On the 20th of January, it is National Cheese Lover’s Day. Eve Smallman sets out to find out about Nottingham’s hidden gooey centre, which is bubbling with passionate people making, selling and munching the beloved food…
In the modern world of supermarkets aisles lined with cheap chunks of cheddar, it can be easy to forget how good local cheese can really taste. That cheese straight from the farm and into the counter not only helps please your taste buds, but also helps sustain a family’s livelihood.
Nestled in the city centre, The Cheese Shop Nottingham houses the finest British cheese in the country – which includes cheese made in Nottingham and invented in Nottingham centuries ago. As soon as you walk through the door, you’re hit with that strong pungent scent, and you become immersed in their world.
It all started when brothers Webb and Rob Freckingham both came to a crossroad in life. With Rob losing his right arm and being in a dead-end job, he was looking to do something different. With his background in agriculture and Webb’s background in catering, they teamed up to create the perfect combination.
It’s clearly worked well for them, like a good cheese and a glass of red wine. Five years ago they moved from their small premises to the large shop they have in the Flying Horse Walk today. Rob judged at the World Cheese Awards in 2010, and they came third for Cheese Counter of the Year at the same awards this year – which they didn’t even enter themselves into. They’re certainly adept in all things cheese, and they’ll give their expert advice to anyone that walks through the door.
Rob said: “My theory is that people will always try something when they’re here. It goes out this shop in my favour, so nine times out of ten I will refer you to something that you’ve never had before, to try it and have a taste. And people normally buy on their tastes.
“If you’re buying something new, there’s nothing worse than buying a piece of cheese and not trying it. Going to the fridge, getting it out to room temperature. You’re either looking forward to it or -”
At this point, the phone rings. Rob goes to answer it. “Tony! How are you?”
When Rob finishes on the phone and smiles at me to resume the interview, he tells me that the person he was speaking to was a ninety-year-old who has Parkinson’s Disease. The Cheese Shop pack and deliver parcels for him. A regular customer of 15 years, he remains loyal to them. This care and precision The Cheese Shop put into making the cheese producers and the customers smile is remarkable.
“We love sourcing a cheese, and bringing them into the shop, where they start to sell and become really popular. And it’s like, you know what? I brought this to this city, and to see them get popular is absolutely wonderful. You couldn’t wish for more,” he said.
“It’s all about finding cheeses that are different, unique, and listening to the customers as well. Very recently we had someone who had been to Coody’s Cave in Northumberland and had some of their cheese. So I rang them up, brought it down. I knew all about where it was made from the things the customer had told me. It’s been selling in the county now for about three months.”
The Cheese Shop stocks cheese from across Britain, as well as continental cheeses from France, Spain, Greece and many more exotic places. They also stock two very special ‘local’ cheeses.
Cropwell Bishop, which is made in Nottingham, is a rich, savoury, spicy blue cheese that has origins from the 1920s. The business has been passed down from generations of family, moving to Cropwell Bishop in 2014 under third generation brothers Robin and Ben Skailes. It was also named in the Top 50 UK products at the Great Taste Awards 2017.
Robin Skailes said: “The milk from Nottingham has all the right constituents for making Stilton. The area has a great cheese heritage, especially with Stilton, and the locals love our cheese. We are a dairy nation, and have huge pride for our dairy products.”
A creamy cheese with a fresh taste, Colwick Cheese was originally invented in the 17th Century, in the town of Colwick, located by the River Trent and south of Nottingham. Alan and Jane Hewson are used to bringing old cheeses back to life, making Rutland Slipcote which was originally popular in the Victorian times. When asked by the organiser of the Artisan Cheese Fair to do the same with Colwick Cheese, they did just that.
Jane Hewson said: “As our farm isn’t too large by today’s standards, we needed to add value to our milk, so it seemed logical to make local lost cheeses. We’ve now been featured on Jamie and Jimmy, Countryfile, and have even met Prince Charles!”
The smaller farmers’ devotion and hard work creating products for all to enjoy does not go unrecognised by The Cheese Shop, unlike the way it perhaps does with the big supermarkets.
Rob continued: “Without something selling their passion, i.e. us or other cheese shops, then they’ve not got a job or a living. The uttermost care goes into their products, and very rarely do you get a bad one.”
Despite all the hard work, The Cheese Shop employees have a smile on their face with every customer that they greet – which they do so well, you’d believe each customer was a regular.
“It’s all good fun, we have cheesy banter with everybody. What cheese do you use to hide a horse? Mascarpone! The fun that we have is beyond belief,” Rob chuckled.
Whether it’s inventing, making, or selling it, Nottingham clearly has a soft spot for the beautiful, diverse product that is cheese.
By Eve Smallman