Cheese is a strangely divisive dairy product. Unlike milk, which is widely regarded as a great source of calcium, or butter, which provides most foods with richness and depth, cheese tends to elicit both declarations of appreciation and aversion. This, of course, can be put down to the fact that it was not a food product typically found in most households. But in recent years, a new wave of interest in cheese has emerged, giving rise to a growing number of cheese bars and specialty shops in Singapore.
One such fromagerie, The Cheese Artisans (TCA), opened their doors last year in Greenwood Avenue, one amongst a collection of F&B establishments populating the Bukit Timah neighbourhood. Housed within its muted pink walls is a Cheese Bar, as well as the island’s first cheese maturing rooms—a matter of necessity, according to co-founder Charles. Ahead, he shares the story of how he got into the business, and offers tips on how best to enjoy cheese.
Hi Charles, can you tell us about your background and how you got into the business?
It was at a Chinese New Year gathering two years ago when I met Geri, one of the co-founders of TCA. She’d brought some cheese along for tasting, and I was impressed with its taste, quality and presentation. While I had been exposed to cheese and various dairy products since young (my family consumes cheese regularly), the cheese I tried was nothing close to anything I was able to get in Singapore, or even in Asia. Immediately, I told myself that there is a niche in the market for an artisanal cheese shop.
Cheese knowledge in this part of the world is generally lacking, and I felt that the market and its consumers were ready to try and appreciate a wider artisanal range of cheeses in terms of taste, quality and knowledge. Besides the excellent cheeses themselves, I also thought of many different ideas, ways and methods that one can create and enjoy with cheese, or are cheese-related. So when I was approached a year later by Geri and La (another co-founder of TCA) to invest in the company, I took the opportunity.
How does the design of the space at TCA fit in with the experience you hope for your customers to have?
Design consultancy Hjgher came on board with experience in designing F&B establishments, and more importantly, were able to provide the overall branding concept that TCA needed. The design Hjgher proposed was very much aligned with what we had in mind when we were planning the shop space: we wanted a design that was classic, yet not too dated. We wanted to provide our customers with a contemporary modern ambience to experience our artisanal cheese offerings.
The Cheese Bar concept had to be more trendy and relaxing; chic, yet casual. We had it set up for young customers who may want to chill with friends over wine paired with cheeses, and for families with young children who might want to pick up some snacks and artisanal products. We also needed the cheese bar to have an open concept as one of our lines of businesses is to conduct cheese appreciation classes for both our business clients and for private groups and events.
Tell us about the cheese maturing rooms that you have at TCA. How important was it to you to have them in-house?
We see the Cheese Rooms as being absolutely central to our offer. Cheese is effectively a living product, and it needs to be kept at the correct temperature and humidity. In very basic terms, if it is kept too cold, the cheese will struggle to mature. Humidity, when set too high, will cause the cheese—and in particular its rind—to over ripen, making it bitter, whilst an environment with low humidity will cause it to dry out.
We have two temperature controlled rooms at TCA, which are set to 5°C and 8°C. Depending on the type of cheeses we have, our cheesemonger will monitor the ageing of the cheeses. The rooms give us the facility to care for our cheeses and ensure they reach our customers in peak condition.
Read more in The U Press N˚15 (Singapore edition).