Moz Murphy – cheesemonger to star chefs, suburban foodies and skateboarding students – shares how a lockdown launch has become a major success with Dean Bailey
The shopping experience is different for every individual. For some, it is a chore best done as efficiently as possible. For others, it is a full-day event to be savoured in all its many facets – from browsing to chatting to sampling and then browsing again. The best shopping is found in those places which cater to all the elements of the experience and shape themselves in order to deliver the most joy possible.
That magical experience is what Moz Murphy – a veteran of some of the North East’s best food businesses – has created over the last two-and-a-half years at her cheesemonger’s shop, grate Newcastle.
Born in Dublin and a 20-year-plus resident of the North East, Moz exudes passion for food, from the science behind it to the experience of eating. Having worked in London as a fishmonger (starting every day at 2am at Billingsgate Market) and then on a cheese counter, where she first fell in love with cheese, she moved to the North East just as food trends from the capital were beginning to drift north.
She shopped at, and later worked in, Newcastle city centre’s mmm… Glug shop – “a trailblazer for what food could be in the North East, and the only place which sold the things I wanted to cook having been introduced to them in London,” says self-confessed food nerd Moz, who also worked at Fenwick and at Vallum Farm’s tea room and deli. “The people who were doing really good stuff here at that time – particularly Simone and Ian at mmm… Glug – blazed a trail for everyone that followed, including me. Those experiences gave me the confidence to be nerdy about food, talk to people about it the way I had in London, and build friendships with similarly passionate people which are still going strong today.
“They all – from the people I worked with to those I met, like Tim and Tom at Papa Ganoush, Anna Hedworth at Cook House, and Katie and Steven at Block & Bottle – showed me this could be a career and gave me the confidence to open the business I’d always wanted to visit as a customer.”
And why a cheese shop? “The infinite variety of such a simple product, made from the same four ingredients, fascinates me,” says Moz. “It never gets boring, elements of it are wonderfully seasonal, and there’s always somebody, somewhere doing something new. Being able to source and stock cheses as fast as I’m able to is truly empowering and fulfilling.
“I want to be part of the movement to a full and proper appreciation of British and Irish cheese, which is performing incredibly well internationally with four top-16 Super Gold spots in the World Cheese Awards 2022-23. I’m proud that 80% of my stock is from here. If it’s good I’ll go for a British and Irish alternative, whether that’s Tunworth instead of Camembert or Beauvale instead of Gorgonzola. If it’s also local that’s
brilliant, so we work with the likes of Doddington Dairy and Weardale Cheese as well as Northumbrian Pantry and Calder’s Kitchen.”
In our couple of hours of chatting in her Jesmond shop, she’s greeted every individual through the door with genuine warmth. From the star of Morrisons’ customer training videos turned delivery driver; to a student who pops his skateboard under his arm on the way through the door in search of advice on taking a carbonara to a new level (and gets a tip on grating parmesan straight from the freezer so it never goes off); to a friend of a friend with a vague brief on a cheese she has to try (an Alpine-inspired one from Scotland, it turns out); to a jogger on his way home after picking up bread from local councillor-turned lockdown baker David Hardman – every one is greeted with warmth and an eagerness to talk cheese.
Moz’s knowledge – which she continues to share with her small, but equally passionate team – is astounding. The shop is filled with cheeses of every possible colour, texture and flavour, and Moz knows every story. From “the OG” of North East cheese, Doddington, to that Alpine-inspired one from the Orkney Islands, which comes from a farm with just eight cows and is sent to IJ Mellis in Edinburgh to be affinaged (refined and matured) – everything is chosen with passion and skill.
“I love being in the shop,” Moz says. “We spend the day tasting cheese, talking about it, and inspiring people to try it. When you visit a cheesemonger you can try anything and walk out with something new every time you visit. My advice to anyone daunted by it is just to start at one end and work your way along the counter.”
Since launching grate between lockdowns in October 2020, she has grown to work with a who’s who of chefs including Dave Coulson at Peace & Loaf down the road; Anna Hedworth at Long Friday; Kleo Tabaku at Lovage; and Nick Grieves at The Patricia nearby and now at Ophelia in Gosforth.
The next 12 months will see further growth. “The shop is at a good place, and we’ve got a monthly subscription service, which is a lovely way to build a partnership with customers. I love working with Bud Couriers on local, zero-emission delivery too, and I’m passionate about being part of the local community, where so many people have supported me. We minimise food waste, working with FoodCycle [where there is a food processor, The Mozerator, named after Moz which was funded by donations from grate customers] to utilise anything they can make use of.
“We’re planning events and pop-ups and I’m super-excited to be working with Shynara from FAB Bakery on monthly pop-ups in her shop in Newcastle. I’ve also got pairing events coming up at The Punchbowl and The Free Trade and there’s a bespoke wedding cheese ‘cake’ service in the works.”
From creating a business between lockdowns to becoming cheesemonger to star chefs and a big part of her local neighbourhood, Moz has proven to herself, and to everyone else, that good eating isn’t just for food nerds, and cheese can always be chosen to please.