What are the essential tools for cheesemongers?

14 January 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Cheesemongers share the essential tools of the trade they need to serve their products successfully
What are the essential tools for cheesemongers?

Selling cheese is exciting – especially if (as is usually the case), it’s a genuine passion of those guarding the counter. Specialist food stores thrive on this passion, and the buzz it brings to the retail experience. 

And this, says Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli, is one of the first ‘tools’ of the trade that anyone new to the industry requires. In fact, he puts it right up there as the number one ‘ingredient’ for success, “combined with some self-taught knowledge, and a desire to share that knowledge in an easily relatable, easy-to-understand manner.”

Beyond this, it is essentially, your budget that will determine the route you’re able to take, and the service you provide. “You could go down the route of setting up in a similar way to Neal’s Yard Dairy or Rennet & Rind, but for that you need to have a demographic and a footfall that will deliver a return on the level of investment you would require to create an environment that is kept at the right temperature – such as having your counters made of marble or steel,” Mark advises.

Counter balance

Your choice of counter is a key concern. It’s a window into the wonderful world of cheese. “And it’s important to have the right type,” says Mark. “Typically, most people will imagine serve-over-the-counter types being one option. Then there is the open-faced, multi-tier display counter.

“Whichever one chooses (and that can be based on preference and the amount of available space), the cheese must be easy to see and, at a bare minimum, some basic information must be available – such as the name of the cheese, whether it is cow, ewe or goat milk, pasteurised or not, and its price either by pack or by weight.”

The Cheese Lady’s Svetlana Kukharchuk, says second-hand fridges and counters are an option, but that a new fridge is always better. “For me, the visual aspect of the counter or fridge is very important,” Svetlana adds. “When I was buying a new fridge for the current store I wanted it to be on-brand with the colour, and also to make sure it had enough space. I keep joking now to my team I wish we had a bigger fridge – and it’s pretty big already. So think about size. Will the fridge you are looking at accommodate all the cheese you hope to sell?” 

And that, she says, should account for the cheese you plan to stock straight away, but allowing for what she thinks is inevitable stock expansion.

A counter with customer-facing service is always preferable over a grab-and-go fridge, Svetlana says, agreeing with Mark that this is what defines a great experience. “For me, when it comes to specialist cheese shops, it’s all about the service. That’s what makes us so special for our customers. We can give them that curated knowledge, whereas with a pick fridge they help themselves and won’t benefit from the knowledge of the cheesemonger.”

You can certainly do both, she adds. “In the fridge put the cheeses people already know, like Parmigiano or Cheddar. But the more unusual cheeses should be in the counter to encourage interaction.”

The point of knives

Once you have this in place, sourcing equipment is relatively easy, says Mark, who favours a selection of knives, and a cheese cutter with extra wires. “Also, good quality electronic scales where one can give each cheese a code so that the label printed out has the name of the cheese, the price and the weight.”

One of Svetlana’s must-haves is a Handee cheese cutter. “It makes the cleanest cuts and helps us to judge the cheese better because it goes straight down and allows for precise cutting without any loss of cheese. I believe they are indispensable.”

Sometimes Svetlana will use a knife for certain cheeses, such as brie, and she has a stock of smaller knives for sampling.

Gemma Williams, owner of The Little Cheesemonger, highly rates Oasis floral knives for this purpose. “The Oasis knives are great for dishing out samples. They cut the sample nicely, but are relatively blunt compared to paring knives.”

Like Svetlana, you may want to invest in soft cheese knives. Crafted with a thin, curved blade, often with holes in, they make light work of the likes bloomy and soft blue cheeses, with the holes reducing friction between the blade and the surface of the cheese.

Svetlana likes to have a sharp chef’s knife to hand for cutting into firm cheeses too. Meanwhile, Gemma finds several tools useful when serving cheeses. Large, two-handled blades for Gouda, and Parmesan knives for cracking into Parmigiano Reggiano - “So satisfying.”

It’s a wrap

After taking care stocking, storing and slicing your cheese, don’t fall at the final hurdle by wrapping it the wrong way, says Svetlana, who spent a lot of time researching and trialling products before she was happy.

“We’re very particular about it, because we want to give the customer the longest time to keep the cheese in the best shape they can in the fridge at home.”

Greaseproof is one of the poorest things to wrap cheese in according to Svetlana, as it will cause cheese to dry out, while clingfilm (still used by many) may suffocate it, causing the cheese to sweat. “We use a special Duplex paper. It has two layers – paper and very thin plastic - and that keeps the cheeses in their best condition, based on my extensive experiments.”

Wrapped well, Cheddars and other firm cheeses should keep in customers’ fridges for around a month.

Circling back around, Mark says tools are “the easy bit”. 

“It’s the knowledge that is most important, because people often don’t know exactly what they want. They know what they like, but that doesn’t always automatically translate to the range of cheeses on offer. Feel confident enough to offer the customer a taste of the cheese you are recommending. We take great pleasure in welcoming customers who come back still enthusing over a cheese we sold them on their last visit that they’d never had before.”

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