A Day in the Life of a Cheesemonger

Published on March 6, 2014

Hot on the heels of winning Cheesemonger of the Year 2013 at the World Cheese Awards, Andy and Kathy Swinscoe’s Courtyard Dairy – a specialist cheese shop on the A65 near Settle, North Yorkshire – is now up for a BBC Food & Farming Award for Best Food Retailer.

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Great Food Club Magazine asked Andy to describe a typical day at work…

Andy Swinscoe: “It all starts early in the cheese world when we ‘wake-up’ the cheese!

“At The Courtyard Dairy we deal with natural rinded and cloth-bound cheeses that can breathe, so every night all the cheese maturing shelves are covered with damp sheets, which are removed so the whole cheeses can be displayed in the day (these sheets helps keep the humidity in and form a sealed environment in which the cheese can develop.)

“With the shop set, cheeses are then checked for maturity. We’ll only sell a cheese when it’s perfect, so if the Brie isn’t ripe, it isn’t put out! As part of this task we also see if any cheeses need ‘breaking-down’. All the cheeses are bought in whole and matured. Many of the larger Cheddars and Lancashires are 10-20kg. So we like to have them cut to a reasonable size so we can serve from them. Each morning for the cheeses that need breaking down, we go through our batches that are maturing, and assess their development by ironing them (this involves taking a plug sample of cheese). The ones that taste the best are then brought forward, their cloth binding stripped off and they’re cut down to size!

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“As we deal with small artisan producers, each batch tastes different and that’s why we constantly check them using this method, and keep notes of our thoughts!

“Before we open, all of the other cheeses are checked over, natural rinded – farm cheese needs care and attention; some need brushing, others washing, turning, oiling and of course, tasting. This care and attention is given to them every day. At The Courtyard Dairy we pride ourselves on selling and ageing the best quality cheeses; this is reflected in the care and how we look after them. There is no point selecting the absolute best cheeses from the farm, only to let them deteriorate in the shop.

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“At 9.30 we open, and, usually, nothing happens…

“Being out of town we don’t tend to get busy till about 11. So during the first two hours we cut and prepare wholesale and mail order. The first retail customers will soon start to drift in.

“As soon as they’re in through the door, they instantly get a taste. Although we only offer 25 cheeses (at The Courtyard Dairy we try to keep a narrow but ‘perfectly-formed’ range), we can generally satisfy anyone. Along with giving the first taste of cheese, we explain to the customers the background of that cheese. Every cheese we stock has a story, being made on an individual farm, and a true artisan product. Telling this story and explaining why we stock it is just as important as the taste; for me it should be an experience visiting the shop – not just buying a piece of cheese.

“Then, quickly after this first taste, we follow up with another, contrasting taste. This allows us to gauge the customer’s reaction and see what type of flavours and textures they prefer so we can help them to find the best cheese (although the frequent comment is – “I want them all!”).

“This format continues throughout the day as we serve our local, loyal cheese customers. Towards the end of the day I’ll see what cheeses are short and arrange visits and orders to replenish the stocks.

“As the customers saunter off to enjoy their cheese-platters, the cheeses will go back to bed. And we leave our cold shop (it’s kept at 12C to mature the cheeses on the shelves) to go home to a warm supper…”

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Andy and Kathy Swinscoe in the Courtyard Dairy

Matt Wright
The author:

Matt lives in Leicestershire with his wife, two kids and dog. He is passionate about British pubs, slow food and home brewing. He founded Great Food Club (originally as Great Food Magazine) in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town of Melton Mowbray - Britain's 'Rural Capital of Food'.