.uk) has been around since 1797, and in its current premises for more than a century.

The gold-lettered black storefront looks like something out of Dickens, or a Beatrix Potter watercolor, with its largepaned vitrine stacked high with substantial cheeses and hams. On prominent display is the crest of its Royal Warrant as cheesemonger to the queen; Winston Churchill himself praised this refined little venue in St. James as the only place where a gentleman (or his gentleman's gentleman) should buy his cheese, although its proximity to Stratford-Upon-Avon (13 Wood St.) and in Covent Garden (tel. 44/20/7240 5700; www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk) is an upstart, and yet many British foodies would give it the nod as London's best cheese shop. Founded in 1979, it quickly became a player in Britain's nascent whole foods movement, and was a catalyst in transforming the gritty Covent Garden area into a retail hotspot. The Neal's Yard guys made their own cheeses as well as sourcing artisanal products directly from small cheese makers around the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Although the operation has grown into a major business, the original passion for British cheese (some would say obsession) is still apparent. The store has a sort of scrubbed-deal honesty that's very appealing, with immense wheels and wedges of cheese jumbled everywhere -- not only double and single Gloucester, but more unusual varieties such as Irish Gubbeen and Cornish Yarg and Welsh Caerphilly, not to mention Stinking Bishop. Though the selection is smaller than P&W's, the focus on flavor and quality comes through; they also offer several unpasteurized cheeses. Neal's Yard has an outlet at Borough Market as well.

Nearest Airport:
Heathrow (24km/15 miles) or Gatwick (40km/25 miles).

Where to Stay:
22 Jermyn St., 22 Jermyn St., St. James (tel. 800/682-7808 in the U.S., 44/20/7734-2353; www.22jermyn.com). Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth St., Covent Garden (tel. 800/553-6674 in the U.S., 44/20/7806-1000; www.firmdale.com).