Justin Tunstall of Town Mill Cheesemonger shares the highs and lows of life as a cheese seller

“The vinyl is final and the curd is the word”

Last weekend I was at a conference in a faraway city; one that I hadn’t visited in over 20 years. With some time off on Saturday afternoon, I decided to explore. I’d ‘done’ the famous sights on previous visits, so I resolved to look at some shops. My diary noted that it was both Record Store Day (RSD2017) and Raw Milk Appreciation Day, so I thought that mixing and matching record shops and delis could be especially rewarding

The independent record stores I went to were emblazoned with RSD promotional banners, and a healthy mob (mostly middle-aged blokes) trawled from shop to shop, going through the crates looking for vinyl gems released especially for the day. There was a palpable buzz in the air, and not just due to faulty wiring. Chain retailers aren’t involved with the initiative, so I was unsurprised that RSD 2017 was not evident at HMV.

On the other hand, Raw Milk Appreciation Day (RMAD) wasn’t well observed anywhere. I was unsurprised that supermarkets don’t get behind it, but I’d have hoped for participation from the independent delis that I popped into. Not a sign of it, anywhere.

I talked with one deli owner about developments and trends in his market. He told me that his shoppers were responding to two major areas of his range: artisan cheeses and Continental classics that he was now sourcing direct from France. He mentioned that unpasteurised cheeses were particularly sought after, so I asked whether he’d got behind RMAD. Sadly, he was unaware of it.

Perhaps it’s the use of the word ‘raw’ rather than ‘unpasteurised’ that causes little traction in the UK for this USA-developed but globally-promoted enterprise. My shop participated in 2015 and we found it worthwhile. Customers engaged with the idea and looked at the counter in a different way, sampling and buying cheeses that they’d not considered before. Staff were reminded of the ‘raw’ range and with that information at front of mind, no longer needed to doublecheck labelling for the tell tale ‘U’. We were able to sell cheeses, such as territorials, that otherwise had little back-story to relate, as the RMAD focus gave them a particular interest on the day. We promoted RMAD as a key event for the month and it worked with added sales and more visitors.

I note that four respected cheese retailers in the UK really got behind the RMAD initiative this year and only sold unpasteurised cheeses on that day. That’s a bold move and certainly would create great awareness among shop visitors – I’d have been nervous about missing out on sales of my pasteurised big sellers on a key trading day, but do admire their commitment. Initiatives such as Raw Milk Appreciation Day are well worthy of support – if we keep an eye out for them, add the weight of our own promotional efforts to the wider work, then I know that awareness, footfall and sales can all grow.

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