A cheese feast platter

When it comes to cheese, there are two things we know for sure, writes Richard Fox, food & beer expert, writer and broadcaster: we all love it – in a similar way to a giant hug, or the warmth of the suns’ rays on a summer’s day. We also know that true cheese experts are a rare and precious thing. These two facts are priceless knowledge in the farm shop and deli business, and by embracing them and applying appropriate logical and lateral thinking, there are profits to be made and customer loyalty generated to put a big cheesy smile on any retailers face.

As a food-lover and chef, I like to think I know a thing or two about Le Grand Fromage: always serve it at room temperature – never straight from the fridge; wrapped in waxed paper is preferable to cling film, cheese made from raw milk is generally tastier than those made with milk subject to flavour-killing pasteurisation; embrace cheeses with PDO status (protected designation of origin), and so on. However, while these sound bites of knowledge stand one in good stead as a consumer, cook and even restaurateur, they do not make one an expert retailer.

Starting on this subject of expertise then, the simple and logical solution here is to find one - buy from them and squeeze them for every last rennet-soaked morsel of information they have to give. The good news here is: like craft brewers, or passionate bakers, artisan cheesemongers and makers are generally nice people whose sole aim in life is to share the love of their labour with the world. Maybe they can even host events and tasting sessions at your outlet, thereby not only showing you how much care and craft has gone into the cheeses they’re supplying, but showing your customers how much you care about their foodie experience.

Now this is all very well if your farm shop or deli lends itself to cheese retailing, and you have the appropriate access to these gurus of the Gouda. But what if it doesn’t and you don’t? Does this mean that the cheese-loving consumer (just about everyone) will have to venture elsewhere for that cheese experience? Not necessarily, and this is where the lateral thinking element of the equation kicks in. If you’re into retailing your own home-cooked deli dishes or meals for at home re-heating, here’s a real opportunity to capture the cheese-lovers heart. Take that king of toast toppings: the welsh rarebit for example. Once made, it chills down into a perfect spreadable block to be refrigerated or even frozen. Packaged in those take away plastic containers with the appropriate artisan labelling and you’ve got a real hit on your hands. If you’ve never tried it lashed onto a succulent chunk of un-dyed smoked haddock, you’re missing a treat and so are your customers. As far as the recipe is concerned, I must sing the praises here of one of the champions of great British cooking – Gary Rhodes. I have been replicating his welsh rarebit now for nearly twenty years with tremendous success. And talking of crowd-pleasers, how about the re-vamped and fully made-over retro classic that is now Mac ‘n Cheese? This baked bundle of comfort is all about the quality of dried pasta; the perfect béchamel and a full flavoured mature cheddar. My magic ingredient is English mustard into the finished sauce. A topping of grated cheddar and chunky breadcrumbs mixed with a little melted butter will give the perfect crunchy topping to act as foil to the unctuous cheesy macaroni below.

In the farm shop and deli business, cheesiness sells, and it’s a golden opportunity to once again offer an angle that the big boys simply can’t. Whether it’s a specially selected and presented array of artisan cheeses served up with the appropriate passion and product knowledge- or cheese-related products, freshly made or carefully sourced from the right suppliers, those luscious blocks, slabs and rounds of all-year comfort can be real bottom line enhancers for your business.

Richard will be hosting the Farm Shop & Deli Show’s live events programme taking place at the NEC Birmingham, 24 – 26 April 2017.

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Take a look at our other FEAST articles here.