I have found a cheese lovers' paradise at two totally delicious London shops: La Fromagerie and Neil's Yard Dairy.  Both have walk-in cheese rooms where you can taste and buy to your hearts content.  I tasted (and bought) a goat cheese the other day from Neil's Yard Dairy that seriously rocked my world.  I ate all 5 oz. within a few hours of purchasing it.   Each company has 2 locations in the city so there is no excuse for not going.  I promise you, it will be well worth the visit.

If I could have resisted the temptation to eat all of the cheese, I would have made these delectable fresh fig jam and goat cheese hors d'oeuvres.

Gourmet - September 2003

Makes 24 hors d'oeuvres

3 tbs. minced shallot
2 (3 inch) fresh thyme sprigs plus 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1/2 Turkish or 1/4 California bay leaf
1 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 lb. dried Black Mission figs, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup port
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
12 (1/2-inch-thick) baguette slices, diagonally cut 
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. mild goat cheese, room temperature
2 fresh ripe figs, cup into 1/2 inch pieces
Garnish: fresh thyme leaves and fresh fig

Make savory fig jam:
Cook shallot, thyme sprigs and bay leaf in butter in a 1-1 1/2 quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, until shallot is softened, about 2 minutes.  Add dried figs, port, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil.  Simmer, covered, until figs are soft, about 10 minutes.  If there is still liquid in saucepan, remove lid and simmer, stirring, until most of liquid is evaporated, 3-4 minutes more.  Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs and transfer jam to a bowl.  Cool, then stir in minced thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Make toasts while jam cools:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350*F.  Halve each baguette slice diagionally, then arrange on a baking shett and brush tops lightly with oil.  Bake until lightly toasted, about 7 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet on rack.

Assemble crostini:
Spread each toast with 1 tsp. fig jam and top with about 1 1/2 tsp. goat cheese and 2 pieces of fresh fig.

Note: Fig jam can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.  Bring to room temperature before using.  Toasts can be made 1 day ahead and cooled, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.  Also, fresh figs are generally available only in the summer months.
{Photos: Julia Ferguson,  La Fromagerie, Miki Duisterhof}

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