How to display cheese

17 June 2024, 08:00 AM
  • Make your cheese selection the talk of the town by creating displays that entice and educate customers, while keeping your products in tip-top shape
How to display cheese

There’s nothing more inviting in a fine food shop or deli than a cheese counter bursting with towering rounds of clothbound British Cheddars, beautifully marbled blues and oozing spoonfuls of perfectly ripe cheeses.

Customers shop with their eyes as well as their stomachs, so it’s important to carefully consider your displays and avoid throwing everything together in one confusing mix. With the expert advice below, you’ll be one step closer to ensuring your cheese counter looks consistently brilliant every day. 

Choosing your cheeses

First things first, you’ll need to choose cheeses to source and stock in your shop. Experienced cheesemongers suggest stocking plenty of regional cheeses where possible, as these often sell themselves. And steer clear of anything that’s too readily available in the supermarket, as it takes away from your shop’s unique point of difference, says Georgie Mason, director of Gonalston Farm Shop. “This only leads to minimal opportunity for your customers to build rapport with you and much lower margins.”

Allowing your knowledge of your cheeses to shine through will help you secure sales as it leads to more interaction with customers, and this comes through savvy sourcing. Read more advice for sourcing cheese here.

And while limiting yourself can be difficult with so many brilliant cheeses on offer today, be wary of overfilling your space. “Avoid overloading your counter with such a vast range that it is overwhelming for the customer to choose from,” says Stuart Grant, partner at Cheeseworks.

Choosing your equipment

As well as considering which cheeses to stock, you’ll have to think about where they’ll all go – do you have a refrigerated cheese room where you can create immersive cheese displays, versatile multideck chillers or serveover displays?

Each set-up has its positives and negatives, so to create your bespoke display it’s important to think about which are the most important factors for your shop. Gemma Williams, who owns The Little Cheesemonger, started with a multideck chiller to suit her small store. “To use every nook and cranny, we squeezed in glass fronted fridges under the counters, too.”

As Gemma expanded into a new, larger shop, she took advantage of the space to implement new ideas, like refrigeration units on the ceiling “so we can have our cheese out on the counter, and a cheese maturing room on view to the customers through three large windows,” she explains.

Jen Grimstone-Jones, of The Pangbourne Cheese Shop and Cheese Etc, was similarly restricted by space, but she uses two interconnected serveover fridges – the classic deli set-up – to zero in on her best-selling cheeses. “The key selling space is usually in the centre of the counter,” Jen says. “This is the point that customers will gravitate towards, and we have our local cheeses in this area.”

How to position your cheeses

Once you’ve narrowed down the cheeses in your display cases, setting the foundations of your arrangement is essential. “Try using whole cheese as the base of your display, and then offer a selection of smaller cuts of the same cheese on top,” Stuart suggests. Whole cheeses are an attraction in and of themselves for customers, but having cut pieces is essential to show off what’s on the inside – such as colour and consistency – which often can tell the customer a lot about the cheese.

“This will also encourage customers to try the product instead of being put off by being first to cause the cheese to be cut,” says Judy Roberts of Right Product Right Place.

Then, ensure you’re using your space wisely. Make full use of the front of the counter, as this is the prime real estate for getting consumers’ eyes on cheeses. “Grade height down from the back towards the front of the fridge, ensuring you don’t block any chiller ducts, of course, and that the required temperature is maintained,” Judy says. 

Gemma finds that vertical arrangements work best for capturing shoppers’ attention. “I don’t like flat displays of cheese. The colours blend and it’s difficult for customers – and me, sometimes – to differentiate them,” she explains. “For me, it’s the same at the book shop when they lay all the books on the table. It’s not easy to take in what’s available. I chose a multideck because the shelves are shallow, so it’s more like looking for a book on a shelf and easier to browse.”

Without a multideck, mongers can create height variations by using blocks beneath boards or platters.

Arranging your display may take some careful negotiation, as Stuart warns, “Cheeses stored at the back of your counter can be easily overlooked, so make sure you don’t have smaller cheeses displayed behind bigger cheeses at the front.” 

Grouping cheeses

There’s nothing worse for a customer than not being able to find the cheese they want. Grouping specific types of cheese together can not only look great, but it can also help your customers shop with ease, so they spend less time pacing the counter and more time sampling the cheeses they’re actually interested in. “You should keep your blue cheese, ewe’s milk, goat’s milk, semi-soft and hard cheeses together so customers can quickly identify the type of cheese they are wanting and see the variety of cheese available with each type,” Stuart says.

Using themes can help cheesemongers to group their cheeses in suitable sections, as well as promote new and exciting offerings customers may not have come across before. These can be cheeses from a particular region, seasonal cheeses or those that pair well with a particular condiment or product.

