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As a cheesemonger of old, I have often mused about the lack of knowledge in our industry. Today I am excited to see great shops popping up throughout the UK including inspirational emporiums of cheese that use conveyor belts to deliver delicious and perfect morsels.
As we all know, thanks to Oscar Wilde, it is important to be earnest. When we sell our produce, why do we sometimes find ourselves having to fabricate? In my not too distant past I am guilty of doing just this. Don’t get me wrong, I knew about the product, but may have embellished and coloured the cheese stories with a few of my own choice filters. Did it help close a sale? Yes. But the truth in all honesty is generally a heck of a lot better and doesn’t bite back.
A few months before the first lockdown, I decided to spend more time on the road. The time I set aside for this was principally to meet my cheesemaking friends across the UK. What a fascinating world opened up for me and, importantly, my team. When you rock up in rural Lancashire at one of arguably the greatest producers of Lancashire cheese, Mrs Kirkham’s, and your nose fills with the sweet, brothy, meaty notes of a freshly made hot pot and you hear raucous laughter from where the aroma is floating from, you know you have arrived.
On this visit to grade and buy my cheese, I was taken into the cheese cave and caught up with all of the local cheese gossip. But most importantly, I learnt more about the cheese, its background and the lovely people that make it. By taking valuable time and using it wisely, the benefits of meeting the real people face to face is priceless. My team of mongers have joined me and have come back to the shop reeling about what they have learnt.
When I am covering shifts my customers can’t sing my team’s praises enough about how knowledgeable and passionate they are. Yes, of course there are books – great books – but why not write your own story through visiting these amazing and passionate people? You too are passionate and exceptionally important – you are the coal face of service and what you tell your audience must represent the products truthfully.
Of course we all want to be able to help increase the bottom line, and initiatives like this are a good investment. Not only are they great for increased knowledge, they are also important for staff morale. Your team and produce are your most important assets, and you only want to get the best products and performance. Inspirational visits to good cheesemakers and producers need to be part of what we all do in the artisan world. It is our duty to promote those small and passionate makers.
Some of the cheese recipes used go back hundreds of years and need to be fully reinstated. I believe that now is the time to really shout about small producers, what with Brexit and Covid-19. We all need to champion what is great and make all aware of what is on our own doorsteps.