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Cheese Hamlet

Colette Bernasconi on a fromagerie from heaven – and a new trend in cheese wedding cakes

Published on March 26th 2009.

Cheese Hamlet

706 Wilmslow Road
Didsbury Village

35 years ago, the Cheese Hamlet was opened by a former baker who had simultaneously developed a flour allergy and a desire to commercialize his passion for quality cheeses and meats. Since then the shop has stayed in the Axon family: his son and daughter have taken it over, maintaining the personal relationships their father had with their suppliers. “We're even able to make suggestions about the cheese to Appleby's Farmhouse, our Cheshire supplier,” said Liz Lynch (née Axon). They'd played on the Cheshire milk farm as children, grew up learning the art of cheese-making, and now are able to say, “Age that Ch

What's it like?
The shop is small and filled to the brim with a mind-boggling array of products. At different hours of the day it is filled with different smells: around noon, the paralysingly delicious odour of roasting ham and pork pies filled the place. Aesthetically, the shop is a feast for sight, smell and taste, but if you can't make it to Didsbury you can order from their website. The store has won over 40 awards including British Deli of the Year.

Who shops there?
Locals who the staff know by name and people from further afield. They cater to the Didsbury community, so they offer samosas, bhajis and Polish sausages. While most customers are from the surrounding neighbourhoods, Liz said that quite a few will make a half-hour trip to come to the shop. I believe this, because I would do.

What does it sell?
What doesn't it sell? There is a stunning array of cheeses: they've a wide range of local Cheshires, Lancashires and cheddars as well as “one of the biggest selection of Swiss cheeses in the country”. So if you fancy a fondue on a chilly night, pick up some Gruyère, Emmental and Comté from the Hamlet to make it a dish fit for Heidi. There are about 15 variations on good old bleu and all the Chèvres you could dream of. Creamy Reblochon, pungent wine-washed Epoisse...it's cheese heaven. There are some accessible prices – the cheese ranged from £1.50 to £7 per 100g.

They make pies, sausage rolls, and quiches on site, and they also roast hams. There's orange and Cointreau pâté, thick cuts of bacon fetchingly lain out next to seasoned ox tongue, local roast beef and a sexy selection of cold cuts.

You'll also find wines and ports, fresh coffee to grind, chocolates (in both gift-giving and eat-it-like-it's-about-to-be-taxed bar form) oils and vinegars, marmalades, mayonnaises and chutneys. The shop has free-range eggs, olives and garlic-soaked sun-dried tomatoes, bread and buns. And “sometimes Liz makes some scones”.

Why go there?
Have you not been reading? Go because the Cheese Hamlet has so many delicious foodstuffs. I took away some fragrant pesto, some lemon and bay leaf olives, a bit of pepper pâté and some Irish Porter Cheddar, which is absolutely delicious and yes, made with Porter beer. I also ate a sausage roll fresh out of the oven and a red onion marmalade and Stilton and cream quiche for lunch. All of it was exquisite and came to a total of a bit over £7.

Liz said that they've seen no drop in business due to the recession. Sales have remained strong, especially in local cheeses. “People would still rather buy high-quality cheeses and meats for a bit more money,” she reassured me. “They're not really luxury items.” In the past year she tells me they've branched out on something new: cheese wedding cakes, at £2 to £3 per guest. I was imagining mascarpone or ricotta cakes, but she opens this photo album that show wheels of cheese stacked on each other with their crust still on and decorated. I thought it looked a bit daft really, but she said they're very popular.

It'll be a sad day when absolutely everyone decides they'd rather buy crappy anonymous cheese wrapped in plastic from Tesco to save a few bob. Happily, from the looks of The Cheese Hamlet, the apocalypse is a long way off. The shop is a great place to find gifts and treat yourself to some high-quality food for not that much more money. It's rather like travelling back in time to when folk knew each other's names, where the food came from, and how it was made.

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Duchess in CaliforniaMarch 26th 2009.

Hi Colette,Remember me? Jenny's mom! Just read your cheese article... I'm flying over ASAP to shop at Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury! You made my mouth water! Lyn

SteveMarch 26th 2009.

Great shop, I regularly travel from Alderley on a Saturday morning to visit this place and the fishmongers next door.

GinaMarch 26th 2009.

My mum came up to visit me and took her there, she fell in love with it (I was already in love with it). Now, everytime I'm going home for a visit, I stop in at the hamlet so I can take cheese back for my mum. The hamlet is the best, they're so lovely and they give you great advice. Long live cheese and all it stands up for.

Bored of itallMarch 26th 2009.

I have the distinct pleasure of living across the road from this wonderful place! I love it, anybody else as obsessed with deli's as me also does and I'm planning a pantry shop on Saturday. It's not the cheapest place around but believe me you pay for the quality, service and general feelings of glee you get when you walk in, wholeheartedly recommend!

WallaceMarch 26th 2009.


CheesfiendMarch 26th 2009.

Cheese advice?? That's funny....!!

crazyjohnMarch 26th 2009.

Can I have a pound of Knob Cheese please huhu or a pound of knob cheeks. This could be systematic, this could be hydromatic, this could be cheek lightning!

burt CodeineMarch 26th 2009.

I don't live across the road from this shop as their is no more room...and besides I can't afford to live in Costa Coffee or that new (bleedin garish) bookies.But I love cheese, it's the bees knees, so please release brie let me go(rgonzola).I'm not sure how fresh their coffee is mind...I think it might be too old and stale (despite the choice) to 'perform' properly, but I'd love to be wrong.

KellyMarch 26th 2009.

But where is the Provolone Dolce I ask you...where? You must accept Provolone into your life!

NorthernGeezerMarch 26th 2009.

I'm on a mission...............do they doo pork pies??

Jean-MichelMarch 26th 2009.

Totally enjoyable article. I've never been to the Cheese Hamlet, but now I feel I must visit this place (and I'm suddenly hungry!).

Jan FreemanMarch 26th 2009.

I'd like to say a special thank you to Dot who works at the Cheese Hamlet - she is really lovely and kind and will help anyone with their queries or orders. May the Cheese Hamlet and Evans the Fishmongers stay forever - they make Didsbury Village what it is!

Baron von CheesefiendMarch 26th 2009.

Good article, good shop, we visit them and the fishmongers every Saturday too (probably in the queue behind Steve) Was wondering though, are they related to the Axons who run the excellent butchers round the corner?

Plump ChapMarch 26th 2009.

The Cheese Hamlet is streets ahead of any other shop in the region. Is there another cheesemonger?I once went to Paxtons in Jermyn Street. It was no better at all!

AnonymousMarch 26th 2009.

There is another cheesemonger. The Cheese Place recently opened in Prestwich. They have a range of farmhouse cheeses, mostly British backed up with Barbakan bread, olives, wines and ciders.

LornaMarch 26th 2009.

My boyfriend lives opposite this shop and we are in there all the time, being massive cheese addicts. Its a diamond in what is becoming an increasingly naff village

JanieMarch 26th 2009.

Their thin pork sausage is the best you can buy. I wont buy anywhere else.

BoredofitallMarch 26th 2009.

And it's true, Didsbury village is turning into Withington, can't believe what kind of a state it is now, :(

Cheese MonkeyMarch 26th 2009.

the coffee I've purchased there has always seemed "daisy fresh" to me. John Axon told me a few weeks ago that they get through supplies very quickly indeed. Baron von Cheesefiend - they were related to the butchers. The butcher retired a couple of years ago but made sure he sold it to an excellent successor.

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