Deli Owner Charlie Hodson tells us his journey from chef to cheesemonger
As a busy chef, I always remember that feeling which most of us chefs experience when walking out of the safe haven of the kitchen and into the restaurant – of seeing a sea of expectant faces look up at you. It’s nerve wracking. You have those words, ‘you’re only as good as your last plate of food’ buzzing around in your head constantly and you can’t help but wonder if your diners have enjoyed their meals. How are they going to react? What are they going to say?
And you will always get one customer who didn’t, for whatever reason, rate your plate. They might well tell you to your face or use that well known customer response site. Please don’t make me mention its name!
Then, of course, not only do you feel down but also the whole team suffers, especially if they feel the criticism is unjustified – and we have very little in the way of response. We have to take it on the chin – with no real thought of the impact on our mental health.
So this is how my journey to becoming a cheesemonger really began. I opened Hodson and Co last autumn, in a beautiful building in a lovely street in the thriving market town of Aylsham. We sell around 30-40 different cheeses from all over Britain and Europe, the wonderful Peter’s Yard crackers, plus a good selection of Norfolk produce such as cereals, chutneys, sauces, coffee, tea, cookies and more.
It is not such a different world – I still get to work with amazing producers, hard working staff, wonderful produce and, more often or not thank goodness, really nice customers.
As a deli owner rather than a chef, there is a different pace, and, if I’m honest, better working hours. Sure, you get to do all the paperwork – the ordering, the invoicing and so on – but there is a steadiness rather than the peaks and troughs of restaurant life, which has to be better for my well being.
I am really enjoying getting to know my customers. So many are now regulars and I’m learning what they like – and I love introducing them to new produce, too, especially cheeses! I love that they trust my judgement and I work hard to seek out the best of the best for them.
I’m also starting to fall in love again with cheeses that I had forgotten all about like Fontina from the foothills of The Alps, in the Aosta valley. And I love discovering new tastes, like the truffle cheeses from Jonny and the team at Fen Farm Dairy, near Bungay.
Indeed, my job is joyful as every day sees me learning something new and my taste buds are in heaven. And I guess that I have almost gone full circle – as a chef I would love to offer cheeses to customers, serving them at the right temperature, ensuring the right crackers were offered and so on.
Do visit us in Aylsham, we love to chat and if there is a particular cheese you like, we will do our best to stock it for you.