Running a Cheese-Shop … For Dummies
This guest blog series is by Andy Swinscoe, who recently opened The Courtyard Dairy in North Yorkshire, England.
The first few weeks.
First of all, I needed customers. I’m still working on that one. We all have friends and family, but after I’d persuaded all of those nice people to buy, I still needed an actual client base…
Thankfully, the wine shop was sending me customers, but I needed more than that. So–how was I to get people in to buy, and then to spread the word? Social media worked: Contacting the local good-food bloggers and regular tweeting people to get them in. I also went around the little town of Settle and spoke to the TIC staff and pub landlords, spreading the word about my cheese and charcuterie. This and the local rags and newspapers started to get the shop’s name about. But by far the most successful was door-to-door leaflet drop to the local population. Not just any old leaflet. Each of the 600 had my personally hand-written note on it. It generated a 20% response. Who said door-to-door was dead?
What with a few customers and starting to sell a bit of cheese, I put the procedures in place. But I was not looking forward to the visit from the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) even though I knew the regulations inside out–in order to age the cheese and keep it on wood at 13°C (55.5°F) I had made sure I knew exactly what I was doing. I risk-assessed each cheese and its maturity on arrival with me, checking their acidification profiles, water activity (i.e. how much moisture was left in it), the final pH of the cheese, and its milk supply route. That, along with my knowledge and documentation, would see me through I hoped…but I was still nervous, some people can be very afraid of unpasteurised cheese, especially since I hold it at maturing temperature, and on wood!
But I had nothing to fear. For once luck was on my side. My EHO had taken a course with Paul Neaves, demi-god on cheese microbiology in the UK**, was fully proficient and, thankfully, understood cheese. Those sleepless nights had ended…
So was following my dream, opening a specialist cheese maturer and shop, worth it? Well, I used to be quite successful in the cheese-world. Now I simply own a small shop in the middle of nowhere.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
**Paul Neaves is author of the ‘Specialist Cheese-maker Association Guide of Best Practice’ (the best £15 I’ve ever spent) and sits on their technical committee, which advises the Food Standards Agency and works with them to improve everyone’s understanding of cheese, particularly unpasteurised cheeses – a harmonious rather than adversarial relationship which has worked in the UK to the benefit of everyone.
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 and started out on his own with his cheese shop and refiners in North Yorkshire – The Courtyard Dairy. You can read more on his blog.