Recognised as one of the finest cheese and deli shops in London, Hamish Johnston is a family-owned business with an enviable reputation. But who knew that Clopton Park is home to their thriving wholesale operation?
From a base in the heart of Suffolk, they supply over 350 businesses in London and across East Anglia with the best artisan and farmhouse cheeses, charcuterie, crackers, biscuits, olives, olive oil and snacks, including fried egg flavour crisps from Spain – yes, really!
Smart Hamish Johnston vans now deliver to food halls, delis, farm shops, restaurants, pubs, hotels, bakers and butchers. But it all started back in 1994 with Will Johnston’s passion for cheese and his decision to open a specialist shop in Battersea.
Coming from a livestock farming family in Scotland, Will first learned about sheep farming before taking his skills to France and returning four years later to farm deer in Oxfordshire.
A dramatic change in the livestock market led to a career change and two years learning about cheese at a shop in London’s King’s Road.
“The turning point was opening a cheese and deli shop in 1994. It coincided with my wife having twins!” Will remembers. “Everything really took off. New family, new business.
Strong connections with Suffolk – his wife is from Ufford, near Woodbridge – meant a move was on the cards, and a wholesale business venture was born.
“We started with two domestic fridges in a garage,” Will laughs. “As we expanded with my business partner Mark Newman, we moved to different places until we had a large unit at Martlesham, but that burned down. Fortunately we were able to salvage most of our stock from refrigerated storage, and Chris Dawson arranged for us to take part of a unit at Clopton Park. It all happened really quickly before Christmas 2022, so we were able to continue trading.”
Cheddar, stilton and brie are still firm favourites, with East Anglian artisan cheeses like Baron Bigod (from Bungay) growing in popularity along with sheep and goat cheeses as they have lower lactose than cow’s milk. No factory-produced cheese at Hamish Johnston, thank you. They import from Spain, France, Italy and Holland and are constantly looking for distinctive farm and artisan cheese.
As a recognised cheese guru, Will Johnston has judged at the British Cheese Awards and World Cheese Awards.
“People are more adventurous with cheese now,” says Will. “They like different flavours and textures. Food programmes can influence what people buy, even Wallace and Gromit with Wensleydale or Stinking Bishop!”
The Hamish Johnston team, now the largest wholesaler of cheese in East Anglia, treat their customers as family. It’s a community of people with a shared passion for food, with Lesley Churchman running the wholesale office. Will adds, “I love the variety in the food business, working with customers and suppliers.”