Grate expectations as Big Cheese company rolls into America

An Edinburgh gift firm that began with a passion for cheese is now looking to break the £1 million revenue barrier with a move into the US market.

Ailsa Proverbs launched the company from a spare bedroom in 2012
Ailsa Proverbs launched the company from a spare bedroom in 2012

Set up in September 2012, The Big Cheese turned over £900,000 last year with sales of its kits to make halloumi, mozzarella and more at home. Though originally conceived as an online business, its products are now stocked by 400 independent retailers throughout the UK.

Ailsa Proverbs, who launched the company from her home with £2,000 in funding, said the firm is now preparing to begin shipments of its kits into the United States. Arrangements are being made with Amazon, which recently took over UK fulfilment for The Big Cheese, to begin transatlantic delivery of the equipment, which is put together under contract at a factory in Galashiels.

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“We are hoping for sales of over £1 million this year with the American expansion,” Proverbs said.

“It’s hard to say what exactly will happen with the US, but we believe that is achievable.”

She set up the business while on maternity leave after discovering “very little” by way of cheese-making equipment for novices. Although a connoisseur of cheese – or turophile – Proverbs wanted something that would not only produce cheese, but was also aesthetically pleasing.

“I was quite surprised that there was nothing out there that I wanted to buy, either because it was too complicated, or it just wasn’t very appealing,” she said.

With an eye firmly on the gift market, she initially hoped to sell about 400 kits in the run-up to Christmas 2012. That target was shattered after shifting roughly 4,500 kits during the festive sales period.

In early 2013 she moved out of the spare bedroom in her home to an office in Leith, where she now employs three people. Harrods and Selfridges soon came calling, leading to a shift from online-only into bricks-and-mortar retailing.

The Big Cheese is now said to be the best-selling product of its type in the UK, with more than 100,000 purchased to date. Nearly two-thirds of sales are through retail shops.

The original range of three kits has expanded to seven options, including goat’s cheese, halloumi, labneh, mozzarella, paneer, ricotta and Scottish crowdie. Combined kits and a set of equipment specifically for children are also available, with other developments in the pipeline.

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Previously a business adviser with a number of different support organisations, Proverbs has picked up a number of awards for The Big Cheese, including accolades from WeDO Scotland.

Other early market exposure included exhibitions at the Farm Shop and 
Deli Show at the NEC in Birmingham, and the Harrogate Home and Gift 

Last year, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday List for services to the food industry.