Q: what does The Cheese Shed do?
A: We're an online mail order cheese shop.
Q: do you have an actual 'physical' shop I can visit?
A: No, I'm afraid we don't. Bovey Tracey - where we're are based - has an excellent delicatessen with a very good cheese counter and we're not about to tread on their toes.
Q: what is 'artisan cheese'?
A: Broadly speaking, what we mean by this is cheese made on a small scale by craftsmen - 'hand-made', if you like - where the detailed attention of a skilled maker is applied to every stage of the making process. It's what we used to call 'farmhouse' cheese, a term which (like 'hand-made') has been subject to a lot of abuse at the hands of the marketing profession. As I understand it, 'artisan cheese' was first coined in the US, but it's caught on over here too, as a way of differentiating our type of cheese from that made in 'creameries' (i.e cheese factories).
Q: so - everything you sell is artisan cheese?
A: Most of it is, but there are a few exceptions, like the soft cheeses from Cornish Country Larder (Cornish Brie, Gevrik, St Endellion, Cornish Camembert) and Lubborn (Capricorn). These are creamery products, as is the cheddar from Godminster. Everything else can safely be called 'artisan', and many of the dairies are very small operations indeed - just two or three people involved.
Q: my wedding isn't for a few months - when should I place my order?
A: As soon as you like. During the checkout process we'll ask you for a delivery day. For Saturday weddings I always suggest Thursday (our couriers are very reliable but I just feel it's good to play safe). So there's no need to wait - order as early as you like and tick off 'cheese' on your list.
Q: what happens then?
A: Once ordered and paid for online, wedding orders go into our weddings book. James will get all the cheese together a week or so in advance, and I'll email you the day it leaves us.
Q: can you guarantee delivery on a particular day?
A: You'll give us a delivery day as part of the ordering process and most of the time there's no problem. But where transport is involved nothing is ever quite 100%, so we can never guarantee it absolutely. Why not ask for it to be delivered a day or two early? That way everybody's relaxed.
Q: £5.99 seems a lot for delivery - how do you justify that?
A: We don't set out to make a profit on delivery - just to cover our costs. The aim is to use an extremely professional courier, a reliable next-day service, and to package the cheese smartly, safely, carefully: the delivery charges are simply a reflection of what it costs to do that, to our satisfaction. We could set the charges lower, but would have to 'hide' delivery costs in the prices of our cheese - and we prefer our prices to be transparent.
It's worth noting that the serious online cheese shops (such as Fine Cheese, Paxton & Whitfield, Neals Yard Dairy) charge at least what we do - or more.
Q: my partner doesn't like cheese - could you send him a long-playing record, or perhaps an occasional table?
A: No. We only sell cheese. You would need to visit another website for these items.
Q: I know you're Westcountry cheese specialists, but I'd really like some Stilton, Pecorino and Selles sur Cher - can you supply those for me?
A: You're right, Westcountry cheese is our speciality, and generally that's what we do. However, we do make an exception for weddings, as we know that sometimes there's a special cheese that people feel they have to have. We'll always want to start by thinking about the cheese from our region, but we'll try to help you out if we can.
Q: how long will my cheese keep for?
A: Aaaargh. This one's really hard. We'll always try not to send you cheese which is very near its 'use by' date. But of course the cheeses are all very different and the issue how long we've had the cheese is also a factor, meaning one can't give a simple answer to this question. As a general rule cheese keeps very well, though it's character can change with age (some cheeses get harder, some softer - flavour changes too). The main issue is drying out, especially with cut pieces. So make sure you keep it well wrapped.
Q: does my cheese have to go in the fridge?
A: If it's soft cheese I'd probably play safe and, yes, keep it in the fridge. But these are often colder than cheese (typically matured at 8-13 degrees) really needs, and tend to be drying. So if you have a nice cool place (think of the old fashioned pantry or larder) then the hard cheeses, at least, would be happy there.
Q: my partner doesn't like cheese - could you send him a packet of Eccles Cakes, or perhaps a Tunnock's Caramel Log Wafer?
A: No. These are certainly delicious items, but we only sell cheese. You would need to visit another website for these items.
Q: can you supply an all-vegetarian cheese box?
A: Certainly. If you're ordering one of our selection boxes, just follow up your order with an email asking for vegetarian cheeses only.
Q: I spotted some Stilton in one of your wedding cakes. Westcountry cheese? I put it to you that The Cheese Shed is full of frauds and charlatans.
A: That's a bit harsh. We do have a few non-Westcountry cheeses in our off-the-peg cakes, like the baby Stilton used in the Helford, where its size was perfect. And there are a few others used for colour reasons, like Black Bomber (black) in the Eighty-Eight and Grandma Singletons Lancashire (red) in Smeaton's Tower.