Above: Our Borough Market shop, redesigned to maintain social distancing.
Cheesemonger Estelle Reynolds, co-manager of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Borough shop, writes a letter of reflection and thanks to the communities and customers we serve.
The week before lockdown was bonkers. Guidance on how we should operate the shop changed daily. Customers switched from buying a modest selection of cheeses, to stocking up on whole and half cheddars. We said goodbye to many dear friends and customers who, bewildered, were going into isolation or leaving town. Friends from neighbouring cafes and restaurants, heartbroken and downcast, stopped by to share their disbelief. And in the background, each of us had our own lives turned upside down. University courses cancelled, schools closed, partners and flat mates working from home.
Once lockdown was officially announced we were classed as an essential business and therefore key workers. The cheese, butter, yoghurts, cream, eggs and bread that we sell are kitchen staples. Whilst our Borough and Bermondsey shops remained open, we very quickly made the difficult decision to close our Covent Garden shop. We needed time to assess how we would be able to sell in such a small space.
Staying open during lockdown has demanded otherwise unimaginable changes to the way we work and the way you shop. Thank you to those of you who live close by and were able to continue to shop with us. Thank you for choosing our produce as the essentials for your home. Thank you for tolerating the constant changes. It truly has been a pleasure to welcome your friendly faces every week and to have a relaxed exchange with customers who ask after our well-being, the health of our company and the prosperity of the cheesemakers. We’ve relished your calming influence, kind words and dedication to supporting British farmers, cheesemakers and cheese.
We’ve been able to continue selling cheese by establishing a safe way to work under lockdown; to protect you and ourselves. We have tweaked our service cycle many times over the last couple of months as we have reflected on its efficacy and taken onboard your feedback. We know there will be many more changes ahead.
Sadly we’ve had to abandon a forty year tradition of sampling out our cheeses. In normal times our shops provide an open and welcoming environment where you are greeted with a taste of cheese at the end of a knife. We just can’t do this right now, it’s a social distancing impossibility. Our selling style has always been to offer you a taste of cheese – to join our conversation and share your opinion on what we’re selling but most of all so that each of you can select cheese you really like and enjoy to take home. We have therefore asked something huge of you, to trust us.
As a team we have a combined cheese tasting experience of decades. It’s a part of the job that we relish; to taste, assess and judge what is at its peak on our slate. We will continue to only sell you cheeses we are enjoying and love right now. We will describe flavour, texture and aroma to help you imagine the condition of the cheeses you are selecting. We’re also great listeners so please tell us what you’re looking for, whether that be a runny, oozy stinky cheese, nutty cheddar, chalky goats or crumbly Lancashire - we can help you make the right decision.
2 Metre distancing
In the Borough shop, we have maintained 2 metres between cheesemongers as advised by the government’s social distancing measures. This means that there are a maximum of two of us serving at any time and customers might have to wait to be served. Thank you for your patience.
For your safety we’ve set up the slate with a convenient table in front to keep some distance between us and you… it’s nothing personal!
In this set up our only pinch point is our card machines. We have to enter values manually and you may need to touch them too. We sterilise them after every use and we’re looking into an alternative system which links them to our till.
In the past, our climate controlled shops have allowed us the flexibility to present our cheeses open and uncovered on our slate. We took pride in building displays featuring exposed rinds and cut pieces all towered up. This is no longer possible and we have committed to keeping all of our cheese wrapped. We have experimented with the best materials to wrap cheeses in, how long for and where to store them overnight to ensure the cheese you buy is in top condition.
Keeping stocked up
Our shopping patterns have changed considerably over the last few months. It can be stressful to be out and about so we don’t want you to have a wasted journey. We’re trying to make sure we are well stocked all the time on essentials like eggs, bread, yoghurts, cream and milk without incurring too much wastage. It’s a tricky time for producers too and sometimes certain sizes or formats of favourite products may be missing or altered. We appreciate your flexibility and patience with this and your willingness to try something new. You can always give us a call to check the availability of your favourite items before making the journey.
In my opinion our shops are at their best when full of customers and cheesemongers all buzzing around. The atmosphere is really market like- simple and honest. It’s fun, friendly and we love the opportunity to chat and share our cheese and knowledge with you. We can’t wait to see you back with us when this is all over.
Thank you again, dear friends, for your continued support.