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This article originally appeared in Inspirational Cheese Retailers, available to download free here.
Tucked away in the town of Rhuddlan, north Wales, The Little Cheesemonger is a small shop with a huge presence in its local community. The multiple-award-winning cheesemonger, which is run by Gemma Williams, has become renowned for being a champion of local cheeses and a keen collaborator with other Welsh businesses.
Community and collaboration have always been important to Gemma, who worked in cheese and food retail across the UK before opening her own shop. But being a business owner has given her the opportunity to take an active role in highlighting producers in the local area – especially those who are in need of a helping hand.
While Gemma has long recognised the importance of her local town’s support, she also knows that building a community takes an investment of time and care. Today, she often uses her own platforms with The Little Cheesemonger to amplify her suppliers, local events or newly opened businesses in the area.
“Running my own business, it’s become more important to me,” explains Gemma. On Facebook last year, she created a group where local restaurants can easily share information with the public. Since the pandemic hit, the group has taken on a new significance, having become a place where updates about delivery services and changing opening hours can be shared.
Since opening her shop in 2017, Gemma has taken a community-centric approach. When suppliers tell her they’re struggling, she considers how she can help to shuffle her stock or push certain products. “Now, with having my own business, I can control that,” she says.
During the lockdown, that local spirit was alive and well. Spurred by a passion for great cheese and the joy that it can bring, The Little Cheesemonger went above and beyond to continue selling and delivering cheeses around north Wales. Even when struggling with a lack of childcare, Gemma made a point to delivering orders to local elderly residents.
Virtual events offered another exciting avenue for collaboration that Gemma could bring straight into customers’ homes, even in lockdown. In October, The Little Cheesemonger teamed up with local chutney maker Mostyn Kitchen Garden and Taste North East Wales for a cheese and chutney tasting event – and Gemma sees these partnerships as being key to the virtual tasting format.
“When you work with other people, it makes it more interesting. Other people bring different dynamics,” Gemma says.
By teaming up with local businesses, she found that The Little Cheesemonger could offer participants a more valuable and engaging event.
Virtual events and growing online sales offer Gemma a brand new way to share her passion for Welsh cheese and produce well beyond the borders of her own town.
The Little Cheesemonger spreads the footprint of Welsh businesses far and wide via the Welsh-themed hampers it sells online. Gift bags feature products such as Hafod Organic Cheese made by Holden Farm Dairy and Organic Perl Las blue cheese from Caws Cenarth Cheese, as well as artisan Welsh treats, including chutney, honey, biscuits, crackers and coffee.
Looking forward, Gemma has plans to expand The Little Cheesemonger into a larger shop in Prestatyn – but her local community in Rhuddlan is still at the top of her mind. “We have a great community here that supports the shop, so rather than let them down, what we’ve done is take on another shop,” Gemma says. Even with these exciting plans in mind, the challenges that Covid-19 brought to the cheese industry in 2020 won’t be easy to forget. But despite the difficulties it caused, Gemma sees the positives in the crisis.
“If it wasn’t for Covid, maybe we wouldn’t be thinking so much about [local shopping] right now,” she says. Having seen it in action in her own community, Gemma believes the local shopping revival is here to stay. “It has made people think. People appreciate those who were helping them over lockdown. Now, they’re so conscious of supporting local shops.”
After opening the new shop, Gemma is planning to start making her own cheese and butter. “I’ve always wanted to try to make cheese. I was going to go on a course in 2020, and obviously that never happened, but I’m going to get there by hook or by crook.”
Olwyn Fawr, Cosyn Cymru
Spreading the word about fantastic Welsh cheeses is a key focus of Gemma’s – and while there are many to choose from, customers gravitate towards Cosyn Cymru’s Olwyn Fawr. The hard-pressed mature cheese has a depth of flavour that’s perfect for lovers of Manchego, with a complex and long-lasting taste of honey, hazelnut and summer meadows.
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