Opening a Cheese-Shop … For Dummies
This guest blog series is by Andy Swinscoe, who recently opened The Courtyard Dairy in North Yorkshire, England.
Part One - choosing the right place
I wanted a cheese shop. Somewhere where I could sell the best cheese and mature/refine it as well.
But I couldn’t find where to locate it. To return to the north of England was the idea, if only to cut down on the refrigeration bills, but the north of England is not full of plentiful affluent suburbs like the home counties, full of people who would buy the cheese I wanted to sell.
So I came up with some criteria: I cross-referenced affluent areas in the north of England (using National Statistics data) with well-regarded restaurants mentioned in The Good Food and Michelin Guide. I then looked to see if the best areas contained any other good local food shops—needing a draw of food. I was really looking for a good bakers or fishmongers—they need a regular (daily) supply of local customers interested in food.
This refined my potential locations to six areas, which I visited. I immediately discounted four … they just didn’t feel right.
After several months of searching I’d almost given up hope of finding a good unit that fit my criteria. Maybe I was destined just to be a cheese affineur all my life—but turning Comtés and cheddars was starting to bore a little, never mind the back-ache. And then an email popped into my inbox, from an old friend. “Check out this new ‘The Courtyard’ place in North Yorkshire,” he said.
Initially, I didn't check it out as directed. It wasn’t in one of my chosen areas, nor did it fit my criteria, but I thought I’d maybe visit it if I was ever passing. I wasn’t passing, unfortunately, but other friends were… and they thought it had potential. So one dark morning I drove the 250 miles to view the unit.
What I found was a converted set of barns just off the A65 near Settle, housing a number of quality retailers, all small businesses: a bespoke furniture designer (who’d converted the barns in order to find somewhere to put his showroom), the last ‘vertical mill’ tweed producer in England, a posh art gallery, a nice bistro and a fantastic wine shop. There was just one poky unit left for which there hadn’t been much demand: it had no window, it was dark and cold (with almost a metre-thick walls!), small—16 square meters (about 175 square feet for my American readers), had no storage space, not many nearby restaurants, no fishmongers or butchers…
But it felt right. The wine shop had a great local reputation… if I could just tap into his client base… and on top of that the whole complex was starting to become a ‘destination’ for high-spend shoppers…
Life is full of too many ‘what-if’s’—I didn’t want my plans to open a unique cheese refiner and shop to be one of them! It was time to bite the bullet. So I went for it. Then the fun began!
Andy Swinscoe worked in fine-dining at The Balmoral, Edinburgh, before falling into the cheese world with Britain's oldest cheesemonger – Paxton & Whitfield. Awarded a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship in cheese maturing he left the UK to carry out an apprenticeship in France with Hervé Mons. On completion of this apprenticeship, Andy returned to the UK and turned to Somerset, Cheddar country. Here he worked for the Bath Fine Cheese Company as Quality Manager to improve their range of artisan cheeses. In late 2012 he started out on his own with his cheese shop and refiners in North Yorkshire–The Courtyard Dairy. You can read more on his blog.