Interview: Aimée Rogers – Young Cheesemonger of the Year
We caught up with cheesemonger of the year, Aimée Rogers, to chat cheese and what makes it so exciting to buy in-person at independent shops like Buchanans Cheesemonger.
What is a cheesemonger and how did you get into the business?
In the simplest terms, a cheesemonger is someone who sells cheese. Where I work, at Buchanans Cheesemonger, we do a bit more than that, looking after the cheese in our maturing rooms and deciding when it is ready to be enjoyed in the best condition. We act as the link between the producer and the customer, whether that’s a chef or someone in our shop.
Before becoming a cheesemonger I had worked in the world of fine food and I really wanted to find something to specialise in. Cheese piqued my interest so I started exploring, and there has proven to be so much more to it than I thought. When I started working with cheese it became clear that I had barely scratched the surface of such a vibrant industry.
What are your top three cheeses and why?
It’s impossible to pick favourites because cheese changes all the time and I’m always tasting, but if I was pinned down, I’d say I gravitate towards hard sheep’s milk cheeses. Ossau Iraty, made in the Pyrenees in south west France, is one I always come back to.
I also love soft goats’ cheeses, one of my favourites is Sinodun Hill, made by Norton & Yarrow in Oxfordshire. It’s a cheese that’s always delicious, but I particularly enjoy it in the way that we mature it at Buchanans Cheesemonger to have a bit of creamy breakdown under the rind. It was a pleasure to see Sinodun Hill get to the top 16 (from over 4,000 cheeses) at the World Cheese Awards last week!
Then there are territorial cheeses, I love our Stilton from Cropwell Bishop Creamery and often reach for it at the end of a meal to enjoy with a glass of dessert wine.
Since working in cheese I have come to appreciate blue cheese in a way I didn’t before. I always associated it with a bitter, chalky flavour but then realised that’s really not representative of a good Stilton which should be biscuity, creamy and rich. It’s where it pays to seek out a good cheesemonger to buy it from!
What advice would you give to wannabe cheesemongers?
Always be tasting. Start exploring cheese by yourself. In London we’re lucky to have so many cheesemongers around, you can get out and taste so many different varieties of cheese and see if you can notice the differences in the ways they are matured. Being a cheesemonger is hard work, the physical nature of it and the knowledge required are not to be underestimated but if you have an interest in cheese you’ll find it really rewarding, so I’d say just go for it! Lots of cheesemongers take on seasonal workers too so that might be a good way to try it out.
What are your favourite places to buy cheese? Do you ever make journeys to
discover new cheeses?
Obviously I buy most of my cheese from Buchanans Cheesemonger but I do like to go and visit other cheese shops. Borough Market has plenty that specialise in different types of cheese and I find that the people are friendly and generous with their time and knowledge.
On holiday I always seek out specialist cheesemongers too, I like to support their businesses and you know you’ll be getting a good product. Recently we travelled to Ireland to source some new cheeses and visited a few of the cheesemakers we work with.
This is a super important part of what we do: understanding where a product is made, how it’s made, who makes it – of course we can get this detail over the phone but nothing replaces standing in the cheese room, smelling milk – it brings it to life and we get a better understanding of what the cheesemakers are trying to achieve.
Do you believe there will ever be a decent vegan cheese? Is there one we should look out for?
Vegan cheese is just a different product. More than 99% of cheese is milk, so if you take that out then I’m not sure it can be considered in the same category.
There are some tasty vegan products out there and they have their place, but it almost does them a disservice to call them cheese and have them compared to something so different.