I’ve been waiting for a while, but the paperwork is finally through, and I’ve got a date to start coming to Wincanton. Susie and I will be there every Thursday, between 10am and 3pm, outside the memorial hall (at the top of the high street – just about the only level ground in town!) Wincanton already has a fabulous bakery, butchers and greengrocers, as well as some superb boutiques and cafes. It’s a small town, but it’s been undergoing something of a rebirth over the last couple of years, much as Shaftesbury did over the early years of the millenium.
This Friday will mark a year since a
transporter arrived on my doorstep, quite early in the morning.
Unlike today, the weather was perfectly Autumnal – crisp and clear,
cool enough that we could see our breath, sunny enough that the
vehicle being transported shone, as blue as a summer sky.
The Truckle Truck project had, until
then, felt largely unreal. Everything existed on paper, insubstantial
and almost as if the project wasn’t really happening at all. The idea
behind it grew out of a very simple desire to make a living selling
cheese, and how to make that work against a climate that was
increasingly tough on traders and shopkeepers. It was a practical
solution, certainly – trading from a van is far less costly than a
bricks-and-mortar shop, as well as offering a broader reach for
customers. But there was an element of nostalgia in it too. My mother
grew up in a small, rather isolated village, and often told us
stories about the peripatetic traders who came to the village; the
cornucopia of the grocers van and the eagerly-awaited baker
uncovering his trays of bread and buns.
The reality, of course, bears little
resemblance to that hazy dream where the weather is always kind and
traffic is always accommodating. From heat waves to downpours,
howling gales to deep freezes, coping with the extremes of our
climate has been a challenge, whether it’s keeping the cheese cool
and the stock dry or just making it through the day without frostbite
or taking flight. I’ve had to get used to leading a convoy of
increasingly irate drivers too, and spotting lay-bys big enough to
pull over in is slowly becoming second-nature.
Twelve months ago, Suzie arrived on my
doorstep. The exciting, slightly terrifying moment when The Truckle
Truck went from a dream to a tangible reality. The deadline of the
first event – booked months earlier, when I had still planned to be
on the road for the latter half of the summer – was looming, and
thus began a frantic rush to get the last pieces of the project
The bespoke chilled counter was
measured up, made and installed in record time, the decals
calculated, tested and applied at breakneck speed and the first
We made it, just.
Setting off for Peterborough, just six
weeks later, I had no idea how my fledgling business would work. It’s
been a steep learning curve, and the challenges that we’ve faced have
come from some very unexpected quarters. But, thinking back over the
last year, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It feels like a lot longer than a month since I last posted here. It’s certainly been busy, with plenty of events, lining up and booking new festivals and planning a few exciting changes for next year. I’ve also taken the plunge (again) and jumped into something I hadn’t really planned on doing just yet. Selling cheese online is complicated and fraught with the possibilities for horrible, gooey disasters, but the online Cheeseshop is now live.
Setting up an online shop is, as much as anything, an exercise in patience. From the unexpectedly tedious job of entering every product (one by one by one…) to waiting on samples to test packaging, to waiting for the lucky recipients of the tests to feedback (much thanks to Charlie T and my brother for the onerous task of recieving a box of cheese!), it seemed as if the shop and systems would never be ready. Now that they are, I find it’s actually a little bit scary – as if my baby business has suddenly grown up and turned all serious.
Life, of course, has carried on while all of this has been occuring. What was supposed to be a routine check-up on Susie’s engine discovered a ticking time bomb in the form of a severely blocked and ‘gunky’ cylinder head. More than a few hours in the hands of my lovely mechanics, cleaning, soaking and flushing, and Susie’s engine runs so well she’s hardly recognisable. So much so that when I pulled up outside Brewed Boy at the beginning of the month, they didn’t even realise it was me! More silver linings there, I suppose.
Now I’m off to stock up on more cheese for the counter and the online shop…
It’s been a stormy couple of months, in more ways than one. We’ve had heatwaves interspersed with foggy, murky days that feel more like October than July, awe-inspiring storms of nature, and slightly less awesome storms of the politcal variety.
There’s still a huge amount of uncertainty as to the impact that the dreaded ‘B’ word will have on businesses, especially when it comes to importing and exporting goods, and the possibility of a sharp increase in tarrifs. The prospect of the resulting price hikes in some of our favourite cheeses is distinctly unpalatable, but at the same time, there is also an opportunity for some of our British cheesemakers to step in and fill the void.
Typically, top-quality British cheese does tent to be a little more pricey than it’s imported rivals, but with the cost of European cheeses already on the rise, that gap is narrowing. We already have local(ish) answers to classic European cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, Pecorino, Gouda and many more, and there are rumours spreading about a very local version of Shaftesbury’s most popular cheese…
I have to say that I do still believe we’re better off as part of Europe, but any sotrm has a silver lining and I’ll look forward to seeing how our wonderful British cheesemakers make the most of it. In the meantime, Susie and I will carry on in the firm belief that cheese makes everything better.
The Truckle Truck Cheese Club is a monthly event, where we will be offering a selection of cheeses, carefully curated to give you the perfect cheeseboard for the weekend. As well as cheese, you’ll get biscuits and an accompaniment to go with them, along with tasting notes for you to peruse as you tuck in. There’s no monthly subscription, simply order from the online shop and then either collect from us in Shaftesbury, or have your cheese delivered straight to your door.
Cashel Blue (Cows, Pasturised, Vegetarian, Tipperary, Ireland) This soft and luscious blue has a fantastically punchy flavour, with a well-rounded creaminess balancing the hint of spiciness from the mottled veining. A striking cheese on the board, the blue develops into craggy ‘holes’ inside the paste, allowing their flavour to mingle throughout the cheese. Brie de Meaux (Cows, Unpasturised, Not Vegetarian, Rouzaire, Tournan-en-Brie, Paris) Possibly the most famous soft cheese, and said to be one of the oldest recipes still in use (the oldest recipe found so far dates back to the 9th century). A good brie should be gently oozing from the white, bloomy rind. The paste is rich and buttery, with a little bit of mushroomy earthiness from the thin rind. Spenwood(Ewes, Unpasturied, Not Vegetarian, Risely, Berkshire) At nine months old, this cheese has developed some wonderfully complex flavours. Nuttiness and fruitiness come through, with a lingering savoury tanginess that makes this cheese a delight. Goats Gouda(Goats, Pasturised, Vegetarian, Tadley, Hampshire ) This goat’s gouda is simply stunning. Packed with layer upon layer of sweet, savoury, grassy and biscuity flavours, it’s too good to say no to! Cornish Kern (Cows, Pasturised, Vegetarian, Truro, Cornwall) With the World Cheese Awards coming up in a couple of weeks, this previous winner is hitting it’s peak season. Rich and buttery flavours, reminiscent of a classic cheddar, give a backnote to the powerfully sweet gouda-style taste that made it such a hit with the judges in 2017. Walnut Oaties Extraordinary Pickle
The Baby Board – £15. Perfect for two after dinner! Three cheeses (100g each) The Small (but mighty) Board – £20. For serious turophiles who like their cheese little and often. (Five cheeses, 100g each) The Family Board – £22.50. Enough cheese for everyone to tuck into over the weekend. (Three cheeses, 200g each) The Seriously Cheesey Board – £32.50. For dedicated cheese-eaters, or for a special occasion! (Five cheeses, 200g each)