Rachel and Jacob met while both working at Neal’s Yard Dairy. Having seen their former colleagues open shops like Jones of Brockley, London Cheesemongers, Jericho Cheese and Chorlton Cheesemongers, they moved to Rachel’s hometown of Exeter, where they opened Magdalen Cheese & Provisions. All while Rachel was pregnant with their second child.
They want to become an integral part of the community they’ve moved into. “Bringing traditional cheese to the modern table” is their stated aim – to introduce their customers to more ways of eating cheese.
When did you first discover your love for cheese?
Rachel: I was slinging Comté, out in Borough Market, that’s where my cheese journey began. When I started working there, I didn’t like cheese. Then I tasted some of that delicious, golden Comté – the gateway drug of all cheeses. That was the first time I tried cheese that wasn’t block supermarket cheddar, which was the only cheese in our house growing up apart from that Parmesan dust that you get in a cardboard tube. Not difficult to understand why I didn’t like cheese before that! Trying Colston Bassett was when I realised what cheese can taste like, what real cheese is.
Jacob: I was at university in my final year, and I wanted to get a job over Christmas. I’d met a few people who worked at the Neal’s Yard Dairy, who told me “You should definitely apply to be a Christmas temp, it’ll be really fun, you’ll meet lots of great people, and you’ll get to eat lots of great food”. When you did the induction, afterwards they put out tables in a long line and you ate lunch together, and there was lots of cheese. We didn’t have cheese like Neal’s Yard Dairy sells growing up, and it was pretty eye-opening. I then got a job at the Borough shop and ended up in Cheeseshift maturing cheeses.
How are you setting into the local community?
Rachel: Our neighbours on Magdalen Road are small, independent food businesses that have been bringing people to the street for years. It has a real market village feel. There's a deli, a greengrocer, a farm shop plus several really great little coffee shops and restaurants. A cheesemonger is hopefully a welcome addition! We're keen to be an active part of this vibrant little community. The thing we get asked about the most is whether we host tastings or cheese evenings. So that’s the next step for us...plans are afoot for cheese and wine evenings once or twice a month and we are currently crowd funding to get the project off the ground.
You can support Magdalen's crowdfunder here. Who, or what, inspires you?
Rachel: Our children are our drive to make a success of this. We really like the idea of opening a shop and them eventually coming in after school, eating a bit of cheese while they wait, and then we all go home together.
Jacob: The late cheesemaker Mary Holbrook was a huge inspiration. She had a strong work ethic. Her vision was very clear to her, and I thought that was incredibly inspiring, to have a business where you could commit to that.
Rachel: I think that’s quite true of a lot of the people that we’ve worked with at Neal's Yard Dairy as well, people that are uncompromising in their values and what they’re setting out to achieve.
What cheese is exciting you most right now?
Jacob: The Berkswell we’ve got in the shop right now is really, really good.
Rachel: Stonebeck Wensleydale. It’s exciting because it’s an amazing cheese and because of what they’re doing [Stonebeck is a seasonally made cheese from the milk of a small herd of low-yielding Northern Dairy Shorthorn cattle – a traditional dual-purpose breed that has come close to extinction and remains on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s priority watchlist. The herd graze on land in an area of North Yorkshire classified as severely disadvantaged, using pre-industrial techniques and equipment], but it’s also exciting because by nature it’s a humble thing, that we have to charge a lot of money for – but we sell loads of it. It’s one of the things that reinforces that what we’re doing is the right thing, when we give a taste of that to somebody and they’re happy to pay what we’re charging.
What cheese pairing do readers absolutely have to try?
Rachel: I became obsessed with toasted cheese and peanut butter when I was pregnant and haven't looked back. A buttered crumpet, a generous spread of Chipotle Peanut Butter or Rosebud Peanut & Chilli Pickle, then a heaped pile of grated Hafod or Montgomery's Cheddar.