With your set-up complete, make sure you regularly check your display from the customers’ perspective, as it can look very different from the front versus the back. Then, it’s all about the finishing touches. “Why not display your cheese on straw matting or even slate? Small things like this can make a big difference,” Stuart says.

Add colour and texture

While there are certainly some strikingly coloured cheese, most fit into a similar colour palette, so consider ways to make them pop. “Platters, boards or tiles of differing colours, for example two or three toning greens, scattered among the display to break up the overall product tone will contrast well with the products and ‘warm up’ the visual impact of the display,” Judy advises.

Additional colour contrast can be added with mini chalkboards or black tickets listing the name and price of the cheeses instead of white labels.

And think beyond cheese. “Add props such as grapes, fresh figs and vine leaves, a few jars of chutney or fruit cheeses dotted about to add visual texture. Fake fruit can be an effective option to avoid waste, but don’t overdo it!” Judy says.

Tips for labelling

With your cheeses neatly arranged in eye-catching groups, another essential element of your display should be labelling. Create clear and concise labels that display all the information a customer needs to select the cheeses they want to try or buy, including: the cheese name, milk type, pasteurised vs unpasteurised, vegetarian or vegan cheeses, region and country of origin and price. 

It’s a lot of information, so if you’re handwriting your labels, take your time to ensure the writing is neat, consistent and easy to read. “Avoid handwritten counter labels with different handwriting and spelling mistakes,” Georgie says.

And when you’re adding those prices, think carefully about what would look best for the customer. Stuart recommends pricing displays per 100g rather than by the kilo. “Remember that price is always a big factor to a person’s decision to go through with a purchase, £3.25 per 100g is psychologically better than £32.50 per kilo.”

Beyond the key information, there is also an opportunity to get creative with signage to prompt conversation and aid in the flow of your shop. Adding facts, reviews or backstories to particular cheeses and producers that you feature can all assist in building an emotional connection with your customers, which helps to turn a browser into a repeat customer.

Make your cheese (and counter) look its best

Caring for cheese is an essential part of being a top-tier cheesemonger, so mastering these basics is essential to creating a cheese display worth its salt.

Because cheese is a living product, it demands extra care and attention to look its best. Jen inspects each piece of cheese every day. “They get unwrapped, tidied up and rewrapped so they always look fresh. Some cheeses have a tendency to mould up quicker than others, but we have such a good turnover of cheese that we have almost zero cheese wastage.”

Temperature maintenance is also key to avoid stripping the flavour of the cheese while still letting it breathe, Gemma says. “In hot, dry weather, sometimes I use damp cloths on my clothbound cheese to stop them cracking.”

Ensure that you keep your counter clean and organised too. During busy periods this can be a challenge, but a dirty counter can be more off-putting for customers than you’d think, Georgie advises. Stuart also recommends having two cutting boards to hand: one for pasteurised cheese and one for unpasteurised.

And once you’ve cut a customers’ cheese, don’t underestimate the unboxing experience, as you want the end product’s look to match the customer’s expectations for the flavour. “Invest in good quality wax paper to wrap your customer’s cheese, and why not seal the paper with a sticker with your company’s logo on,” Stuart says. “Before you know it people are proudly sharing their purchase and your company’s logo on social media.”

Add upsells to your display

For Georgie, another key to getting your cheese display right is maximising opportunities for upselling. 

“Cheese is just the starting point,” agrees Judy. “Consider how the cheese will be used by your customer and what would make sense to serve with it. 

“Arrange packs of crackers, biscuits, chutneys and jellies around the fridge display. Make them easy to see, clearly priced and simple to select,” she says. And make sure you help customers choose the perfect one for their cheese selection. “Share your expertise generously with your customer and they will keep coming back,” Judy adds.

Not only should you add jars of chutneys and boxes of cheese biscuits to your display, but you should factor them into your samples to up the ante. “Include samples of your chutneys and crackers to encourage add-on sales,” Judy says. “Ring the changes and make sure the ones you choose to highlight work well with the featured cheese.”

Creating a digital display

With more and more customers shopping online, if you have a digital presence, it’s important to translate your display prowess to your website or social media. “For our website, we used the same backdrop when photographing the cheeses, and our artistic team member draws a lot of images to give the website an engaging feel,” Jen says. 

Social media and newsletters also offer new avenues for cheesemongers to connect with their customers. Gemma often creates videos of her cheese displays for social media – but you still can’t beat the in-store experience.

“I did an art degree, and displaying the cheese reminds me of setting out my degree work on plinths in London for my final show,” Gemma recalls. “Each cheese is placed like it’s a piece of art, because that’s really what they are.”

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