Established in 1993, I. J. Mellis is a purveyor of artisanal cheeses and one of The Balmoral’s key suppliers (the hotel was one of their first clients). A small, family-run outfit focusing on quality, flavour and provenance whilst offering a traditional, old fashioned sense of service alongside modern technology.
Mellis was founded by Iain Mellis after 15 years’ working in the cheese industry, Iain set up his first shop in Edinburgh’s Old Town, followed by openings in Glasgow and a further three in Edinburgh, St Andrew’s and Aberdeen. Now, 26 years later, Mellis supplies some of the UK’s best restaurants.
Here, his eldest son, Rory, elaborates on what makes their produce so special.
Tell us how you got started?
“I started part-time after school, aged 14, in Dad’s first shop in Victoria Street and went on to manage the shop on Morningside Road while studying for a language degree. Then, around three years ago, I went full-time haven’t looked back. While I was growing up, all of our family holidays involved visiting cheesemakers, so I think my passion grew from there.”
How did your father’s experience in the industry help him establish I. J. Mellis?
“A lot! The main thing is his core understanding of the product. There are a lot of big creameries out there producing bulk cheese and I think Dad’s knowledge of the artisan market was a key factor in helping him establish the business. He was also incredibly involved in the dairy scene, so it was easy to build connections with good cheesemakers.”
How did you start working with The Balmoral?
“When Mum and Dad first started out, The Balmoral was one of their first real restaurant clients – we’ve been supplying them for close to 26 years now. We used to deliver orders from our car! Since joining the business, I’ve developed a relationship with most of the chefs and most recently with Mark Donald at Number One. Around the same time as I came on board, my little brother started working there as a commis chef, which added another connection. I love working with the team there.”
What would you say makes your cheeses unique?
“They are all farmhouse and artisan, and come from really dedicated, small-scale producers, who are passionate about their animals as well as the final product. The quality of the milk is the starting point for every batch, so the fact that it comes from a single herd allows the cheese to be consistently good, but also to vary slightly from batch to batch. The cheeses we sell reflect where they’re made in flavour and history, and each has its own back story.”
How important is sustainability to your business?
“It’s all about sourcing locally, but we also have to take into consideration other factors to keep our quality high. We try to give smaller producers – who are popping up all around the country – the chance to compete with some of the big guns, like French producers who have been going for years.”
How far does your cheese travel from where it’s made to reach The Balmoral?
“It really depends. The Balmoral is good at taking cheeses we recommend. If we believe there is a great alternative to Vacherin, for example, then we’ll give them some to try.
We source a lot of our cheese from the British Isles and even pick up the majority of our Scottish cheeses in our own vehicles. As we supply places around Scotland, we often pick up the cheese en route, which not only cuts down on food miles but allows our staff to develop a relationship with the people making the cheese and improve their knowledge of the industry – both of which are really important to us.”
Have you eaten your own cheese at The Balmoral?
“Sadly, no! I have enjoyed it in the kitchen with the team but am yet to experience the full cheeseboard following a meal.”
When you’re out and about in Edinburgh, where do you like to eat?
“To be honest, there are too many to name – there’s such a range to choose from in Edinburgh. It’s a small place too so everyone does tend to know everyone, which is good fun.
I generally like small-plate, casual places, however, I do enjoy a good ‘experience meal’ once in a while. I like 83 Hanover, as well as The Lookout for the food and views. I’m also quite fond of the lunch menu down at Aurora. Roseleaf in Leith serves good pub food and, for cocktails, Bramble Bar & Lounge is a lovely spot.”
What’s your favourite cheese and what trends do you predict for the coming year?
“Hmm… I’m a big fan of washed-rind cheeses and Rollright from Gloucestershire and Ossau-Iraty are two of my favourites at the moment. Really, I’m very into simple, easy-to-eat cheeses. Because I work with them day in, day out, the big-flavoured stuff is nice for a treat but I like ‘eating cheeses’ that you can enjoy all evening without getting tired of them.
Big trend? I’d say farmhouse. More people are becoming aware of the farmhouse and artisan market, and how different it is to supermarket-bought cheese. It’s becoming more popular to buy locally sourced, small-scale products. The more we can support artisan cheesemakers, the easier it is for them to invest in their businesses.”
Executive Chef Gary Robinson shares a little about working with I.J. Mellis…
Describe your relationship with the team from Mellis cheese?
“The beautiful thing about working with the Mellis family is that they care deeply about the relationships they have fostered over the years. Being able to talk about a human being behind the product is so important, and Rory is always reeling off the names behind the cheese, making the produce we receive so much more personal.”
How do you use Mellis cheese across your seasonal menus?
“Our seasonal menus are just that, seasonal and constantly evolving. We do however use an incredible lactic raw goat’s milk cheese, Elrick from Selina Cairns at Errington Farm, which tops a warm butternut squash tart that currently features on Afternoon Tea in Palm Court.”
Sample I.J. Mellis produce at The Balmoral for a taste of their exquisite cheeses.
Book your stay or reserve a table by emailing email@example.com or calling +44 131 556 2414.
Find out more about Mellis Cheesemongers here: https://www.mellischeese.net/