10 October 2018, 16:13 pm
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

I have an inkling of how Gareth Southgate, or perhaps the England Test selectors, might have felt when a key member of their team pulled a hamstring or twisted an ankle.

Not in relation to my staff, but those stalwarts of the chiller – my cheeses. I’ve had situations over the years where a star striker, for example, Denhay Cheddar, announced that they were retiring. Then there was the day that the entire outfield, the Cranborne Chase cheeses, declared themselves unavailable for future fixtures.

What does the prudent team manager or selector do in such a situation? Sporting coaches in the 21st century are fortunate in having reserves on the bench, ready to step into the breech when the starting player gets tired or injured. Do cheese retailers enjoy such luxury? We may not have a back room full of cheeses in reserve, but (if I may stretch the analogy still further) we can have the reassurance of having done some thorough scouting, ready to source replacements when profit-generating lines are no longer available.

My shop’s cheese list set out to specialise in West Country cheeses, with particular emphasis on those from our home county, Dorset. Wholesalers proffered candidates for me to stock; I looked in directories to identify those who didn’t have distribution, and dealt directly with them when I felt the cheese was a ‘must have’. I visited farmers’ markets, and kept my ear to the ground, so that I might have early awareness of new entrants to the market. Producers used the shop as a test market and we got first dibs on quite a few new cheeses. If local producers called it a day and left the market, I found out who was buying their cheese-making equipment. Thus, I ensured that the sad demise of star attractions from my chillers did not compromise my proposition of offering the finest cheeses from ‘my manor’.

The quantity and variety of cheeses from the West Country that we stocked remained fairly static, but the names on the team-sheet, and the percentage of cheeses from each county, was changeable. Long-term players such as Quicke’s, Lyner, Montgomery, Keen’s, White Lake, Ticklemore and others stayed the course, but some makers, such as Windswept Cow from the Isle of Purbeck, blossomed for a comparatively short time – but were certainly worth stocking.

Recently, more than one maker of soft white cheeses has withdrawn from the market. Godminster decided to concentrate on their renowned organic waxed Cheddar rather than continue to diversify with the soft cheeses they acquired from Daisy a few years ago. In this country, it seems to be a struggle to create a strong brand around white-rinded cheeses, with the notable exceptions of Tunworth, Sharpham, Village Maid and a few others. Conversely, washed-rind specialists such as James’s Cheese have carved a niche with products that consumers view as individual characters and not generic.

The uncertainties of the next few months may mean that there’s more churn in the cheese industry. Scouting for new cheeses ahead of it being a necessity may prove to be wise.

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