Britain’s best cheesemongers: The Bristol Cheesemonger

In the past few years, the UK has enjoyed an incredible renaissance in artisan cheesemaking, and the number of dedicated cheesemongers has increased to accommodate this. From a small shipping container at Bristol’s trendy Wapping Wharf, Rosie Morgan single-handedly supplies artisan cheeses to the city’s thriving foodie community. We paid her a visit to see what makes her business such a success.

Rosie Morgan, who set up The Bristol Cheesemonger just two years ago, was crowned Best Speciality Cheese Retailer at the 2017 Great British Cheese Awards. Not because she stocks more cheeses than anyone else or has the biggest, brightest shop – she scooped the award purely down to her enthusiasm for the craft and the fact that she runs her business entirely on her own from a shipping container in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf.

‘I got into selling cheese a long time ago, working as a weekend and Saturday girl at a cheese shop called Country Cheeses in Tavistock Devon when I was fifteen,’ she explains. ‘I left to go travelling, then I lived in London for a little while and went to university – but I would always come back to work there whenever I came home because it was such a lovely and inspiring place to be.’

Country Cheeses – which actually won Best Speciality Cheese Retailer the previous year – was the perfect place for any aspiring cheesemonger to learn the ropes, despite being in a relatively rural town. So when Rosie moved to Bristol, she was surprised to find that, while there were many fantastic delis, there wasn’t a single dedicated cheese shop. So she decided to set one up herself to gauge demand.

‘At first I was doing the odd market and pop-up alongside my full-time job, just to see how it was received,’ she says. ‘The support I got from local businesses and the public was immense, and over the next couple of years I kept doing more and more in my spare time. It was when I held a pop-up before Christmas two years ago and did really well that I decided to take the leap and go permanent.’

Rosie’s first bricks-and-mortar site was on St Nicholas Street, in the heart of Bristol’s old town. ‘It was a lovely little place,’ she remembers. ‘Starting your own business is very nerve-wracking but there was just so much support from everyone and it was so well received.’

In the year Rosie spent at St Nicholas Street, the opportunity came up for Rosie to open another shop at Bristol’s Wapping Wharf, a trendy new development home to bars, restaurants and shops. Not wanting to split her time between two different sites, Rosie chose to move location completely. ‘I’ve been here nearly a year now and it’s going fantastically well,’ she explains. ‘It’s such a lovely area and it’s allowed me to develop the business even further, extending my opening hours and getting more cheeses in.’

Rosie sources her cheeses direct, paying the producers weekly visits to ensure the very best quality. Most of what she stocks comes from Somerset, but she’s been gradually expanding her area to include Devon and Cornwall, and gets the odd piece of Hafod Cheddar from Wales and wheels of Rollright from Oxfordshire. ‘There’s such a wonderful selection locally but it’s great to be able to widen the radius to other counties,’ she says. ‘As time goes on I’m hoping to get another member of staff in, which will leave me free to visit even more cheesemakers. But we will always stock predominantly South West varieties as I have the closest relationships with the people there.’

It’s obvious that for someone to give up their day job and open a cheese shop, they have to be borderline obsessed with cheese. But what is it that Rosie loves about it in particular? ‘It’s just such a varied product,’ she explains. ‘It all starts from milk, but then there are so many factors that shape the end product. The time of year, what the cows have been eating, starter cultures, bacteria in the air, the cheesemakers’ process – all of these variables can have a huge impact. It’s a bit like wine, which all starts from grapes, and in the UK there are so many new cheeses coming out all the time that it never gets boring.’

Rosie’s shop might be small, but she’s managed to curate a fantastic selection of cheese for the people of Bristol. And while they might initially pay her a visit for the cheese, it’s no doubt Rosie’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of what she sells that keeps them coming back.

Article courtesy of Great British Chefs

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