- Kevin Sheridan, managing director of Sheridans, values supplier relationships as highly as new discoveries
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There is no simple system or process for sourcing great cheese. Many times, particularly with new Irish farmhouse cheese, the producer contacts us and a discussion begins which may after some time result in the cheese being stocked in our shops. In some cases, we come across cheeses while travelling in Europe – often from visiting other cheesemongers.
“OFTENTIMES SAMPLES RECEIVED DO NOT REFLECT ACCURATELY THE CHEESES THAT WILL ARRIVE”
In general, when we source a new cheese we will trial in one of our outlets. Often times samples received do not reflect accurately the cheeses that will arrive. In addition, farmhouse cheeses by their nature change through the seasons; by trialling a cheese in one outlet we can assess these changes and know the impact before we decide to allow the cheeses a full listing. Of course, no matter what we think of a cheese, the only real test is our customers. We have often sourced what we believed to be a great cheese and then our customers have disagreed!
“WE LOOK FOR CHEESES THAT ARE FIRST AND FOREMOST OF GREAT QUALITY OR SHOW POTENTIAL TO BECOME GREAT”
In every case the basic criteria are the same. We look for cheeses that are first and foremost of great quality or show potential to become great. This is a simple process and involves tasting the cheese. This may sound obvious but it is surprising how many retailers don’t use this as the first step in selection. Unless we believe that some of our customers will really enjoy the cheese then we are not interested.
“VALUE DOES NOT MEAN CHEAP BUT THAT THE PRICE REFLECTS THE QUALITY OF THE PRODUCT AND THAT IT IS COMPARABLE TO SIMILAR CHEESES”
Taste is not the only criteria we use when we select a cheese. Of course, price plays some part and we have to be sure that our customers will receive value for the cheese they purchase. Value does not mean cheap but that the price reflects the quality of the product and that it is comparable to similar cheeses. A part of price is logistics; there may be a wonderful cheese at a good price somewhere in Europe, but unless we can get it to our warehouse in a cost effective manner then it is of no use. As many cheeses have a short shelf life or change considerably as they continue to mature over time, frequency of purchase is really important. We need to be able to ensure that we can organise a regular supply in a cost effective manner. In general, we prefer to work directly with our cheese producers.
“THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OURSELVES AND OUR CHEESE PRODUCERS IS CENTRAL TO OUR WHOLE OPERATION AND ETHOS”
The relationship between ourselves and our cheese producers is central to our whole operation and ethos. We look to build long-term sustainable relationships with our producers; this partnership ensures that we understand the farms and the artisans who produce our cheeses, and that our producers understand ourselves and our customers. Sometimes it is not viable to purchase directly from the producer where we are not buying large quantities of a European cheese. In these cases, we have partners in several European countries who we work with. These partners consolidate the cheeses at a single point and make it easy to bring in the cheeses regularly. However, we always look to have a direct relationship with the cheesemakers even where we working through a partner.
“IF WE STOCK A PARTICULAR CHEESE TYPE AND HAVE A LONG AND POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CHEESEMAKER, WE WILL NOT REPLACE IT UNLESS THERE IS REALLY SOME INCREDIBLE REASON”
Provence is very important to us and to our customers. Our customers trust that we are firstly open and honest about the source of the cheeses we sell. We look at the whole provenance of a cheese, from the milk source, farming practices, production methods and ownership model to ensure that they fit in with our company ethos. Although we like to offer our customers a range of cheeses from across the European tradition, we do favour cheeses made in Ireland. If we believe that an Irish-made cheese can offer the same quality as one from another region we will do our best to replace
the imported cheese. The production infrastructure for farmhouse cheese in Ireland very often means that cheeses are more expensive to produce here. To counter this somewhat we apply a smaller margin on Irish cheeses in order to help them compete.
There are many great cheeses produced that we don’t stock, it is impossible for us to stock the many hundreds of really wonderful cheeses that are made in Ireland and across Europe. If we stock a particular cheese type and have a long and positive relationship with the cheesemaker, we will not replace it unless there is really some incredible reason. In a retail world where newness is often a driving force we prefer long term sustainable relationships. We have worked with many of our cheese producers for over 20 years; in that time we have forged partnerships of real value to these producers, to ourselves and to our customers.