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Whether you’re already a regional cheese specialist or just starting to explore your local produce, find out how to make the most of the growing ‘Buy British’ movement and support artisan cheesemakers.
The demand for local
The idea of buying local has always been a strong appeal for indies, but this demand has grown rapidly over the past few years, largely driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
As Jen Grimstone-Jones, co-owner of Cheese Etc, the Pangbourne Cheese Shop, explains “During the lockdown, we took as much cheese as we could from our local producers as we wanted them to be able to continue making and selling cheese.
“Local produce is just so important, as people like to know where their food is coming from and many of our local cheeses come from less than 10 miles away from our base in Pangbourne.”
Shoppers are also becoming increasingly aware of their environmental impact, as Oli Smith, co-owner of The Bristol Cheesemonger, adds, “I think, as a nation, we have all become more interested in the provenance of our food in recent years and there are is a myriad of reasons for this.
“People want to know more about the way their food is produced, for environmental and animal welfare reasons, as well as being really keen to reduce food miles.”
“We have always stocked our local cheeses, as I think every independent cheesemonger does. We build up relationships with the cheesemakers which means we get to see (and taste) any new cheeses that they might be experimenting with and in return, they know that they have a constant, reliable outlet for their cheeses”, Jen explains.
“We are very lucky in that one of our members of staff used to work for one of our local cheesemakers. She knows all about their cheeses and is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to making and caring for young cheeses.”
For Oli, the decision to maintain his store’s focus on regional cheeses after taking it over a few years ago was easy. “The Bristol Cheesemonger has been a local cheese specialist since day one. When I first started working at the shop, I was really taken by the company’s dedication to showcasing local and seasonal cheese, and focus on close relationships with the producers.
“Bristol’s food scene is extremely vibrant and environmentally conscious and we are fortunate to have some of the world’s finest cheesemakers very nearby, so the decision was entirely natural. Since Jenny and I took on the business that ethos has remained critical.”
While you have a wide variety of locally sourced cheeses that you know inside out, your customers may not know where to start. Therefore, it’s important to be ready with recommendations for your regional produce.
This is certainly the case for Oli, as he tells Speciality Food, “The significant majority of cheeses in our shop are from producers that most people will not have heard of and our team are delighted to be asked for recommendations!
“We try and narrow things down a bit by asking customers what sort of things they usually go for and by testing out cheese until we find something ideal for each person. That being said, the service is personal and will vary depending on who is serving and what cheeses they think are tasting particularly good at the time.
“Our customers value our varied opinions – we even have an online product called the Cheesemonger Selection where whoever picks up the order will just put together whatever selection they think is best, so that our online customers can enjoy that quality of service too.”
Jen has a similar approach. “Usually when people ask us for recommendations, we always talk about our local cheeses first, then the British and then the Continental”, she explains. “We are lucky enough to be able to offer a complete local cheeseboard (hard, soft, blue, goat, washed, sheep, truffle…) and our ‘local gift box’ is our most popular gift available through our website.”
Tempting customers to swap their classic Brie for a British variety might sound difficult, but once they set foot in your shop, they’ve already made the first step according to Jen.
“Our local cheeses are situated in the centre of our cheese counter. It tends to be the point that most customers gravitate to so they are highlighted before we even begin to talk to customers.
“To be honest, our local cheeses are so good that they almost sell themselves, and one of our local goats’ cheeses is probably my favourite cheese of all time which all of our staff relay to our customers!”
Oli agrees that keeping it simple is best. “Knowing the product and the producer really is so good for sales as well as for supporting British cheese. Get those cheeses front and centre on your displays, taste them out, and share the stories of the producers with your customers.
“Your relationship with the producer will make you and your customers find small, brilliant producers and support the diversity and growth of British cheeses”, he concludes.