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As I write it’s just about freezing temperature outside. This is something that I experience on a weekly basis whilst attending various charter and artisan food markets. There are plenty of cracking foodie markets springing up in the UK, with an ever-increasing range of delicious foods to be had.
As a shop owner and market trader I am constantly on the lookout for new cheese producers. Since the Middle Ages cheese was made available at charter markets and sold directly by the cheesemaker. Many cheesemakers have stopped direct selling at markets as it allows them spend more time to make cheese. Today it is mostly pedlars (traders) at markets that sell a variety of cheeses and condiments.
For those of you that don’t know a charter market in England is a street fair or market originally established by Royal Charter. Many charter fairs date back to the Middle Ages, with their heyday occurring during the 13th century.
Today the charter market is still part of the fabric of many villages, towns and cities. The quality of produce found at some of these markets can be questionable, although increasingly you will find better quality food as the population has become a lot more food-wise. Over the last 20 years our new-found understanding of good food has been made available through television and media.
A large part of the renaissance of proper cheese has been brought to the public via farmers’ markets. Although cheese has always been available at charter or public market it has not always been of the best quality. This is due to pedlars buying cheaper mass-produced cheese that generally lacks flavour and is not always made sustainably. These pedlars have no understanding of the produce accept that it makes them money.
A farmers’ market, however, draws the consumer in as more often than not the actual producer is selling his/her wares and can talk about the provenance etc. Also, it is an opportunity to taste and get feedback. The manager of the farmers market also vets the traders to ensure that the product is good.
To call yourself a cheesemonger you should have knowledge about all of your cheese, its provenance, taste and manufacture. As a seller of artisan cheese for over three decades, I believe that I can now officially call myself a cheesemonger. For the most part cheesemongers are the right arm for artisan cheese producers as we all work tirelessly to champion their work and the exceptional quality of cheese being produced.
Our job is to spread the word on artisan cheese and explain why it tastes like it does when compared to more commercially produced alternatives. As a cheesemonger I believe you should be focusing on sustainability and ethical farming.
My column this month is to help highlight the hard work that my cheesemonger friends do to help drive awareness about real cheese. Daily we engage the public with tastes of fine cheese; often the eureka moment is witnessed as the customers smile hits the top of their ears. Mostly the customer will say, “Oh my goodness I never knew, that is so delicious….” This is the reason I do this job is to allow people to experience genuinely honest produce from producers that like me are passionate and happy with subsistence.
Of course, there are some producers that put money in front of quality and people. Some cheesemakers may also think that cheesemongers are just retailers that know nothing about cheese. Well for those that may think that, think again – real cheesemongers are shouting from the rooftops to help keep your artisan cheese alive.
Thank goodness for Patrick Rance who helped to put real cheese back on the map. So, the next time you see a cheesemonger looking pretty cold with a massive smile talking cheese to a passer-by, go say hello. Blessed are the cheesemongers.