Svetlana Kukharchuk had a dream of making artisan and farmhouse cheese accessible to all.

It took solid form in 2017, when she and partner Pauline Lunam opened The Cheese Lady, a specialist shop in the town of Haddington, East Lothian.

As well as stocking farmhouse and artisan cheeses from the British Isles and the Continent, it carries cheese accompaniments and wines from suppliers specialising in organic, natural and biodynamic vintages. The shop also has a ‘micro-café’, where customers can sample cheese, condiments and wines.

“The shop is a great reflection of our brand and our brand values,” explains Kukharchuk. “Not only is it visually beautiful and stylish, it makes very clear what our speciality is as soon as you are in the door.”

The appeal and success of The Cheese Lady was rewarded in April, when it took the Scottish regional award in the Farm Shop & Deli Show Retailer Awards.

For Kukharchuk, this was recognition for the hard work put in to the business. It was also the latest step on a personal journey that started around 15 years ago when she fell in love with cheese while working at a branch of Murray’s Cheese in New York. After Murray’s, Kukharchuk trained in France with affineur Hervé Mons and made a farmhouse cheese by hand on a farm in Scotland.

She opened her first cheese shop in St Andrews in 2010, selling it in 2014 to take time out and start a family.

The Cheese Lady cheese display

Haddington-based The Cheese Lady stocks cheeses from across the British Isles and the Continent

Three years later, Kukharchuk and Lunam decided to start a new cheese shop. Taking the nickname Kukharchuk’s customers had given her in St Andrews, The Cheese Lady opened its doors in a 20sq m shop on Haddington’s High Street.

The business quickly outgrew its site, so last year moved to nearby Court Street. The premises are four times larger, with enough space for the café, a packaging and storage area, and a cheese maturation room – with Lunam, who previously owned a DIY store, responsible for day-to-day operations and the shop’s visual appeal.

“We decided to stay in Haddington as it is a well-positioned and lovely market town that attracts visitors from all over our county and Scotland,” explains Kukharchuk.

Having established a reputation as a cheesemonger, maturer and educator, she last year published a book, The Cheese Connoisseur’s Handbook. The shop hosted the launch of what’s described as a starting point for taking cheese enjoyment to a new level. It offers an introduction to the history and practice of cheesemaking, followed by guidance for choosing cheese. 

The Cheese Lady shelving

The shop carries cheese accompaniments and wines from suppliers specialising in organic, natural and biodynamic wines

Kukharchuk’s passion for artisan cheese is evidenced throughout the book – and in the products The Cheese Lady sells.

“Our speciality is natural products that are good for you and for the planet,” she says. “So, everything we stock comes from small artisan producers who care about the quality of their ingredients, the environment, and use traditional methods to craft their products.”

The shop offers only “products that we personally tried and fell in love with. So, when we sell them, it is not hard to rave about them to our customers,” Kukharchuk adds.

Alongside its new premises, The Cheese Lady has launched a website, which has significantly improved business operations and the customer experience, its owners say.

This is one of the aspects praised by Farm Shop & Deli Show Retailer Awards judges, with one stating: “This business has real personality and a great website, especially the ‘I like’ section suggesting other cheeses a shopper might like.”

Kukharchuk is delighted to have received such recognition from industry experts. The Cheese Lady shares the award with the customers, suppliers and cheesemakers who have been essential to the success of the business, she adds.

“As the news about our awards has spread far and wide, we continue to grow our visitor numbers to the shop from other parts of the UK, helping to increase the number of people coming to visit Haddington also. It is an absolutely amazing achievement after all the effort we have put into the business, especially over the last two years.”