Hooked on Cheese: Cheese Shopping with Cheesemakers, Part I: Billy Kevan
In this two-part series, Raymond delves into what cheesemakers value most in a cheese shop. This week, he interviews master fromager Billy Kevan of Colston Bassett Dairy, the multi-award-winning producer of the universally renowned English classic, Colston Bassett Stilton, amongst other cheeses.
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Raymond Hook: What are some of your favorite places to shop for cheese and why?
Billy Kevan: Often I find myself in high-class cheese shops as a supplier visiting a customer, and I suspect this gives me a different perspective on cheese shopping than most. That said, I love having a look around anycheese shops I come across. I’ve visited dozens of cheese shops/stands over the years and I always ask to taste new cheeses just to try them. Tasting is a must if you are buying.
RH: What are a couple of attributes you think make a cheese shop great?
BK: When I walk into a cheese shop, it’s always reassuring to find a monger or owner who is fully invested in the cheese they are selling. I always ask pertinent questions about cheese, and the staff’s answers tell me if their cheeses have been cared for and, as a result, be in the best possible condition.
RH: Do you always introduce yourself when in a cheese shop?
BK: If a shop is selling Colston Bassett Stilton, I sometimes introduce myself; this will depend on how busy the shop is, how the cheese is being kept and whether or not any input is required.
RH: What do you do when you see your cheese in a shop and it’s not being displayed well?
BK: If our cheese is being presented badly for whatever reason, I would take as many detailed notes as possible and then take action later. In extreme cases, I’d request the cheese be removed.
RH: What are some of your personal favorite cheeses?
BK: Having come from a cheesemaking family, when it comes to eating cheese, I enjoy British territorial cheeses but I don’t restrict myself; I am also a fan of Comté (Marcel Petite, France), Coolea (Southern Ireland), Rogue River Blue (Oregon, USA) and many other quality international cheeses.
RH: Would you ever own a retail cheese shop, or have you in the past?
BK: I have never considered owning a cheese shop and most likely will leave this to the experts!
RH: What is your most important suggestion for a new cheese customer on their first visit to a cheese shop?
BK: If I was to give advice to a consumer on how to buy cheese, it would be relatively simple: taste before you buy (cheese can be variable); buy small amounts but buy often if you want the cheese to remain perfect, since cheese will dry out when refrigerated; and talk to the cheesemonger – they should be able to give the best advice.