It’s hard to believe that only 3 years ago Bristol had no speciality cheese shop. Luckily for us Rosie Morgan has rectified this by opening The Bristol Cheesemonger in 2015.
On the morning of our meeting Rosie arrives on her bike, laden with veg from the farmers market. She unlocks her shop and starts to put on a few more layers. This might sound unusual, but The Bristol Cheesemonger is located in a refrigerated shipping container in Wapping Wharf, so warm clothes are essential.
“People ask me if I get cold on an hourly basis every day of the week!” she says cheerfully as she bustles around her shop. “You get used to it”.
Rosie started her cheese career working in a cheesemonger in her home town of Tavistock where she worked for a number of years. When she moved up to Bristol she noticed a gap in the market. “I thought it was funny that a small Devon town on the edge of the moor had a very well supported cheese shop, but Bristol didn’t. It has some wonderful delis but no specific cheesemongers.”
Initially she started as a pop-up at Hart’s Bakery and had stalls at the Tobacco Factory Sunday Market & Christmas markets before moving in to a shop on St Nicholas Street. She now calls Cargo 2 her home and is surrounded by some of Bristol’s best independent businesses. “Sometimes it can feel like an old-school high street” she says. “You arrive in the morning, say ‘hello’ to everyone and ‘I’ve got some post for you’ or ‘can I borrow some milk?’. It’s a great community to be part of”.
Like many food enterprises in Bristol, The Bristol Cheesemonger’s focus is on the hyper local. Most cheeses come from within an hour and half’s drive from Bristol, and mostly from the South West. What’s on sale depends on the season, but on this particular day Rosie has an extra mature Cornish Gouda, “that can be used like parmesan”, some of the best Caerphilly in the country from near Weston Super-Mare, Ewes cheese from the Chew Valley and blue cheese from Devon, to name but a few.
As Rosie talks, she reels off the cheesemakers by their first names, who she visits every Monday. “We’ve got such a variety of cheese within a close vicinity to Bristol it makes sense for me to go and build a relationship with the dairies and farms and transfer the knowledge back to the customer”.
This is the ultimate customer service, where traceability and quality reign supreme. “It’s really important to me” Rosie explains, “I can tell them when the cheese was made, that I know the cheesemaker and probably the person that bred the animals”. She is keen to add that they are no way “exclusive” to the West Country. There are a few cheeses from elsewhere, including an Alpine-style cheese from Sussex, a soft-washed rind cheese from Oxfordshire and some Isle of Mull Cheddar on its way for Christmas.
Rosie’s enthusiasm and passion for what she does is so infectious that it’s no wonder that she won best Speciality Retailer at the Great British Cheese Awards 2017. “When talking to a customer I love going into the nitty gritty. In my head they’re going to go home and hopefully retell that experience to someone else”.
It’s clear Rosie takes great pleasure in spreading the word about good cheese and imparting her rich knowledge of the product. “Provenance is very important to the customer, but so are people. They like to know if it’s made by a small farm or dairy and not a large conglomerate and that it’s supporting someone” she explains.
The Bristol Cheesemonger is a classic example of Bristol’s diverse and independent food scene. “Bristol based businesses are wonderfully stubborn in supporting other businesses” says Rosie. “When the opportunity arises they will always go for another Bristol-based business, and preferably independent.”
Not only that but she believes the general public play an important role, being enormously ‘proud and loyal’. She laughs, “without them there is no way I’d be selling West Country cheeses out of a chilled shipping container!”
This support and the existence of small businesses like The Bristol Cheesemonger and others across the city is vital. They can provide a much-needed connection between people, what they are eating and where their food comes from. “I think in the modern world we’ve become really disassociated with what food is” Rosie points out, “what it takes to produce it and the costs that are implicated”.
Rosie and her cheese are the antitheses of this. What she does really is a labour of love. This is not food to be guzzled or thrown away, but food to be savoured, relished and appreciated. It’s thanks to people like Rosie that artisan cheese is still being made and is keeping us connected to the producers and the land from where it came. Long may she continue to do so.
One more thing…
What do you see as the biggest challenge for Bristol’s food scene?
My experience is that you have to be very adaptable to numerous changes, ie. weather, season, the football result! As a business it’s important to be able to facilitate these changes, and constantly anticipate these changes.
Have you got a favourite local food scheme?
There are lots of wonderful veg box schemes in Bristol, ones that are well established and lots of new ones which I take full advantage of. There are also some incredible restaurants opening up – for example Root who we also happen to work with.
Who is your Bristol Food Hero?
I have two, Matt North from Full Court Press who is my old boss and very good friend, and Laura Hart of Hart’s Bakery. They both do fantastic things within their own businesses, they are very well respected and have been really supportive not only of me but also of other businesses with the city. I aspire to run my business in a similar way.
Do you have a food resolution for next year?
Visit more restaurant and food businesses. I’ve spent far too much time eating at home, which I love doing but next year I’ll make sure I start ticking off some big ones on the list.
What’s your favourite place in Bristol?
I love walking along the harbour. It’s so nice that in the centre of Bristol on a sunny morning you can put your legs over the edge and watch people going about their day. And I love being outdoors in Ashton Court or Arnos Vale. I work in a small shipping container so I like going out and getting into big spaces. They aren’t food related but I always take food with me!