Blessed Are The Cheese-Sellers
By Hattie Ellis
Artisan cheese is one of the great success stories of British food and there are now more than 750. But good cheese needs care, from milking to making to maturing to marketing. Step forward Penbuckles, the Old Town’s champion of Sussex and British cheeses.
Ellie and Richard Lubbock-Shattock took over the shop in August 2018 and, as well as wine, a well-selected range of exceptional British charcuterie, coffee and deli delights, they have focused in particular on the cheese counter. It is almost entirely British, with a number of local stars, and three classics from abroad: Parmesan, Comté and Manchego. “I come from a family that’s always travelled and enjoyed cheese and it’s lovely to be introduced to such a range of British cheese and all their different flavours and complexity,” says Ellie.
Looking after these little beauties isn’t always the easiest task, Ellie admits – “But it’s fun and lots to learn”. The dozens of different cheeses in the shop need to be kept carefully, at the right temperature, in order to reach mature perfection. Luckily there’s the perfect space in the cellar below the characterful 16th-century building on the High Street.
Enjoying and buying craft-made cheese has gained another layer of meaning during the Covid-19 crisis because a number of cheesemakers suffered a cliff-edge loss of 80% of sales when restaurants closed at the start of the pandemic. Overnight, they had quantities of perishable stock and animals that kept producing milk.
Penbuckles and other cheese-sellers have supported this network of small businesses and enabled them to keep going; Neals Yard Dairy set up ‘Save British Cheese’ mail-order boxes with Jamie Oliver. Amongst the ‘saved’ British cheeses sold by Penbuckles are Baron Bigod, an exceptional Brie-style cheese made in an eco-dairy where water-pipes under the cowsheds are heated by the animals; Stichelton, a beautifully creamy raw milk version of Stilton; and the classic Kirkham’s Lancashire.
It’s lovely to be introduced to such a range of British cheese and all their different flavours and complexity
During lockdown, Penbuckles has stepped up to do deliveries, and continues to do so for people who have to continue shielding. They’ve also developed another kind of service: the gift box. Birthdays, Father’s day, presents for people who can’t get out: cheese, deli goodies, chocolate and wine will always cheer. “You make food for people who you care about and it’s the same when you send food,” says Ellie.
After leaving school, Ellie became a riding instructor and worked with horses and small animals, and then went on to care work. The nurturing side of the business – attending to customers and produce – is the next step in a long vocation of caring.
Looking ahead, Richard and Ellie feel that their cosy back room will have to change. Regulars and visitors came here to enjoy cheeseboards, coffee and cakes but it’s too small to have the same level of custom. There will be ways to adapt. Cheese boards for the beach? Ellie ponders. “I don’t think seagulls like cheese too much – they prefer fish and chips – so I think we’d be fine,” she says.
Ellie’s Dream Local Cheeseboard
• Barkham Blue
sweet and creamy Sussex blue cheese made of Jersey milk
• Burwash Rose
semi-soft, Sussex washed-rind (ie ‘stinky’) cheese made with rose water; one of the shop’s cult cheeses
• Winterdale Shaw
• St George goat’s cheese from Golden Cross in Sussex
Sourdough crackers – Peter’s Yard or Miller Damsel; Ringden Farm’s Ale Chutney or Pickled Cucumber
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