A guide to selling artisan Cheddar

08 April 2024, 07:00 AM
  • It is considered one of the crowning glories of the cheese counter – but how can you really make the most of your Cheddar offering and get customers excited about it? The experts tell us more
A guide to selling artisan Cheddar

Cheddar makes up around 50% of all cheese bought and sold in the UK. A staple of the fridge, it’s many people’s go-to for a quick sandwich. But much of what lands on the shelf alongside that tub of butter, and bags of salad leaves, is mass produced.

And this, says cheese expert Charlie Turnbull, presents an excellent opportunity for the independent retailer when new customers file in the door – perhaps looking to upgrade from their usual supermarket block.

“Many of them,” Charlie says, “will have a view of Cheddar that doesn’t cover all Cheddar can be. They might not know about traditional cloth wrapped Cheddar, or Cheddar aged in caves and cellars, which has so much character, and a much richer taste – a flavour of the county it’s made in. I’ve always found people are surprised at how different it can be to the supermarket. And that’s the joy of being a cheesemonger. You can really demonstrate that point of difference.”

“One of the main things that sets artisan Cheddar apart is that the milk is largely from a single herd,” adds James Grant of No2 Pound Street, and organiser of the Great British & Irish Cheddar Challenge.

“We know, as cheesemongers, the provenance is right. We trust the milk, and the cheesemaker’s work with the milk, which is often produced by cows fed on good lays such as white clover and red clover.” There is, James says, this environment aspect to consider too when stocking artisan Cheddar as “a lot more farms are looking to sequester as much carbon as possible, and they see the benefits of using the best milk because they want a fantastic product. They are not just about winning awards, but they want to make products that reflect the fauna and flora of the landscape. Some cheesemakers are now even looking at their breed of cows for the best possible milk to produce Cheddar!”

How to select Cheddar

If you’re new to the cheese world and beginning to consider your counter selections, as far as Cheddar is concerned James thinks seeking out traditional farmhouse cheese will “put you in good standing”.

He says, “Searching for those will point you in the direction of the good ladies and gentlemen of the cheese world that shine, like Keen’s and Montgomery’s and Quicke’s.”

Having a range of truckled or flavoured Cheddars is an important part of the counter too, adds Charlie, who explains that cheesemongers need to offer something that bridges the gap between supermarket cheese and more artisanal varieties. Products that are familiar. “The step up for most is to go for Snowdonia or Godminster. They sell really well, and they’re accessible,” he says. 

Flavoured and truckle Cheddars are only growing in popularity, and Charlie says to ignore them at your peril. “They are very popular and very value-driven, and their relatively cheap price point makes them great gifts. Also, they travel well and look good. Many artisan cheese appreciators look down on them, but I don’t look down on profits – ever!”

Sometimes, Charlie adds, “you need people to get to your funky Montgomery’s and Westcombe, and they can’t go straight from the supermarket to get there, first they need to pass through some middle ground, and I consider those cheeses very valuable.”

Is it safe to sell Cheddar with blue in it?

Should newcomers to the cheese world worry if their prized, and expensive, Cheddar arrives with some blue veining? It depends, Charlie says, on your customer base. “The way it’s made can sometimes make it blue up. And some customers like that. But you shouldn’t tell customers they have to buy it. Cut for them from another part of the cheese, while asking if they want to try the blue part. They just might like it!”

If there’s too much blue he advises to tell your wholesaler, who will more often than not provide a credit. “They are very supporting of this kind of thing. Take a picture on your smart phone and send it to them. They won’t want it back. They’ll tell you to use it in cooking.”

How to store Cheddar properly

All cheeses require just the right temperature and humidity to keep them in top nick. Usually around 5C. And this is something that needs to be consistently monitored to ensure your products remain in the very best condition. “If it’s too cold that sucks some of the moisture out of the cheese,” says James. “And if you’ve got aggressive fans, they will be pulling out some of the moisture from the cheese as well. Basically, don’t put it in front of fans for any length of time!”

Tips for selling artisan Cheddar

Your average consumer, used to plonking mild, mature, or vintage cheese in their basket, has a whole new world to discover in the artisan cheese shop or deli, where experts can indulge their senses in the various gradings and maturities Cheddar has to offer, showing them the distinct nuances between makers and ages.

“Cheddar is relatively fresh at nine to 12 months,” says James. “You’re looking here at a cheese with still a good moisture content, and that buttery richness and Cheddary taste. From the outside you’ll get some light Dijon mustard notes where the lard breaks down against the cloth, and that umami note.”

As you get to Cheddars of around 18 months things get “more complex. Those cheeses are picked due to their initial flavours when the artisan cheesemakers taste them to know which direction they should be sold at. At 18 months you’re looking for a more complex taste, with more horseradish and mustard notes under the halo. It’s really exciting when you get to that stage.

“Any further than this and the cheese takes on almost candied fruit notes. And the exciting thing is you can then take it on a journey into 24 months, where you’ll then have a creamy centre, with more brothy, umami, deep notes towards the rind.” 

Each wheel of cheese, adds James, can give a few ‘bites of the cherry’. Cutting from the centre will please customers who prefer the buttery richness of Cheddar, while cutting at the outer parts of the cheese will satisfy those who really appreciate the mushroomy notes the rind delivers.

Charlie says Cheddars aged over 24 months can be at the ‘point of no return’ for some. “They can pick up Parmesan or Gouda notes. It isn’t that they’re not delicious, but you’re then moving noticeably away from Cheddar as we recognise it – that salty, savoury, agricultural rural flavour with some meadows, straw and cider apple. I personally don’t like to buy over 13 months except in unusual circumstances, but that’s just my own preference.”

When he was in retail Charlie liked to make a ‘thing’ of a Cheddar’s age, keeping the maker’s tags so the cheese’s birthday could be celebrated. He thinks this is a nice touch, and a good way of encouraging a bit of activity around the product. “We’d occasionally get a cheese ‘born’ on 24th December, so 12 months later it would be sold at Christmas. Or, if it was ‘born’ on 25th December we might call it ‘cheesus’. You’ve got to have fun with it!”

Another selling device Charlie found useful was having two of the same Cheddars in the counter, which allowed customers to see the variables between the products. “It was so they could see Cheddar is not a process, it’s a creation. And that’s such a good show point for customers.”

The way you display and cut your Cheddar plays into the ‘theatre’ of cheese, Charlie continues, saying he would always make a big deal of unwrapping it. “Make it a feature. Tell people about it on social media. Depending on the cheesemaker there could be six of seven pieces of cloth to unravel.”

And then, he says, there is the joy of cutting the Cheddar in half. “You get a smell you’ll never smell again. A unique freshness opening it for the first time. If you are opening a Cheddar, get your customers involved. Get them smelling it, and they will have a piece.”

Most important of all, Charlie adds, is to “prove you know your stuff. Cheddar is just the best cheese to work with. We’ve got this huge diversity of tastes, and the best cheesemakers. It’s all to be celebrated.”

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