Wanna hear something cheesy? We promise it’s really Grate…
This week we caught up with Moz Murphy – who opened Newcastle’s newest cheese shop, Grate, just after the first lockdown – to talk about all things brie-ght and (Barden) Blue-tiful
By Becky Hardy
I’ve worked in cheese and food retail for most of my working life. About three years ago, I decided I wanted to be my own boss. My personal life had changed dramatically (divorce and a death in the family), and I found that I didn’t want to waste time doing something I didn’t love.
I realised there wasn’t anywhere in Newcastle dedicated purely to the love of cheese. You’ve got places like Block & Bottle who are championing great meat, well-treated animals and traceability, and nobody was doing that for cheese. I was surprised, more than anything! So I quit my job and started Grate in early 2020.
Just in time for the first lockdown, then?!
Yep! I had my business loan confirmed and my premises in mind, and then the first lockdown was imposed. I’ll freely admit, I ran around like a headless chicken for about six weeks panicking! But then it became a case of: ‘you said you were going to do it, so you’re bloody well doing it!’
What made you see lockdown as a business opportunity, rather than a risk?
I realised that, with food being an essential item, I could still trade once I could physically open, so then it was just a waiting game to get my premises. I got the keys to the shop in the middle of August and opened on 3rd October.
I was very lucky that the local community were behind me 100% from the start. I think they were so ready for the kind of thing I do – people really care about what they eat now, how it’s made and animal welfare, and I’m lucky to be able to provide all that information through the great suppliers I work with.
What do you look for in your suppliers?
I want to champion as much local and British cheese as possible. I work closely with the suppliers I’ve chosen, like Neal’s Yard Dairy and The Fine Cheese Co., to make sure that the cheeses I sell are at their very best. Wherever possible with the locally-made cheeses, I talk directly to the makers. My customers like that I know the people who make my cheeses, I think it adds to that level of trust. And I don’t sell anything I wouldn’t eat myself – I can promise that I’ve tasted everything I sell (on a regular basis!) to make sure it’s what I want.
And you stock vegan ‘cheese’ too?
Yes, I stock a range from Tyne Chease, based in Stocksfield, but also two companies in London who make some of the best vegan cheeses on the market (according to my vegan friends!). From the day I opened, I had enquiries as to whether I would stock vegan cheese, so it just made sense. If there’s a market for it and you can find the right product, sell it!
You’ve teamed up with Fresh Artisan Bakery to serve fresh bread too. How important are partnerships like that?
So important. I work with FAB in order to support and showcase another local, independent business, as well as another female-led business. I’ve also been in talks to supply some other local businesses with a range of cheeses, including cheese boards for hospitality, so watch this space!
Supporting local charities is also important to you – tell us more about the work you do there.
I make donations of cheese to FoodCycle on a semi-regular basis, who then use it to cook meals for hungry people all across the city. At Christmas, customers ordering Grate hampers were also able to make a donation directly to FoodCycle via our website, and we raised almost £200, so I’ll definitely continue doing that.
I also work with a local baker, David Hardman, who started baking at the start of the first lockdown to raise money for Maggie’s. I sell his bread in my shop every day except Saturdays; I make no profit and he’s raised over £1,500 for them so far, which is fantastic!
What’s Grate’s most popular cheese?
It really varies depending on the customers that come in, but all the classics are popular – the Stilton I mentioned, traditional farmhouse cheddars like Westcombe and Montgomery’s (both from Somerset), and the Isle of Mull cheddar also has a bit of a cult following. I always sell lots of Baron Bigod, which is an English Brie style from Suffolk and made with raw milk. It’s how you want every Brie to taste!
What’s your personal favourite?
Montgomery’s cheddar. It’s cloth-wrapped and aged, and has notes of parmesan through it – it’s wonderful! But to be honest, my tastes also change with the seasons. I’m very excited about the influx of British sheep’s milk cheeses that I’ll be stocking very soon, once lambing season starts.
Which cheese in Grate’s selection is less known-about but you think everyone should try?
The hidden gems are sometimes the least obvious ones, the ones that aren’t showy: a really delicious, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from County Cork called Durrus; a classic like Mrs Kirkhams Lancashire (made now by Mrs Kirkhams son Graham), using milk from their own Holstein cattle; or something very simple but done extremely well, like Barney Brie from Teesdale Cheesemakers, or Weardale Original – a Dales-style cheese made by Simon Raine of Weardale Cheese, near Crook in County Durham.
What does the (post-COVID) future of Grate look like?
If this past year has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected! Opening the business in lockdown was potentially dangerous – it could’ve all gone wrong – but thankfully Grate has been busy and successful from day one.
But in early December, I was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery and I could’ve lost the business again if it hadn’t been for my amazing friends who stepped in and worked so hard to open the shop on whatever days they could. Together with our customers, they really saved me.
Just 10 days after I reopened Grate in January (with a new, all-female team behind me), the chimney stack on my building collapsed! The street was closed by the police until it was made safe. Then it snowed, stopping the builders from getting access… So as much as I have plans for what I’d like to achieve in 2021, I’m getting pretty practised at just rolling with the punches!
Less of the ‘plans’ then! What about some of your hopes for the future?
The focus of Grate is: ‘cheese and things that go with cheese’. So I won’t be diversifying beyond that too much, but I’d like to look at charcuterie and possibly a small selection of curated wines, specifically to match with particular cheeses. Part of my original pre-COVID plan was to have cheese tasting events in the shop, which obviously isn’t possible at the moment but is still something I’d like to pursue once it’s allowed again.
Did someone say ‘cheese tasting’?! Sign us up!
Or pop in to visit Moz at 252 Jesmond Road, Newcastle NE2 1L