Just like an epoisses from Burgundy that’s come to room temperature and has oozed over its wrinkled washed rind, the shelves and fridges of Penny’s Cheese Shop were overflowing at the petite Potts Point digs it operated from for three-and-a-half years.
“[The shop] is bursting at the seams,” owner Penny Lawson told Broadsheet in February when it came out she was looking for a bigger space. “It was like a Jenga puzzle to work out of.”
Lawson’s manoeuvring days are now behind her because she’s moved around the corner, to Potts Point’s main drag Macleay Street, opposite the iconic El Alamein fountain.
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While its MO remains the same – to be a one-stop shop for the world’s best handmade and farmhouse cheeses (and its accoutrements) – Lawson has plans to expand the cheese range, add savoury products, and more homewares such as knives, books and other goodies.
“We’ve bought a new storage fridge so we can get big wheels of cheddar and, down the track, do a parmesan opening. And do events and tastings in the evenings. We’re lining up some tea and cheese events at the moment.”
And there’s also thoughts to add additional bready friends to what is arguably Sydney’s best cheese toastie. “We do want to work on having some smaller sandwiches to takeaway because not everyone can eat a toastie every day,” says Lawson. “It’s good for the locals to have something smaller, like when you’re in Venice, a two-biter or three-biter.”
For the uninitiated, Penny’s jaffle is definitely not something you can eat every day – it’s a molten-centred, cheese-encrusted masterpiece. It’s made using sourdough from Pyrmont’s Pioik Bakery, and a medley of hand-grated cheeses. When we visited, seven cheeses were being used, including a Victorian cheddar for its sharpness, a Swiss Gruyere, a WA raclette, an Oaxaca from Marrickville’s Vannella and a smoked scamorza. But here’s the kicker: there’s cheese on the outside to give it a spectacular, golden crunch.
“It started off being a way of reducing waste, and it certainly does, but we buy cheese in for the blend. The Oaxaca and the scamorza – they are the stretchy ones, we don’t sell them generally,” she says.
Hollywood action actor Liam Neeson is a big fan. The Taken thespian even hand-wrote a note to Lawson conveying his toastie appreciation. “Thank you for the beautiful cheeses you sent to me in Sydney,” it begins. “The cheese toastie was the best I ever tasted. Warmest regards, Liam Neeson.”
“He did quarantine in Sydney before going to film down in Melbourne,” explains Lawson. “We had his fridge stocked with Australian cheeses when he arrived and one of his runners came and picked up his toastie, and one for his personal assistant, because she knew about them. That’s pretty cute.”
While it was never Lawson’s intention to create a Sydney-famous grilled-cheese, it still continues to draw crowds. Lawson could probably make hundreds more a week (“we’re still only doing 20-30 on weekdays and definitely cutting it off at 50 on Saturdays”), but she wants Penny’s to remain a cheese shop that does toasties on the side.
Now with more room, she’s fielding new questions about the jaffles. “People are very keen for us to put chairs and tables in here, and I understand that, but we’re in Potts Point: you can sit down and have wine and cheese in lots of places. We sell our cheese to Piccolo Bar around the corner. We want to be retailers of cheese rather than a sit-down venue.”
Hearing Lawson talk about cheese is a delight, and its two fridges – one for softs and the other for hards – are packed with an amazing selection. “We have beautiful blues from Gippsland; Venus Blue from Prom Country Cheese is eating particular well at the moment. I opened up the Nectar last week, from Holy Goat, which is a composite of goat’s and cow’s milk, and it’s possibly my favourite wheel I’ve ever had from them,” she says. (Some have called the award-wining Nectar Australia’s best cheese.)
“It’s nice that even after all these years I still discover that the cheeses I’ve eaten for years are always different, and I guess that’s what we like to focus on.”
Penny’s is also great if you only want a taster – it’s all cut to order. “It’s about cutting and wrapping fresh and giving people the sizes they want. It’s nice that if you’re feeling a little sad and need some cheese for a pick-me-up, we can cut you something small, rather than feeling like you have to take a huge piece.”
Penny’s Cheese Shop
Shop 6, 127–139 Macleay Street, Potts Point
0422 412 608