A chat to the cheesiest chap in Chorlton, Chris Hallam
Whether it be soft, sticky, creamy, buttery, firm or redolent of a farmyard – we are huge turophiles here at Confidentials. Yes, that means lovers of cheese, crazy for casein, more than tolerant of lactose.
So when we heard from the more than a few people that Chorlton Cheesemongers was the place to go for our next cheesy hit (including the nod from Frosty butcher), we decided to have a word with Chris Hallam, the man behind the wheels of cheese.
There is real determination to produce the best cheese that you can get
What is perhaps surprising is that Chorlton didn’t have a cheesemongers before. With its stash of great food shops - butchers, baker, fishmongers among them - it was ripe (if you’ll forgive the pun) for a shop dedicated to dairy. And dedicated it certainly is.
Chris and his lovely staff have been hard at work designing the cheese element of the upcoming Confidentials supper club. The main menu is by Robert Owen Brown, the chef renowned for cooking with game and this has informed the cheeses that Chris has chosen.
On starting a business during the pandemic
“People are still discovering us,” Chris told us. “Which is great. We've decided that for our second birthday this year, we're going to do an official launch party to thank everyone.”
Chorlton Cheesemongers got its start just two months into the pandemic, taking over the unit that used to be home to Barbecue Coffee. With its fresh green awning and temptingly stocked shelves, it fast became a favourite spot for Chorltonians.
“When we originally launched, the community was brilliant. We'd been planning it for a good two years before we opened. So by the time we got to April , we didn't really have a choice but to carry on.
“We were concerned of course because then those early days people didn't really know what they could and couldn't do. Obviously, people came into the shop who could come in, but we also worked with Chorlton Bike Deliveries, who set up at the same time as us. That was really important to us.”
On caring for cheese
Chris’ standards when it comes to cheese and caring for it are high. “We're quite specific about what we do and what we want to do with cheese, but we are not food snobs at all. We stock mainly British and Irish cheeses and they all come from small farms or from small dairies which are adjacent to a farm.
“You can't get good cheese unless you have good milk. That is the absolute starting point, so all the producers that we work with have a direct connection with the farm which produces the milk and with a good knowledge of the land where that milk is produced. All our producers are really focused on making sure that the pasture’s good, the cows are happy, and there is real determination to produce the best cheese that you can get.”
Once the cheese arrives at the shop, the five-star service continues. In fact, there may well be supermodels that receive less pampering than Chris' cheese.
“That care extends to how we look after it here, so the process doesn't stop. Once the cheese has arrived we don't just wrap it up in plastic and bung it out. All our cheesemongers are trained in how we can care for the cheese while it's with us so it's always at its best, or in some cases, we can make it better still.
“As soon as you start keeping cheese at certain temperatures it starts to lose its flavour. So we're very much about keeping a good temperature to either keep developing or if we think it's gone far enough, we stop development by putting it in the cold room.
“We put them in there to stop them over-curing. We were always looking after them. We're always making sure that they are looking at their best. We always cut cheese fresh as and when people want and we're always training our staff. We send them out to farms for a day to understand the cheese-making process. We try and have as much personal contact with all these makers as possible to have a direct connection to where this food comes from.”
On matching cheese in a menu
The focus on British and Irish cheeses, small producers and the care and attention to sourcing meant that Chorlton Cheesemongers was a natural fit with Robert Owen Brown’s local and seasonal ethos when it came to choosing cheese for the supper club.
“I've gone with three big-ish flavour cheeses to go along with that natural, earthy flavour that you get from game,” says Chris.
“I went with a Colston Bassett Stilton which is amazing. It's a blue from Colston Bassett itself. They allow the paste to mature longer before they allow the blue to grow so it’s a much creamier, smoother, even sweeter Stilton.
“The next cheese is called Bonnington Linn, a hard goats' cheese from Lanarkshire made by the Errington Dairy, who are amazing goat and sheep cheesemakers. The cheese itself is almost Cheddarish going towards Parmesan and it's very hard goats’ cheese; sweet, not with that big chemically goat taste you sometimes get but a really bright, clean and solid flavour.
“The last one is called Gubbeen, an Irish washed-rind cheese. This is one of our best sellers and at the moment is quite young. It’s made by Giana Ferguson of West Cork, it’s in that Stinking Bishop category and those kinds of very sticky, very aromatic flavours, the kinds of cheeses which really divide people. Some people think it’s too much, shall we say, feet. This is in that category but a much gentler version so you don’t have that foot smell. In fact, its one of our most popular cheeses. It’s a beautiful cheese, soft and creamy on the inside, but the outside has that slightly game taste so will be a good choice for this event.
“We’ve got some pickled pear to go with them which are really lovely. They're sweet with that hint of vinegar and just a little slice of them with a bit of Colston Bassett just makes both of them really zing. They are from a local producer called Fruits of the Forage, based in Macclesfield."
On what’s coming up
The supper club isn’t the only chance to venture out of the shop. To show off his cheeses in their best light, Chris has some more events up his sleeve - including that birthday launch party.
“We’ve got Graham Kirkham from Mrs Kirkham’s coming in to do a talk on how to make a traditional cheese. We are doing something again with Seven Brothers [the two companies have previously joined forces to create a beer and cheese tasting menu]. We are doing an event in May in a restaurant in Monton called Edison which has a really good chef. Then we will be doing the Bolton food festival and we are even looking at doing a cheese and sake pairing event later in the year.
“We really focus on quality, that is kind of our legacy. I think sometimes when you get foodie places they can become a bit snobby and we really tried hard to not be that. I have worked in places where it can be perceived as being a bit high brow. We'd rather someone came and bought a small amount of cheese which is really lovely and because they really like it. We’d rather people enjoy a bit of really good food than think ‘oh it's not for me’. Just come and enjoy some really fantastic cheese.”
Well you don't need to tell us turophiles twice.
Chorlton Cheesemongers, 500 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton M21 9AP
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