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With dreams of cheesemaking and experience doing just that at Bath Soft Cheese Co., it was only natural that when presentedwith the opportunity to take on the thriving The Bristol Cheesemonger, current owners Oli Smith and his wife Jenny Howell jumped at the opportunity.
The business has always enjoyed close relationships with its suppliers. “Since The Bristol Cheesemonger was founded” – in 2013 by Rosie Morgan, who sold it to Oli and Jenny in late 2021 – “we’ve been a local specialist with close connections to our producers,” begins Oli.
Fortuitously, the city was only too happy to welcome the cheesemonger into the fold. “Bristol is a city that prides itself on supporting its small independents and we carry this idea right through the business; virtually every penny spent in our shop either stays in Bristol or goes directly to small rural businesses.”
This local focus extends to the cheese counter itself, too. “Apart from occasional guest cheeses, we now buy 100% directly from the producer and are batch selecting an increasing number of products.” Connection is vital, from cheesemaker to cheeseboard. “We want our customers to get the best tasting cheese and also feel a sense of connection to the producers. Our staff members know many of our cheesemakers personally, we take them on dairy visits and make days so that they understand the processes involved.
“We love being the link between the often very small producers we work with and our customers,” continues Oli. “It’s also fantastic working with all the local chefs who love working with British cheese and also appreciate all the little variations and seasonal changes that make small production and farmhouse cheese so special.”
The power of passion
Sharing this passion with customers is of vital importance to the team at The Bristol Cheesemongers. “You could walk into the shop at any time and speak to a staff member about what is tasting good, and they will not only share their passion, they will talk about visiting the farm and a lot of background knowledge of the products.
“We get to visit the farms to taste through and collect what we think our customers will like (and we get to chat to some of the nicest people we have ever worked with). This means that we can share the stories of these dedicated producers with our customers and champion amazing tasting, well-made produce.” While passion is a powerful tool for any business to have in its arsenal, it cannot weather all storms alone.
“The economic instability has presented challenges,” explains Oli, “but we’ve tried to stay focused on what we do best, not water down our ethos and play to our strengths.” This approach is reaping rewards, and the pair has learned that variety is the spice of life.
“The wholesale side of the business has actually grown significantly – everyone from cheesemongers to restaurants is having to differentiate themselves at the moment and it’s no longer enough to by everything from a single well-known supplier. We tell our deli and cheeseshop wholesale customers that we don’t want them to use us for everything, the last thing we want is for there to be other shops carrying only our range – it’s boring!”
Find out what’s in store for Oli and Jenny at The Bristol Cheesemonger by downloading your free copy of Inspirational Cheese Retailers.