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We’ve always worked hard to collaborate with all partners across the industry: from very close relationships with suppliers where we’ve helped them establish, develop and improve their cheeses, to working closely with our restaurant customers as we seek to promote both each other and cheese in general. However, we’ve also spent some time working with other cheese shops, just speaking to them, swapping ideas, and training each other’s staff. And sometimes even importing and buying cheese in bulk with them – it gives us more efficiencies. I think having this honest open relationship with your peers helps improve your business and also the industry as a whole. We don’t want to conquer the world, just sell good cheese and encourage others to do the same so we can convert more of the British public!
Covid has strengthened a lot of our collaborations. Particularly with some restaurants who promoted our plight, but also with a lot of other cheese shops. Neal’s Yard Dairy were fabulous in their support sending us some mail order business through their Jamie Oliver campaign, and others such as The Cheese Society and The Cheese Geek really helped us think through our mail order process as we had to pivot our business to doing more deliveries.
Life is too short to not work together, and we need to work as an industry of specialist retailers to promote the brilliance of farmhouse and raw milk cheese and work in an appropriate manner that does this. Working to build relationships with suppliers, particularly as they are so small and family based, along with encouraging other retailers to improve what they do, and supporting these farmers is key to raising the knowledge and skills in serving this style of cheese and getting people to try it.
There are plenty of collaborations elsewhere in the sector that I find inspiring. The Specialist Cheesemaker Association initially started to help farmers collaborate so they could stand up to the legislative might and get advice and help from each other in making small scale cheese and raw milk cheese. Its success and importance to the industry should not be undervalued and showcases just how working together positively can benefit everyone. If you’re not a member and into cheese, you should be!
Many skilled cheesemakers have set up very successful collaborations/partnerships with farms (making on their farm with their milk) which has enabled them to make raw milk cheese as they are where the milk is produced and have a very close connection to the farm, feeding and milking methods to make quality cheese. Great examples of this include Stichelton and Rollright.
In terms of what’s to come for collaboration within the artisan cheese sector, I think the impact of Covid and the connectability of like-minded businesses through social media which may be separated by distance, hopefully will encourage those open minded to speak to their ‘competitors’ and peers to improve the industry as a whole. We can only hope!