I'm not shy when it comes to asking for tasters in cheese shops. Nibbling on a few slices while shooting the cheese with a fellow curd nerd is half the point of going to a good independent. Any self respecting retailer should be more than happy to let you try before you buy.
But even when you do it's still easy to get it wrong and take home a dud. That's partly because tasting four or five cheeses in quick succession messes up your palette, but there's also that terribly English desire not to cause offence. Before you know it, the fatal words 'that's lovely' have left your mouth and the cheesemonger is wrapping up 200g of cheese that you don't really want.
That's why I like the cheese tasting slates served in the cafe-cum-restaurant of Hove-based cheese shop La Cave a Fromage. Not only are they a great option at lunch or in the evening with a glass of wine, but they are also a good way to test drive the shop's 220-strong range of cheeses.
For £10, you get six decent-sized hunks of cheese on a slate with some excellent bread served by staff who know their stuff. Order the charcuterie tasting slate (also £10) and a bottle of wine and you have a fine meal for two for less than £40. And if there are any cheeses or charcuterie that you really like, you can buy more to take home with you, safe in the knowledge that you've picked some good uns.
I tried the slates out recently at an event hosted by the shop's supremely knowledgeable manager David Deaves for the Brighton Food Society. Of the six cheeses we tasted, it was a crumbly five-week-old Cerney goat's cheese and a fruity Epoisses that stood out for me, but the star was Lord of the Hundreds - a ewe's milk cheese from Sussex, which is similar to a young Manchego.
It wasn't a blockbuster, but I liked its sweet, slightly nutty simplicty. It also matched up nicely with a smooth Tourraine Malbec from Vignoble Gibault. The charcuterie was also pretty special, particularly the Trealy Farm bresaola and a rabbit and hazelnut pate.
I know what I'll be buying the next time I go there.
Photos courtesy of Adam Chandler. Read his excellent blog here: Lewes Foodie