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Being both a cheesemaker and cheesemonger allows us to both see what customers want and what cheesemakers are doing and connect them. The past two years have been tough for many makers as most of them tend to be in more remote locations. But there has definitely been a surge in customers seeking out more local products.
I feel the momentum coming out of Covid will give some new cheesemakers confidence to start businesses and the current cheesemakers will be bolstered that we were able to make it through such a tough time (if not a bit tired). We only sell Irish cheese in our shop and the busier we get the more we are able to help other cheesemakers make experimental cheese and new varieties as sampling returns and we can help nudge the customers towards them.
I always said as a cheesemaker and monger that we aren’t looking for massive increases in sales. We are about changing people’s habits. If we can get a customer to buy a small percentage of their weekly cheese with us that’s what we are after. Having some great UK cheese shops with passionate people behind them, like Kathy and Andy at The Courtyard Dairy, will definitely inspire people to not only want to sell great local cheese, but also to run their business in a way that helps the supplier with honest feedback.
I opened my shop after spending a week at The Courtyard Dairy, so we are an open book as a cheesemaker and monger and I try to give as much time to anyone that wants it for any advice (mainly what not to do!). We run monthly events to tell the stories behind the cheese we sell and create a relaxed atmosphere around cheese – it’s about bringing people together. We take our staff on regular supplier visits to connect them with the makers as we are a shop window for them.
I have had a lot of support throughout the years. Since I started making cheese, I have got a lot of experience working for a week or two with a lot of UK cheesemakers before spending a year with David and Jo Clarke at Sparkenhoe Farm. They were very open with all sides of the business, and that helped me get an idea of what is involved – not just in the making of cheese but the business behind it, too. We equity crowdfunded the money to get started so have 100 different investors, meaning that we have 100 people out championing what you do. I had Andy at The Courtyard Dairy buying cheese of that wasn’t made yet to help us in those initial months.
We had chefs like Niall McKenna buying full wheels direct off us for all three of his restaurants the day I went in with a small sample. We had our wholesaler La Rousse Foods driving us round meeting all their chefs and championing Young Buck for us. Local breweries allowed us to rock up with a table and some cheese to flog when we didn’t have a shop, and when we opened the shop we had the support of hundreds of customers who still choose to buy their cheese from us.
The small independent food business scene, in general, is very supportive of each other, as we recognise we are all nice people doing nice things!