Sophie Williams founded Sheffield Cheesemasters, the city’s first artisan cheesemaking company in July 2017. Despite enjoying a successful career in IT security, Sophie was determined to create her dream business, based around her lifelong love of cheese.
Her journey into self-employment began when she decided to try her hand at cheesemaking, signing up for a week long course at the Welbeck estate. After spending time learning the basics, Sophie continued to devote her evenings and weekends to unlocking the recipe for her perfect cheese.
Feeling her ideas had the potential to build a successful business, but unsure where to start, Sophie decided to contact the Sheffield City Region Launchpad programme, an ERDF funded initiative which provides help and support to new entrepreneurs to explore the viability of her ideas.
Feeling confident she had perfected a winning recipe, and keen to support other local producers, Sophie teamed up with city-based dairy Our Cow Molly to source the milk needed to make her cheesey dreams become a reality and having seen her first batches sell out completely at Sheffield’s Peddlar Market, Sophie began carefully processing her plans to build Sheffield’s first dedicated cheese production plant.
Working with a dedicated business adviser, Sophie took part in a series of workshops and one-to-one training sessions, helping her business ideas to mature, and the support she received from the Launchpad team even enabled the budding cheesemaker to secure new premises, enabling her to create a purpose built facility.
Sophie’s first cheese drew on the Sheffield’s rich industrial past for inspiration and the rich soft cheese, which she called Little Mester, proved to be an instant hit with the city’s cheese lovers. From start to finish, it takes a month to mature before Sophie’s carefully crafted cheese is ready to be sold. Today, Sheffield Cheesemasters produces more than 350 cheeses each week.
With a number of new recipes currently in development, Sophie has set her sights on sharing her love of cheese with others, regularly hosting cheese and wine tasting events, complete with a tour of her premises to give visitors a sneak peek of the production process and topped off with a cheese-themed quiz.
Sophie topped off a successful first year in business after being named as one the UK’s top new producers at the Great British Cheese Awards, impressing the judging panel which was made up of chefs, cheese experts and food writers.
Sophie Williams, founder, Sheffield Cheesemasters said:
“Many of my friends thought I was crackers when I told them what I was planning to do, but it’s incredible to think just how far the business come over the past twelve months. I saw a number of people turning their hobbies into careers and Sheffield is home to plenty of microbreweries and bakeries, so I thought why not cheese?
“It’s been a steep learning curve for me, not only in terms of mastering the art of cheese making, but also developing the skills needed to succeed in business. To my surprise there was quite a lot of microbiology involved when it comes to creating cheese, and it requires a stable environment to produce a consistent product.
“Working with Launchpad helped me to explore whether the idea of becoming a cheesemaker was viable, whether there was a market for the product, as well as helping me to develop the vital skills needed to succeed in business. As the company grew, the Launchpad team was instrumental in sourcing suitable premises and negotiating the all-important lease. Everything has happened so quickly that I can hardly believe my first batch of Little Mester was made only last year and to be named as a finalist at the Great British Cheese Awards was an incredible honour”
Andrew Bunn, business advisor for Sheffield City Region Launchpad, said:
“Sophie initially approached us during the very early stages of her idea and although it was very clear that she had clear vision for business, she wasn’t sure where to begin. The Launchpad programme was created to help new entrepreneurs succeed in business and in Sophie’s case we spent time working with her to help her plan her all-important market research, as well as equipping her with the vital skills needed to succeed in business.
“Since working with the Launchpad team, Sophie’s hard work and dedication have paid off and she has been able to create new job opportunities for others who share her passion for cheese. The success Sophie has achieved illustrates the importance of being able to access the right help at the right time and I would urge anyone who is thinking of becoming self-employed to search out the help and support available through Launchpad in your local area.”