15 April 2024, 11:50 AM
  • From engaging with customers, to expert pairing tips...cheese industry insiders share their advice for success at the counter
18 things every cheesemonger should know

No matter if you’re a seasoned pro, or a newbie to the wonderful world of cheese, there’s always something new to learn. And who better to lean on than your peers and friends? Speciality Food asked cheesemongers across the UK what sage words they would pass on.

Mark Rodgers, Cheese on Towcest

Firstly, buy two of everything. Cheese will always sell, but equipment will always break. I’d also say, listen to your customers and make sure you’re acting on what they ask for. And be honest. If a customer asks for a particular cheese and you don’t have it, they’ll be happier if you say it’s a really good cheese but not to your taste, rather than pretend. They’ll see right through you.

Finally, you need to budget. Look at your week to date and order accordingly. Don’t overstock or panic buy – you’ll never make any money that way.

Del Louis, Aubrey Allen

Getting as many people as possible to try new cheeses is key to understanding what’s going to work in the counter, whether that’s shop staff, customers or passersby – it all helps. Also, a cheese of the week display provides a focus point in the counter and allows you to promote something unusual, or that has a great story behind it.”

Morgan McGlynn, Cheeses of Muswell Hill

Get to know your cheeses. They are special, and they are steeped in history – stories of cheesemakers and farmers – you customers will thank you for your knowledge. You are the link between them and the cheesemaker, and it is a really rewarding part of the job being able to share that precious knowledge.

Also, take your time. Yes, having 50 customers an hour would be great for the tills, but taking your time to get to know your customers is so important. Offering tastings, information and knowledge, and creating a friendly, welcoming place to buy cheese is key. Cheese buying can be a task that some may find daunting due to the overwhelming range out there.

Andy Summers, Curd & Rennet

An important tip for me is being able to understand what customers actually want, and to ask the right questions. We have many customers asking for the strongest Cheddar available, not realising that there are different Cheddar families (from traditional farmhouse to modern creamery). Both have strong examples, but completely different flavour profiles.

Mark Kacary, The Norfolk Deli

I would say that knowledge is one of the key differentiators between a good cheesemonger and a standard retail shop that happens to stock a bit of cheese. I do not mean that I feel it necessary for everyone to go on an Academy of Cheese course, though. 

There is much that can be passed on through experience by having tried and tested cheese with a variety of accompaniments and pairings that do not come out of a well-worn cheese playbook. 

But a cheesemonger is the final custodian of a product somebody created and has lovingly developed over the years. It is our duty to get to know the people who make the cheese (obviously easier with local cheesemakers) so that we can sell it in the best condition possible, and even with a little back story so that the person purchasing it understands and appreciates the difference between an artisan product, and mass-produced products. To put it succinctly treat the product with the respect and love you would if it were your own, and sell it to the public as if it were your own too.

Alex Hunt, The Cheese Locker

It may sound obvious, but it’s important to have fun with cheese and to understand where it comes from. I find that many customers love to know more about where their cheese is produced and the story of the makers of cheese. When you get a cheese in that you have never heard of and don’t know, that’s fine, just make it a show. Try the cheese with your customers get their thoughts on it. Try to make them feel more involved with your business - that they have a say in what you are purchasing. When a customer enters your shop, it should always feel like a new experience.

Morven Kerr, Idle Hands Shop & Bakery

We find the best thing is to offer samples. Piero deals with the cheese, and cuts it on our counter, and when customers come in, they always ask what it is. So we let them try, and it almost always leads to a sale. 

Alp Blossom is a real crowd pleaser. It looks unusual, with the herbs and flowers on the rind, so this is a great one to show to customers. And offering some of our own apricot and ginger chutney or black cherry jam on a cracker with a triple-whipped cream cheese like Brillat Savarin or Delice de Bourgogne is always a winner.

We now have a very knowledgeable customer base who eagerly await our cheese deliveries to find out what’s new or back in stock. Engaging the buyer is key. If they are left to their own devices they will stick to old favourites. It is essential to allow them to try new things so they can find a new cheese to love.

George Hammond, Georgonzola

For someone with quite a small cheese counter, product rotation is key. We have a core range of hard, soft and blue cheeses, but the rest is always up for debate - from sporadic arrivals, such as Snowdrop from Cote Hill, to Edmund Tew from Blackwoods.

I advise you to have plenty of cheese cutting boards. When you are busy you don’t want to be rushing around, trying to find a clean board. The same goes to smaller, sampling knives.

And my final piece of advice is to showcase weird and wonderful pairings that you are confident in. Use them to keep your customers talking. This, in turn, also keeps your customers looking around the shop, and has the potential to create impulse purchases. Talking to your customers is massively important, and remembering what they enjoyed last time. This builds trust between you and your regulars.

Dagmara Sztompka, Knowles Green

It’s important for a good cheese counter to have variety. A selection that includes everything from your local cheeses, to a Continental classic. We are big on promoting our local businesses and supporting local farmers.

I also think every good cheesemonger should know what to look for when putting together a cheeseboard, such as matching wines. Make sure you pass on your suggestions before customers leave.

Gina Dolci, Feast & Fromage

Look into what accompaniments pair well with the cheeses on your counter, and try to take it further afield than the typical fig or onion chutney. Think Baron Bigod and chilli jam, or Gorgonzola Al Cucchiaio and honey, or even Cheddar and coffee (yes, it’s a thing). Cheese is incredible, but finding the right pairing is magical.