Getting to know Hakim from Ripe
This month we catch up with cheesemonger Hakim from newly opened Aussie cheese shop Ripe Cheese
Tell us about the Ripe Cheese and how it all started?
RIPE is all about supporting local cheese and their makers through the sale of cheeses and cheese toasties. The philosophy of RIPE is to have the Perfect cheese, at the Perfect time, for the Perfect occasion.
I started my cheese journey at Bill’s Farm, which stocks a large mix of international and local cheeses; however, I felt that that our local cheeses were not given the same amount of love and attention.
The cheese toastie comes from my love of cooking and an unrealised dream of becoming a chef. I started making cheese toasties for fun and people seem to love them – so this is how Ripe started. Our shop is also the only cheese shop in Australia that stocks only Australian produce.
You’ve won awards for your cheeses – can you tell me about them?
While I was at Bill’s Farm, I selected the cheese range that bestowed them the Most Favourite Deli award at Queen Vic Market, and named amongst the top 10 best cheese shops in Melbourne by Time Out, Broadsheet, Concrete Playground, GQ and more.
I think everyone can stock all the cheeses in the world, but I believe where we succeed is our ability to connect with our customers and ensure they get what they want. This all comes through our extensive cheese knowledge, creativity of mixing and matching, and amazing personalities!
We hear you’re lactose intolerant! How does someone who is lactose intolerant sell cheese?
Yes, 5 months ago my body failed me when I was diagnosed with Lactose Intolerance. That’s probably due to my South East Asian genetics and me consuming TOO MUCH dairy in the last 9 years; however, my diagnosis will never get in the way of my love for dairy and cheese. I’ve adopted a new mantra – Enjoy now and maybe suffer later. Instead of eating a half wheel of brie by myself, I would now eat only a quarter. Oh.. I also have an endless supply of Lactase tablets which is an enzyme that helps me digest dairy.
Apart from that, nothing’s really changed. I taste every single one of my cheeses before it gets to customers so I’ll be able to know how to genuinely sell them.
Tell us about your triple cheese toastie.
I really set out to create a very flavoursome and moreish toastie that uses high quality Australian cheese with condiments that would balance out the richness of the cheese. Our triple cheese toastie has oozy gooey mozzarella, bitey vintage cheddar, a smear of blue, caramelised champagne leeks on buttered sourdough and served with cornichons on the side. And it is DELICIOUS!
We’ve already been given 5 star reviews, asked for franchise opportunities and acquired a few loyal customers!
What’s your favourite cheese at Ripe Cheese?
That’s like asking a mother who her favourite child is!
Hmm, my favourite hard cheese would be the Monforte from Section 28 in South Australia. It is made using raw milk which is really hard to find due to our strict food laws. It has an initial sweet, milky and fruity taste, and is balanced by roasted nut flavours with subtle earthy undertones.
My favourite soft is the La Luna from Holy Goat, which is the most awarded and regarded goat’s cheese in the country. While the Bolte’s Bonanza is my favourite blue – it is creamy, balanced with crunchy salt crystals through it. Together, I think they make the perfect cheese platter.
What’s your most popular cheese?
Our most popular cheese is surprisingly also the most expensive in the shop! The Brigid’s Well from Holy Goat who is the best goat’s cheese maker in Australia. It is full-bodied that delivers a creamy citrus flavour when young, intensifying with age and taking on slight a slight nutty notes with more depth on the palate. And it costs $170.00/kg! I love how our customers are not afraid to explore the best cheese that this country has to offer.
Have you always been interested in cheese? Why cheese?
I only started eating cheese about 9 years ago, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a cheesemonger. My background is in Marketing and Digital Marketing in the restaurant, luxury watches and baby products industries. However, food has always been in my blood and my dream was to always have my own food place. It just so happens my love for cheese was strong enough to pursue it long-term.
And why cheese? It should be WHY NOT CHEESE! Cheese is loved by everyone and it is ingrained in our culture. We have cheese for our meals, in between meals, when we’re sad or happy, during special occasion, and more!
What’s the best part of your job at Ripe Cheese? The worst?
The best parts of my job is knowing that I am doing my bit to help and support our local cheese makers and the supporting industries like dairy. Since moving to Australia 10 years ago, I have been blessed to be given many opportunities that made me who I am today. This is like a big thank you to my new adopted home. And I get to share this with customers, family and friends every single day.
The worst is definitely the early wake up calls. I am not a morning person, so waking up at 4.30am is not fun and I only start to become a functioning human being at about 7am which is good because we don’t get many customers till about 7am.
Run through a typical day at the Market?
Arrive between 5.50-6am, followed by setting up the shop; cut cheese to fill the cheese fridge and make toasties for the day while helping customers choose their perfect cheese. I also create social media content, chat with my neighbours, eat lunch and then clean up. I am also constantly thinking how I can improve the visual merchandising and branding of the shop, seek out new cheese makers, etc.
Why did you choose Queen Vic Market?
I have a really soft spot for Queen Vic Market because it’s where I first went upon my arrival in Melbourne. I used to live in Carlton which made it an easy decision to make Queen Vic Market my local. Oh I also think Queen Vic Market is the best Market in Australia by a mile!
I believe in the Market and the vision it has for the future. Although fewer of the younger generation are coming to the Market, I do hope with the addition of the bright lights of RIPE, we can attract them and help invigorate the Market for many years to come.
Anything you wish to add?
I’d like to thank the Queen Vic Market family for welcoming us with open arms. We are very grateful for the opportunity and dedicate this to Bob & Cynthia Woods, the previous owners of this shop – Aussie Woods Deli. Being in the Market for about 50 years, they were instrumental in creating the unique fabric of this community and we hope we can add our own flair and be as loved as them.