My French London: the guide for Francophiles – Une Normande à Londres
Ah, fromage. Real French cheese is something that all Francophiles dream about when not in France. When you’re looking to French-ify your life, embracing cheese culture is an essential, bien sûr.
With a continuously growing French community in London, it is becoming increasingly easy to get your French food fix in the capital. But where are the best places to buy true French produce that isn’t from a supermarket shelf? We’ve been on the lookout in the capital to find the best places to buy authentic fromage that will immediately transport your tastebuds across the Channel.
Passionate about regional products, the Leblais brothers from Normandy founded Une Normande à Londres in 1990 and have been bringing artisan cheese to the streets of London ever since. Seeing as the Leblais brothers are hard to catch due to their constant Channel-hopping to find more cheese, we’ve spoken to stall manager Quentin Coulombel de Beaudiez about the story behind Une Normande à Londres and its cheese obsession.
We chatted about why the French love London, the secrets behind becoming a good fromagère and cheese bien sûr!
Tell us the story behind Une Normande à Londres. Where does your passion for cheese come from?
Frank and Yann Leblais are brothers whose family owned a Camembert factory and shop in Normandy for five years. As Europe started to become more and more open with the EU and more Europeans began to move elsewhere, they decided to look into taking their love for cheese elsewhere. And they thought: why not London?
Why did you decide to move from France to London? What was the most challenging part of adapting to la vie anglaise?
France is an amazing country and has a great food scene, especially when it comes to cheese, but I wanted to see somewhere new. London has some really great markets that I wanted to discover. Initially we focused on targeting French people in London who were passionate about food and felt deprived of good French cheese over the other side of Channel. We then found that English people loved their cheese too – we find it a pleasure to sell cheese here.
There are not many hard parts to adapting to life in England. I guess the ‘trickiest’ part would be convincing our English customers that a few of our cheeses with a ‘reputation’ aren’t really as bad as they sound if prepared correctly – for example, Vacherin and Epoisses.
More and more French people are moving to London. Why do you think this is happening?
I think the most obvious reason is the political situation in France at the moment as well as economic reasons. England is a far more liberal country when it comes to enterprise and there are more jobs and opportunities here – particularly for young people. Startup companies find it hard to grow in France due to the amount of regulation.
What do you love most about London? And what do you miss most about France?
I really love the vibe here, the atmosphere and the way people think. London is so multicultural – you can discover anything here. What I miss most about France has got to be the food.
What is a typical day like?
It depends what day it is. On Saturdays for example, I wake up very early, set up at Borough Market before moving onto another market for the afternoon. At the end of the day we go back to our warehouse and tidy everything. It’s a long day! We’re also starting to develop the catering side of the company, which means we’re doing buffets at events, which is good fun, as well as delivering platers. What I really love about my job is that no two days are the same.
Do you enjoy working at Borough Market?
Borough Market has a really dynamic, bustling atmosphere. It attracts a lot of tourists and can get very busy and hectic, especially at the weekend. Whilst I enjoy working there I will admit that I like escaping to smaller markets, which are calmer and have a lot more locals.
Not everyone is an expert about cheese and we think it’s important to make people feel like they can come ask us anything.
What is your favourite cheese? Have you tried any English cheese and what did you think?
I have loads! I really like cheese from Corsica – my favourite is called Alta Nepita, which is a herb rolled ewe’s milk semi-hard cheese and has a mild taste. Cheese is produced using sheep and goat’s milk in Corsica and a lot of attention is paid to the quality of animals producing local milk, which results in great cheese.
I have tried English cheese from other stalls here at Borough Market and they are very nice! I particularly like Cheddar and Stilton.
What are three most popular and three least popular cheeses? Why do you think this is so?
I would say Comté, Brie and Roquefort are the most popular. Comté has a nice fruity, nutty flavour. Even if you don’t particularly like cheese, you have to like Comté! A lot of people like Brie because it is not too strong and is quite salty. Roquefort is for the hardcore cheese fans who like strong cheese. It comes from natural caves in the mountains and has a really particular taste.
Is there a cheese that you believe to be underrated and that more people should try and why?
That is a hard question because there are so many! I think Tomme d’ abondance is definitely underrated. It is a mountain cheese from the Haute Savoie region in the Rhône-Alps.
What quality/qualities does an exceptional fromagère need to succeed and really excel in this business?
I think the key is to get close to and understand your customers. Not everyone is an expert about cheese and we think it’s important to make people feel like they can come ask us anything. We enjoy helping customers find out what their tastes are.
Businesses selling local, artisan products seems to be an integral part of French identity. A sense of tradition has managed to continue in French communities, more so than in many others around the world – why do you think this is so? How do buying habits of English residents differ?
We’ve heard a lot in the last few years about the ‘French cultural exception’. We are passionate about our identity, our food and where it comes from, which helps maintain our local products and artisan culture.
Whilst England does not have this I have noticed more and more movement toward local produce – just take a look at Borough Market and local markets in London. Whilst the English shop a lot more in supermarkets than local, I think this is beginning to change slowly. It is important to support local produce.
Ready to get your fromage fix? You can find Une Normande à Londres at their permanent stall in Three Crown Square at Borough Market on Tuesday-Thursday 11am-5pm, Friday 12pm-6pm and Saturday 8am-5pm. Find a full list of markets here.
Have you checked out Une Normande à Londres? What other places could the francophile guide to london include? We’d love to hear your thoughts!All images © Selina Sykes