Stephen Fleming: From IT to Leeds cheesemonger

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You might be forgiven for thinking that the key to stocking the only dedicated cheese room in Leeds is a caerphilly thought out process.

It isn’t.

In fact Stephen Fleming, the man behind George and Joseph cheesemongers has a tried and tested roulade - literally.

He shared the secret with City Buzz: “There are 50 different cheeses and they are all hand-picked. If I don’t like it, it doesn’t go in. That could be a bit lame if I don’t like it but if I don’t, how can I persuade somebody else to like it?

“But there is not that much that I don’t like, I am a massive food fan.”

After taking a complete life/work change of direction, Stephen opened George and Joseph in Chapel Allerton four years ago. He has just opened a second shop in the north Leeds suburb and is also part of the collaboration in the new Ham and Friends venture.

The Cheese Room, in the project that recently opened after much anticipation from the Leeds foodies, is the only specialist cheesemonger in the city and the first one for years, probably since the closure of the one in the Corn Exchange.

Stephen said: “I had worked in IT for 20 years and thought what would I do if I had my time again. I always thought I had wanted to do something with food and I knew there was nowhere to buy good cheese.

“I went to a Homage to Fromage supper club and there were about a hundred people and I thought a lot of people like cheese, but there is nowhere to buy it.”

So he set about researching where to buy it and what to source, starting with Yorkshire produce then venturing further afield and it turns out, here in God’s own County, we are churning out a lot more than Wensleydale.

A lot of that is in part to the area’s dairy farmers having to diversify to stay in business given turbulent milk prices over recent years.

It has however, played into the hands of those interested in food and where and how it is produced.

He added: “It helps that cheese making in the city has not really been done before and in the last ten years there has been a real interest in making it and people wanting to know more about food. A lot of businesses have started up making things from scratch.”

One of his local suppliers is Italian Mario Olianas who makes a wicked Leeds Blue and Yorkshire version of pecorino - from a cottage in Adel.

Other cheeses come from France, Switzerland and Spain.

The new premises in Leeds have allowed Stephen to expand his business, the range and also the offering.

He is working with Claire and Anthony Kitching, who set up Ham and Friends on the back of the success of the hugely popular city centre pub Friends of Ham.

They have started the Ham and Friends deli shop and taking up residence alongside them is George and Joseph and the Yorkshire Wine School, presented by Laura Kent.

All three businesses compliment each other and events are being lined up such as wine and cheese evenings and pairings,

Stephen said: “It is such a good fit for all our businesses. It has taken a while and been a challenge but has been worth the wait.

“Everyone has created something that is unique in Leeds.”

Michael Tennant.

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