I think The Cheese Stall was the thing that convinced us to move to Winchester. It’s a bold statement, but when we stayed with friends on a ‘scouting’ mission we stopped by and bought some fantastic cheese to take home with us. On re-visiting them during a second trip (OK, so we were pretty serious about the move by this point anyway), the lady behind the stall remembered us as if we were long-standing regulars, and from that point on I was sold.
This lady, it turns out, is Jayne, and she runs The Cheese Stall with her husband Graham and their son Edward. And a nicer, more knowledgeable bunch of cheese mongers you are unlikely to meet. I don’t know what I expected a cheese vendor to be like, but it wasn’t an energetic young man with tattoos and his charismatic parents. Perhaps I was being a little narrow minded.
Their philosophy is simple: to provide the best quality in a traditional manner, only stocking produce that is true to its place of origin; protecting traditions, quality and producers (e.g Cheddar from Somerset and Brie from Meaux in France etc). They buy directly from small cheese producers where they can, sourcing from all over the UK and Europe, allowing them to procure superior products and maintain competitive prices. It also means they really get to know the products they are selling, which is a huge benefit as a customer. In fact, I urge you to ask for their recommendations unless you really want something specific, as that’s when Ed will pull out a hidden gem from the back of the display and tell you all about how this particular cheese is only made during the summer months, when cows graze on a certain type of grass, resulting is a unique flavour that is just reaching its peak at this time of year. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t claim to know enough about cheese to be able to make those kinds of informed decisions alone.
Another factor that makes them special is that they only buy whole cheeses, so you can buy whatever size you want and it will always be ready to enjoy. For me that’s a bit like going to a bar and seeing that they have 100 fantastic wines available by the glass.
Despite its popularity, and although food has been a part of their family business for many generations (get this: Edward’s great grandfather opened up a cheese stall in Lancashire when he was 70, which is still being run by one of his sons today), The Cheese Stall, as it currently stands, is a relatively new thing. Inspired by many-a-summer camping holiday in France, and fresh out of University, Ed decided to open up a continental delicatessen, using his French-residing parents to ferry him authentic cheeses back and forth. This led to a successful business in wholesale, and in 2010 they exhibited at their first market. The rest is history, and between the three of them they now have a stand at markets in Odiham, Winchester, Romsey and Alton every week – as well as popping up at special events (I met them again at a wine and cheese evening in Wine Utopia back in the autumn), and keeping busy with a line of ‘wedding cheese towers’ and an expanding range of meats and condiments (many of which are home made with seasonal fruit).
With such a range of locations across Hampshire there is no excuse not to pay them a visit (unless you dislike cheese, of course, but then I reckon you may have deeper issues). I will leave you with a parting quote from Ed:
“I genuinely have an obsession with food and drink, and the whole emotion and celebration that sharing these two things around a table creates. Selling really good food allows you to be a little part of others’ enjoyment.”
I can only speak for myself but the fine produce from The Cheese Stall has certainly given us a lot of enjoyment since we moved here, and will hopefully be part of an even bigger celebration when we serve their hams and cheeses at our wedding in October.
At a glance:
- European cheeses bought directly from producers
- Selection of hams and homemade condiments
- Follow them on Facebook for updates about new cheeses: facebook.com/thecheesestall
- At the following Hampshire markets each week:
Winchester (High Street): Wednesday, Friday, Saturday
Odiham (High Street): Friday
Romsey (The Cornmarket): Saturday