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Keeping cheese fresh
Once you’ve got the perfect stock of cheeses, keeping them fresh for your customers is the next big task. If a customer is unhappy with their purchase, they’re unlikely to make another, so ensuring cheese is at its best is of the utmost importance.
Stephen Fleming, owner of George and Joseph, explained, “All of our cheeses are kept in refrigerated displays. For opened or cut cheeses, we wrap these with clingfilm, using a technique known as “glass wrapping” where – if done properly – you can’t see the clingfilm on the cut face of the cheese. This has two main benefits – it protects the cut face of the cheese, and also looks great from a display point of view so customers can fully appreciate the cheeses on display.”
Using clingfilm for display purposes is something Gemma Williams, owner of The Little Cheesemonger, agreed with, “For the counter, it is always clingfilm. Cheese would actually be better stored in a more breathable wrapping like a waxed cloth but customers can’t see through it and becomes invisible in the counter so it has to be clingfilm in that context as I’ve not found a substitute yet.”
Fraser MacLellan, owner of Froth & Rind, added, “We change the clingfilm used daily as if left on too long, it can affect the flavour of the cheese and if not applied properly can also help mould growth. At home, I’d keep it in the wax paper it comes in from the shop, rewrapped as tightly as possible in the rare event it’s not finished in one sitting.”
Stephen also watches for the wrapping’s effect on the quality of his cheeses. “Overnight we empty the display fridges and store everything in closed refrigerators. We get to rebuild the display each morning, which also gives us the opportunity to inspect each piece of cheese, change the clingfilm and carry out any cheese care that might be required. The clingfilm can affect the cut faces of the cheeses so we get to remove any affected surfaces. This is a key part of our quality control process.”
The question of sustainability
While clingfilm works well for both keeping cheese fresh and allowing customers to see them in all their glory, it isn’t the most sustainable material.
As Stephen explained, “For display in the shop, there’s not yet a good eco-friendly alternative to clingfilm that we’ve been able to find, but I’m confident that this situation will change in the near future with more focus on the environment and changes in packaging legislation.”
However, when it comes to packing up cheese for customers, Gemma has started using an alternative that lends to conscious consumerism. She told Speciality Food, “I decided to stop using waxed paper because it wasn’t recyclable. I switched to a different wrapping for storage and sale, it’s the first food packaging that restricts the growth of bacteria and is 100% recyclable. It’s called Ovtene. I find it doesn’t suck out the moisture from the cheese either like the waxed paper did.”
Fraser added that while in-store wraps aren’t eco-friendly, cheesemongers can upsell sustainable alternatives for customers to use after purchasing. “Beeswax wraps are a good way to store cheeses at home as they really protect the cheese and they can be reused over and over again.”
Discussing storage with customers
An important part of selling artisan cheese is having a discussion with your customers to ensure they know how to store it correctly to retain its taste and flavour.
As Gemma explained, “If their cheese dries out, they will think it is the cheese that’s at fault rather than the way in which it’s been stored. Customers are generally confused about storing food and I often get questions like ‘Will this cheese survive a six-hour flight in my case?’, ‘Can I post this cheese to America?’, or ‘Do I have to keep this cheese in the fridge?’. Dishing out the advice liberally means nobody gets disappointed with the quality of their cheese.”
Making sure all your customers have the knowledge to look after their cheese is something Fraser focuses on. “We always help the customers with information on storing the cheese and never let any leave the shop unless it’s properly wrapped. We give advice on all of the above and more, such as keeping the cheese in a tupperware box in the fridge as it helps to create its own controlled area for temperature and humidity.”
Stephen added, “We advise keeping the cheeses in the waxed paper we use when they buy them, or waxed cloth wraps. Fridges dry moisture from cheeses (if you’ve ever left an unwrapped piece of cheddar in your fridge, you’ll know what I mean!) so it is always best to keep your cheeses wrapped and in a box in the fridge.
“Another tip is that the salad crisper in the bottom of your fridge generally has higher humidity than the rest of the fridge so it is a good place to keep your cheese.”