Choose Cheese!

Blog · Posted May 24, 2024

Jen gives us all the insights into a day of cheese training and the work that goes into making a cheese counter like ours…

On a sunny Tuesday morning last month, Isobel and I from the deli caught a train from Tweedbank to Edinburgh to attend The Guild of Fine Food (GofFF) retail cheese training course in the grand setting of the Balmoral Hotel. The GofFF supports, celebrates, and encourages independent food and drink retailers and the producers that supply them. We were going to benefit from their passion and very welcome support.

The Balmoral - location of the Cheese course

This practical hands-on one day course is for anyone sourcing or selling cheese and is delivered by industry and retail experts. Met by Nick Rose of the GofFF on arrival, we were introduced to the two charismatic and knowledgeable course presenters: Patrick McGuigan and Emma Young.

Patrick is a food journalist and cheese writer and, as well as contributing to the Financial Times, delicious. magazine and The Food Programme, he is the author of The Philosophy of Cheese. Emma, author of The Cheese Wheel, has experience in cheese retail, wholesale, cheesemaking and buying. As a result, she is super-knowledgeable about the industry.

We were delighted to find ourselves in a room of equally passionate cheesemongers, producers and even a professional fermenter. People had come from as far away as the Black Isle and Cumbria – an Italian Deli in Glasgow must’ve closed for the day as it seemed all their staff were with us! We learned that two attendees were from the Errington Dairy which creates our Lanark Blue and Blackmount cheeses. We were a varied and enthusiastic roomful.

During a full day, we learned about:


Cheese is simply the result of taking milk, adding a culture, then rennet and finally finishing with salt. 

Cheese Course presenters and notetaking

However, the amazingly varied world of cheese is dependent on so many different factors: Is the milk from cows, sheep or goats? Is the milk raw or pasteurised? Where are the animals from and what have they been eating? Is the rennet traditional (animal) or vegetarian (cardoon thistle)? How small are the curds cut? (Large curds create soft cheeses, hazelnut-sized curds create cheddars and rice sized curds form parmesan.) How long is it aged? Where is it aged? Is the cheese soaked in brine or sprinkled with salt? Will propionic bacteria create “eyes” – the holes in hard cheese? Is “Penicillin roqueforte” added to create blue cheese? 

The videos and stories were fascinating: pitchforks are actually used to mix the salt into Pitchfork cheddar; a very particular employee sprinkles the Blackmount goat’s cheese with ash; “cheddaring” is a verb!  


We learned the importance of constantly tasting our cheeses. Different batches have different flavour profiles and over its life in our counter, the tasting notes will change as it continues to age. We don’t need much more encouragement to taste our delicious cheeses(!) but sharing our selection as samples with our customers allows us to open up a conversation – we love talking about our cheeses!

To our surprise, a large number in the room were not blue cheese or goat cheese fans, but learning to describe and champion a cheese is an important part of our job regardless of personal likes and dislikes. For the record, there’s not really a cheese we don’t like here at Mainstreet unless it’s a bit flowery…


Great fun was had as we tasted a variety of cheeses and explored ways of describing them. We agreed that expanding our tasting vocabulary was an important part of our job. For example, cheese can taste like cooked butter or sour milk, stone fruit or dried fruit, raw mushroom or cooked chanterelles, brothy or leathery, metallic or mineral… the list goes on and there is a whole dictionary of taste and descriptives that we can use. Cheese isn’t simply nutty or creamy! We were learning to use our taste buds fully.

We also learned the importance of asking customers the right questions and listening to them so that we supply the cheese that best suits their needs.

Retail Cheese tasting Notes Wheel chart


We realised from the group that we are especially fortunate that our main suppliers are Neal’s Yard Dairy (mainly for British cheeses) and Mons (mainly French and Continental cheeses) – both based in London. Back in 2012, when the deli was opening, Bill worked hard to persuade these top-notch suppliers and affineurs that a little deli in the middle of the Scottish Borders would be worthy of their delicious produce. Today we continue to benefit from their knowledge and skill to stock a wide range of top quality cheese. We have built good relationships with our friends there and they are always on hand to recommend what is best in their cellars, and then ensure that what we order arrives with us in perfect condition.

Neal's Yard and Mons Cheese Rounds


There is a world of cheese cutting etiquette depending on the style or shape of cheese. The rind should be evenly distributed, so customers will be sold a slice, triangle or round. Using the right knife or tool is of utmost importance and we handled grana knives (hard parmesan), offset brie knives, cheese bows (useful for blue, washed rind and lactic cheeses) and serrated knives (perfect for initially cutting through clothbound wheels).

Cheese cutting

The storage of cheese is vitally important. Here at Mainstreet we display our cheese wrapped in see-through cling film but will always wrap it in cheese paper for customers as it keeps better at home. When customers see us scraping a piece of cheese before cutting it we are removing the lipophilic, thin plastic taint left by the cling. 


Patrick and Emma encouraged us to think of the opportunities for matching the cheese we sell with other deli produce. Our shelves are stocked with bountiful boxes of crackers, toasts, and oatcakes as well as chutneys, pastes and honeys. Bill has a fantastic selection of wines, ciders, whiskies and kombuchas that pair naturally with cheese. Again, consideration of the tasting notes plays a big part in this and we sampled cheese and drinks together to find out what worked, or didn’t. It was clear that terroir plays a part in matching Loire goat’s cheese and a Sauvignon Blanc from the same region and then some surprising matches were mooted: aged gouda and whisky!

Our day was informative, interesting and inspiring and we are grateful to Emma, Patrick and Nick for their time, knowledge and passion. We enjoyed meeting other cheesemongers and sharing our experiences and thoughts. Back in the deli, we are working towards making our cheese counter even better as a result of our new knowledge and skills! 

Thank you to Bill for arranging our day at the training course.

Cheese Counter

If you would like any recommendations to create your own perfect cheeseboard, please get in touch with our Deli team who will be more than happy to help. Find all the contact details here.