In June 2009 Justin Tunstall opened the doors of the Town Mill Cheesemonger. Located in the old wagon store at the picturesque Town Mill complex in the heart of Lyme Regis, the shop is a pocket sized piece of cheese selling perfection, as acknowledged last year by the judges of the Farm Shop & Deli Awards when they crowned it UK Cheesemonger of the Year. I visited the shop and met with Justin to discuss its journey and his passion for cheese.
Seven years ago, following a London career in media, music and publishing and with his mother ill and retirement on the horizon, Justin was ready to return to his Lyme Regis roots. Though he originally planned on opening a chocolate cum coffee shop, when someone suggested a cheese shop he saw an opportunity, despite having but a rudimentary knowledge of cheese himself. With Juliet Harbutt, founder of the British Cheese Awards and one of the world’s leading authorities on cheese as his mentor, just eight months after having had the initial idea and despite numerous setbacks, both personal and commercial, the shop had won Best New Cheese Retailer at The British Cheese Awards.
The road to success has not always been a smooth one “The first day was quite interesting because I made some classic errors; we received a whole load of cheese from a wholesaler and it wasn’t marked up and I couldn’t identify it so I put it all on the bottom shelf with markers on saying “already sold”, then took snapshots of it and sent them to the wholesaler and got them to identify it for me. The other big mistake we made was we thought we’d avoid having coppers in the shop so I priced everything in multiples of 5p and 10p, I didn’t calculate that when you do weights, it goes completely skewiff, so half an hour after we opened my wife was running up to Nat West to get bags of 2ps and 1ps and calling me an idiot!”
Outside of the shop Justin has become heavily involved in cheese judging; at the World Cheese Awards for the past five years, at the British Cheese Awards four times, for Taste of the West and at the Global Cheese Awards. He is also a member of the Guild of Cheese Graders. This gives him an unrivalled level of expertise with which to continually evolve and improve the shop’s offering. “There are an awful lot of awards around; virtually every cheese we stock has won an award at some point, whether it’s a bronze somewhere or a supreme champion. It doesn’t necessarily mean that having won supreme champion that that cheese will be consistently good; sometimes you can be very disappointed the next year on tasting the same cheese and finding that that particular example has not been well cared for and sometimes people pick a cheese off the shelf without tasting it and send it in for an award which is really frustrating. It’s not pleasant tasting rough cheese.”
With seasonality being the current buzzword, how does this apply to cheese? Justin explains that although there may be seasonal variations in the cheese, there must be consistency of characteristics: “What we do want for our punters is that if they tasted (a cheese) in March, it’s going to taste pretty much the same in June apart from seasonality derived from the fodder on which the animals have grazed. It’s beautiful that Quickes cheddar varies throughout the year but it’s still got defining characteristics that run through it. That’s why so many of the small producers, smallholders who sell at markets are not really for us, even though each cheese may be delightful, unless they are consistent, they won’t fulfil our shopper’s expectations. I don’t mind rejecting a cheese if it’s not up to quality”
In the shop there are just five shelves of cheese in a single refrigerated display unit; these are comprised three shelves of Westcountry cheese, including a shelf each for Dorset and Devon, a shelf of British cheeses and finally one of European cheeses. Over 75% of sales are of Westcountry produce. Customers are asked not to handle the cheeses – instead Justin, or one of his staff, all of whom have completed a cheese course with the Guild of Fine Foods, will carefully guide you in your selection, asking you your culinary likes and dislikes and recommending accordingly. Justin makes it clear that it is important to him that he is able to find something to match his customer’s requirements, no matter what they might be “The saddest thing is when people don’t have the confidence to say what they like; that they feel they have to like something else that they don’t like. I respect people that go into an art gallery and say ‘I know what I like and it isn’t this.’ That’s all we really want from people.”
Alongside this carefully curated selection are a range of the finest accompaniments with which to enjoy your cheese – biscuits of course, chutneys and relishes from From Dorset with Love and port. To complete your picnic or seasonal gathering; olives, oils and vinegars, Luscombe soft drinks, Liberty Fields Apple Aperitif, Dorset Apple Schnapps, cider from the West Milton Cider Co. and wines from Langham winery and Furleigh Estate. Should your tableware be found wanting there are cheese knives, cheese boards and slates. And finally, if like me, you are as easily led astray as a mouse in a cheese shop, you won’t be able to resist a cone of Mendip Moments ice cream on the way out!
Town Mill Cheesemonger prides itself on catering for each and every customer on a case by case basis. With Christmas coming, guests to impress and a fridge to stock up however, I was interested to hear what Justin would choose for his perfect cheeseboard:
“I have a couple of blues that I’m particularly fond of, there’s Royal Bassett Blue, there’s Beenleigh Blue, the sheep’s blue from Devon and I love Barkham Blue from Berkshire.
For a cheddar, I’m very fond of Montgomery, it’s unpasteurised, has a long sustain. One of the things we find in the shop is that if people want to taste stuff in a hurry, they won’t get Montgomery because they put it in their mouths and they’ll have made a decision in 5 seconds, whereas if they waited 20 seconds or half a minute they’d have a completely different impression of the cheese, but people are so used to making a snap decision about taste. So Montgomery’s pretty fantastic.
For a hard hitting sharp cheddar, I like Quickes Extra Mature and I also like the modern cheddars (like Ford Farm’s Cave Aged) that have got helvetica starter culture in them, so that adds a kind of gruyere type sweetness and nuttiness to the cheese as well as the sharpness that one traditionally associates with cheddar. I don’t like block cheddars; I like the taste of the rind coming through, so that musty cave nature that comes from being wrapped in cheese cloth and larded, which of course means that all those traditionally made cheddars are not vegetarian even if they’re made with vegetarian rennet.
The classic third in the cheeseboard pairing, after we’ve got the blue and a hard cheese, would be a soft white. Probably my favourite would be the Cremet, which is made by Sharpham Estate with goat’s milk and double jersey cream, it’s ridiculously luscious but with a nice bit of sharpness from the goat. I also like Brie de Meaux. British cheese is great but we don’t have the terroir that produces the slight pungency to a Brie de Meaux which is quite remarkable. I do like Dorset White which is a little roll of white rinded cow’s milk cheese…it’s a very popular cheese with us.
I love Quickes Goat Cheddar, I think that’s really special. Other goat’s I like: Nannette, a beautiful soft camembert and some of the continental ones like Can Pujol but Quickes Goat Cheddar steals the day for me.
And then finally either a washed rind or a smoked cheese. Dorset Red is…made like a Red Leicester and then smoked over oak but it really is a good quality smoked cheese and we sell lots of it. I do like smoked soft cheeses if I can get them. But then washed rind cheeses are the thing I’ve got into more and more since I’ve had the shop. My favourite is probably Francis, made by James McCall at Child Okeford, Nr Blandford Forum. He takes a young cheese and washes it in brine which attracts an orange stickiness called Brevibacterium linens which lends a meatiness and a fruitiness to the cheese that’s a real delight.”
Whether you’re a cheese aficionado or just someone who appreciates a tasty slice of cheese on toast, the Town Mill Cheesemonger cannot fail to whet your appetite.
Town Mill Cheesemonger
t: 01297 44 26 26
|Invited by PR company?||No|
|Guest of chef/restaurant/owner?||No|
|Restaurant/outlet knew ahead we were bloggers?||Yes|
|Was the meal complimentary from the restaurant?||No|
|Any complimentary items provided by restaurant/outlet?||No|