Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
With the way consumers shop constantly evolving, cheesemongery is having to evolve to meet new demands. But what does the future look like for the age-old tradition?
A blend of old and new
The joy of a traditional cheesemonger may be in the old-school ways of sourcing, buying, storing and selling cheese, but any cheesemonger in 2023 will admit that technology has helped their world evolve. “The internet is wonderful for being able to research not only products, but practices as well,” says Stephen Fleming, owner of George & Joseph. “Take the way we wrap cheese – we do it the traditional way, in wax paper, and there are techniques for doing that.
“So I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos and other people doing it.” Add online selling to that – a saviour for many cheesemongers and cheesemakers during the Covid pandemic. “You would imagine it’s hard to sell cheese online because people want to taste it and try it. But we seemed to shift a heck of a lot.”
Social media also helps and for Fleming, the impact is instant and obvious, with examples of customers arriving in the shop 15 minutes after a particular cheese has been posted on their channels asking for it. Steve Barney, from The Cheesery in Dundee, agrees. “For us social media has had a big impact,” he says.
“It’s a great way to reach a large number of customers and it gives us a platform to engage with them too which is really nice. It also helps us reach a slightly younger audience too, exposing tomorrow’s cheese lovers to the amazing world of cheese!”
Like Fleming, Barney has seen a rise in online orders and delivery and subscription services within the world of cheesemongery, with many customers sticking to it post- pandemic. But he is hopeful that any evolution hasn’t seen the end to the ‘in-shop experience’. “That’s where the traditions are key and hopefully always will be.
Buying cheese is an incredibly sensory experience; when you walk in you instantly smell the cheese, visually you can see all the wonderfully diverse types of cheese and, of course, you get to try the cheese too.” Oli Smith, owner of the Bristol Cheesemonger, agrees, citing the “wildcard” conversations that see a customer walking out with a cheese they would never have picked up without his help.
A promising future
With so much change already behind, where next for cheesemongery? It’s no secret there are challenges ahead, from rising costs to changing consumer habits. But given the fact it’s survived so far and rolled with the many punches, cheesemongers are confident it will always have a place. “It’s interesting because supermarkets seem to be closing their deli counters, which I guess is great because more people come to us,” says Fleming. “But I suppose there is a question around the reason why they’re doing that.”
He also admits technology and convenience could see further developments, from video guidance to vending machines. “But I still believe customers really value human interaction, which is something you’re not going to be able to replace by having a vending machine full of cut pieces of cheese. These things will have their place
of course. But I still think it’s going to be a place for the human cheesemonger there to offer advice and guidance.”
Barney agrees. “I think there will always be people pushing the boundaries in any industry and it’s important that people do that. At heart, though, we’re very traditional – maybe even a bit romantic - when it comes to cheesemongery. We want our customers to have a personal experience.
“We want to find out what cheeses they like and suggest something new. We want to know what plans they have at the weekend and guide them accordingly. We want them to taste different cheeses and leave with cheeses they are going to love and we want them to come back and share their experiences with us. In a world where people talk face-to-face less and less it’s nice to have a small bubble where people can come and do that.
“Plus they get to leave with fantastic cheeses, produced by amazing, dedicated cheesemakers and served by friendly, knowledgeable and passionate cheesemongers.”