“How to: tell the story”
- “Sticky fingers”
- “Everyone’s a winner”
- “Myths and legends of Turophilia”
- “When ‘cheese’ is not cheese”
- “Don’t disrespect the Cheddar”
Try going into the average supermarket and asking about the cheese on offer. After an awkward silence at the outrage of unbidden interaction, the assistant might start to read whatever information is on the packaging
Far more is expected of those of us at the counter in speciality food shops. The story of the cheese is a valuable part of the premium that is built into our wares. We can describe the benefits of a cheese – how it’ll taste, how it’ll pair with drink, how it’ll complement other choices - but the features of where it’s from, how it’s made and its ingredients are also of great interest and value.
The first step is the acquisition of useful knowledge about your cheeses. Suppliers’ catalogues, some great cheese books, and info sheets from wholesalers can provide a huge amount of interesting data. I believe in educating staff about what’s on offer, and in addition to in-house training I’d suggest putting them through courses such as the various levels of the Academy of Cheese, wherein they are taken through the characteristics of a wide variety of cheeses.
If you can’t find what you want to know from these sources and an internet search, I’ve found that picking up the phone and calling the cheesemaker is generally welcomed; you may even get invited to visit the dairy. Thereafter, dropping the cheesemaker’s first name into a conversation with a customer always seems to delight! Bringing cheesemakers into the shop to talk about their cheeses and to conduct samplings and tastings helps customers understand the intangibles of love, care and devotion to excellence that have gone into the 200g that they’ve chosen.
Whatever you do, please don’t make up stories about your cheeses! A keen monger in my shop was overhead telling a customer that the Snowdonia waxed cheddar was produced for Welsh miners who didn’t want to get coal dust on their lunchtime fodder! We put him right and a couple of years later he appeared on Radio 4’s The Food Programme delivering a learned discourse on Blue Vinny.