A major part of any retailer's speciality food portfolio is cheese. But to make it special it has to have that certain something and, according to Waitrose cheese buyer Graham Cassie, that is passion. One of their main characteristics is that they are produced on the farm close to the milk source which gives the individual characteristics to the cheese. "They are usually made on a small scale by people who are passionate about the cheese they are producing and this comes through. It is difficult for those characteristics to surface in cheese made on a larger scale," he says. Cassie says that 55% of Waitrose's assortment is speciality but not necessarily British. There is an element of continental. However, for the remainder of 2001, the multiple is focusing mainly on British cheeses. For the first time it is sponsoring the British Cheese Awards which is running at Stow-on-the-Wold from September 28-30. It promises a mix of serious cheese judging plus a host of consumer activities. One for consumers will be the Waitrose school for big cheeses' where there will be cheese demonstrations and tastings. In stores nationally in September and October, Waitrose will feature four cheeses from the Yorkshire Dales ­ Ribblesdale goats cheese, Yorkshire Blue, smoked Wensleydale and Swaledale. "These will be focused centrally on our service counter, ticketed as buyer's selection and promoted through instore tastings and our monthly magazine," says Cassie. "We also have a number of cheese specialists on the counters who have done the British Cheese Guild course." In November and December, the multiple will promote a further four cheeses: Appleby's Cheshire, Strathdon Blue, Cooleeney ­ an Irish soft brie-style cheese, and a sheep's milk Wensleydale. "We also stock 26 local cheesemakers' products. These are small cheesemakers who cannot supply 136 Waitrose stores but can supply the local one, five or 10 stores in their region. Again, it's about supporting British cheesemaking and introducing customers to individual local produce," he adds. In addition to its strong support of British cheese, there will be promotions for continental lines in the run-up to Christmas. New to Waitrose is a French AOC Reblochon and an Italian soft cheese called Taleggio. Sales surge around Christmas, but summer can also be a winner. "The mix of sales moves quite dramatically," says Cassie. "Over the last few weeks, mozzarella and feta have been going a storm, but then the weather changed and Cheddar picked up." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}