John Ormerod, our co-owner, and manager Nico de Villiers took part in the Guild of Fine Food's Cheese retailing training in February. John tells us a bit more about what he learned:
As with all new jobs mine started with training.
Leaving Brixton underground station at 8:15 on a dingy damp morning to walk to the Guild of Fine Food training course hardly felt like one of my first steps towards a new career. After 30 plus year in accounting and 10 plus years working with large companies, I have started a new job: working with my daughter Clare at Lawson's. Along with Nico, our manager, I attended the Guild’s Retail Cheese Training course. For Nico this was a refresher; for me it was learning basic skills.
Clare and I had met Jilly Sitch of the Guild of Fine Food at the Speciality and Fine Food Fair at Olympia in 2016. She has been an invaluable source of knowledge and contacts for us from food safety standards to where to buy an epos system and sourcing new products. The training course was no exception.
Alongside Jilly, the course was led by Charlie Turnbull. Charlie has his own business as a cheesemonger at a delicatessen in Shaftesbury. Like me he started working life as an accountant. Now, in addition to running his successful business, he is a judge of cheese awards in the UK and around Europe. They have clearly delivered this course together many times: serious content yet delivered with the timing and the humour of entertainers.
Other valuable contributions to the day came from a leading Welsh cheesemaker; an experienced wholesaler; a banker and an advertising creative who both had a passion for cheese; and a brave entrepreneur who opens her deli in Norfolk this month. Nico was definitely at the experienced end of the spectrum in retail and cheese; I was at the other.
We began with the cheese making process.
We explored ingredients: milk (cow’s, raw, pasteurised; sheep’s; goat’s.); the cheesemaker’s secret sauce, starter culture; rennet; salt and if you want colouring. Then discussed the making process from clotting through cutting and scalding to maturing; and the importance of moulds: penicillium roquefortii on blue cheese and penicillium camembertii.
You soon realise that while there are industrial creameries delivering the vast quantities required by supermarkets; farm cheese making remains a craft which delivers the amazing range of textures, taste, and nourishment which we all enjoy.
The highlight of the day: cheese tasting.
Charlie explained how to taste cheese: first step touch it; smell it; and then taste. We tried 44 cheeses in 2 hours! It was fascinating to compare the differences in flavour cheese of different maturity such as cheddar aged for 6, 12 or 18 months. I was introduced to some new cheeses (such as Grana Padano a great alternative to Parmesan for cooking – and cheaper) as well as some amazing Morbier (made from 2 milkings, morning and evening (different fat content), separated by a layer of ash.
The skill of cheese retailing.
We went on to discuss some more technical aspects such as naming hierarchies and the care and handling of cheese including food safety aspects; and finally, we looked at how to display and wrap of cheese. These things will be a focus for us at Lawson's over the next few weeks: Nico has already changed the wrapping paper and we are displaying our cheeses so you can see their textures.
Try before you buy
Above all we learned how important it is for you, our customers, to try before you buy. Always ask us for a taster before you buy, and compare say a cheddar style Lincolnshire Poacher with Montgomery’s Mature Cheddar. That’s what makes buying cheese a fun experience!
In the Spring we hope to share some of this experience when Rosie our cheese consultant will be with us in Aldeburgh and we will be holding cheese tasting evenings. I hope you will join us.