- We speak to two contemporary cheesemongers to learn how they've adopted a modern approach to the traditional skill of selling cheese
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Morgan McGlynn – Cheeses of Muswell Hill
Although women have played a big part in cheesemaking for generations, Morgan McGlynn, owner of Cheeses of Muswell Hill, found that starting up as a cheese shop as a 21 year-old female came with its challenges.
Having studied graphic design while working in a cheesemongers at weekends, at Morgan bought her own cheese shop in London’s Muswell Hill. She describes this time as “a steep learning curve”, but she overcame the challenges, she says, “by surrounding myself with the best mentors, amazing family, a strong all-women team, suppliers and cheesemakers who share their knowledge and expertise to help me develop my business.” As a young female she wasn’t always taken as seriously as she believes she should have been, which was sometimes hard but ultimately, she explains, “These challenges have pushed me to work harder to make my mark and I am so proud to have brought the business to where it is today.”
When starting in the cheese industry, Morgan found that due to her age she was perceived as gullible. “I would have some suppliers hiking the prices for me and I was embarrassed to challenge them,” she says. “Every woman faces challenges like this and I am no exception. I was once advised to ‘act like a man’ but I was happy doing it my way. So I started reading, researching and finding new and different suppliers. If I thought someone was dismissing me as a naive, gullible young woman, I’d move on.”
Throughout her 12 years running Cheeses, Morgan has been inspired by the female cheesemakers and mongers across the UK: “I take inspiration from the amazing women in the cheese industry, like Mary Quicke, Anne Wigmore and Patricia Michelson to name a few. It is great to see more women in the cheese industry and I would say to anyone looking to get into cheese, never be afraid to ask that stupid question or reach out to someone in the industry you admire, as the more support you can get the more you will flourish.
“Having my own business has, hands down, been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Granted, there have been moments which have challenged me but the fact that on a day-to-day basis I can say I’ve learnt something new is one of the things I love most about my job. 10 years on, the most important thing I’ve learned from running my business is that if you believe in yourself and put your mind to something, things can and will happen. I found my passion and didn’t let anything stop me. There are still times when I will feel completely out of my comfort zone, but I embrace these and absorb all the new skills and experiences I can. And so my business continues to go from strength to strength.
“As a woman, you are required to have thicker skin to deal with certain situations. It doesn’t bother me too much any more because I quickly realised I am proud to be a woman in business! I balance running a my business, my home life, a relationship and a chronic illness. I used to struggle to lift a 27kg Cheddar and welcome help from the delivery driver but I am happy to say I can now lift my own!
“I still work six days a week, all the hours I need to. My job is not for the faint-hearted, and you absolutely have to back yourself. I am so lucky to have a handful of really strong women cheesemongers working for me that have got me to where I am today, and in my experience, the strength of those connections is built on real friendships, honesty and mutual respect. It’s important to find great staff who are kind, patient and loyal.”
Mathew March-Smith introduces Pong: a modern cheese retailer inspired by the past
“As a child, growing up in Oxfordshire, my mother dragged me frequently to visit some friends in nearby Streatly, who ran the village shop. They had turned an old grocer’s store into an extraordinary cheese emporium, with whole cheeses maturing on all surfaces, in the shop front and down in the cellar below. The pungency of the smell, specifically to the nostrils of a six-year-old, was unbearable and made an indelible mark on my senses. As it happened this shop was the most important cheese shop in the history of the current UK speciality cheese industry because it was run by the charming, monocled cheese legend, Major Patrick Rance and his wife Janet. Pat Rance was a champion of real cheese and is rightly credited with saving specialist cheeses from extinction. The aroma of his shop in Streatly is also what gave our company ‘Pong’ its name.
“As an adult, my early career was always with the internet, from making basic marketing campaigns that worked on slow, dial up connections, to making the first e-shop for clothing and food brands such as SweatyBetty and Tesco. When I wanted to start my own business therefore, if it was a shop, it was going to be only online. What’s interesting about the name and brand Pong, is that while it’s a modern concept and a wholly digital retail and subscription business, it’s inspired by and rooted in the visceral, sensual experience I had in Pat Rance’s shop as a youngster.
“We try to create something you can smell, touch and almost taste with our photography, copy and product names and descriptions. Online, you must work much harder to sell something to eat, maybe simply because you can’t smell it, so by giving the brand a name that suggests what you ‘should’ be experiencing, we’re helping customers fill that sensory gap.
“The product we sell now, in many ways, is the same sold by Pat Rance in the seventies, but where his custom was generated by universal word-of-mouth, his writing and a few radio appearances, ours is online word of mouth such as blogs and social media, search advertising, email and affiliate marketing. An online store can only really exist and flourish if it has a heritage on which to build.
“Our customers are drawn to our pictures, products and offers only because they have an underlying experience of smelling, touching and most importantly eating our product and a desire to eat it again. A good online brand works with this historical premise therefore it is imperative we always have traditional cheesemongery in bricks and mortar shops to keep that relationship alive. Because of this, we are considering physical Pong cheese shops in the future and they will most likely be as close to the pungent, overwhelming celebration of the sensory attributes of cheese that Pat Rance’s shop was.”
You can read the entire article in Cheese Buyer magazine, available to download for free here