- Macknade Fine Foods

Neil Armstrong

Welcome to our feature where we’ll introduce you to some of our Macknade experts.

Introducing our Deli Master and expert Cheesemonger, Neil Armstrong…

Hi everyone!  I’m Neil, and I head up the Deli Team at Macknade Faversham. I’ve worked at Macknade for five years, spending six months on the shop floor, and the last four and a half as the Deli Manager.

Our Delicatessen counter is an impressive sight, housing one of the largest ranges of cheese and charcuterie available anywhere in the UK. We source these from an extensive variety of suppliers, and in many cases, direct from the producers themselves.

About Me

I was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and I’m an avid Manchester United fan.  My Father’s family originates from Manchester and my Great Grandfather worked as Sir Matt Busby’s chief scout – he even has his own Wikipedia page! My Grandfather, Joe Armstrong junior, also worked as a scout for Manchester United,  so you could say football, if not an eye for talented footballers, runs in the family!

I’ve been married for nearly two years now, having met my wife when I lived in London, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for her. She introduced me to the delights and sights of Kent and we’ve lived in Broadstairs for about six years.

I’m also something of a writer and a musician, well, bass player. I’ve been writing poetry and lyrics since I was 14. People sometimes ask why I started writing, and I always felt it was a bit pompous to say that other writers weren’t saying the things I wanted to be hearing, but then I heard Fran Healy from Travis use the same justification for his own writings, and if it was ok for him to say it, then it was for me as well.

From Shop Floor To Deli Master

I spent the first six months of my time at Macknade as the Shop Floor Assistant manager. I don’t think I made the best of it, but what had attracted me to the role was that it was something different from what I’d been doing previously – managing the open food counters for two of the UK’s supermarket chains. Ultimately, I learned that I really enjoyed the open food aspect of what I’d done previously, and when I was asked to take over the running of the Deli, I eagerly accepted it.

That said, it was still massively different from previous roles. In my supermarket Deli, I had a solitary Gouda. When I have my full range at Macknade, I have 7, and that’s just the cow milk variations!

One of the best things about Macknade is the sheer number of different foods that you can come across. This can be a little intimidating if you think you know about food, because when you start working at a place like Macknade, you quickly discover that you actually know very little. This is something that I think people have to embrace, though, as I’ve learnt more about food in my relatively short time at Macknade than I did in 15 years of work beforehand.

I really enjoy interacting with customers. There’s something very rewarding about introducing them to the great foods that we sell, whether that’s helping our regular patrons discover a new cheese, or working with a couple to create their perfect wedding cheese cake.

I don’t really consider myself a master or an expert. But, I think this is what makes me good at what I do. Ultimately, I’m always trying to be better than I currently am. This is as applicable to bass playing away from work, as it is to selecting foods to introduce to the Deli counter.

My Top Tips

  1. Be not afraid! In all seriousness, the sheer volume of food we sell on the Deli can be somewhat overwhelming, particularly if you’ve never seen anything like that before.
  2. Experiment and combine things that may seem a bit unusual. For me, the key to food is a bit of experimentation, and finding combinations of flavours that you like. For instance, I like strong-flavoured, hard cheeses, such as our two year Reypanaer Gouda, or our Lincolnshire Double Barrel cheddar. To compliment these, I find something sweet really does the trick, such as a sweet apple chutney, or a quince or damson jelly. You could also try blue stilton with dark chocolate digestive biscuits. I find the sweetness of the chocolate cuts through the sharpness of the cheese to create a joyous sensation on the palate!
  3. There’s also nothing wrong with knowing what you like. A lot of our regular customers have very similar orders each time we see them, mostly after being introduced to things by us and it’s very rewarding to know that our recommendations have made such a good impact.

How To Create The Perfect Picnic

I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. For a picnic, I’d probably pick a maximum of three cheeses and meats, with one type of cracker, and probably one chutney. I’m always wary of having too many flavours trying to compete with one another. Keeping things simple allows each flavour to shine on its own.

If I was preparing a picnic right now, I’d go with the following:

Baron Bigod Brie: Beautiful with a full, rich flavour.

Bath Blue: This was the first cheese I ever introduced to the Deli counter as the manager, so I have a fondness for it.

Lincolnshire Double Barrel: The strongest cheddar we currently stock. It grabs your taste buds and makes them pay attention!

Salami Soppressa Veneta: A beautifully delicate salami, made with garlic.

San Danielle: Cured Italian ham, slightly sweeter than the more well-known Prosciutto di Parma.

Salami Felino: One of the oldest salamis known to man, dating back to first century AD. Cured in the tiny village of Felino, 607 feet above sea level!

Damson Jelly: Less sweet than the quince jelly, I find it combines nicely with most of the meats and cheeses that I like.

Demi-Baguette: You can’t beat a really good French baguette! They always remind me of childhood holidays in France, where the local baker would sell freshly baked breads transported on the back of a bicycle.

Iberico ham crisps:  When you taste them, you’ll know why they’re on my list.

Dudda’s Tun cider:  I’m a fan of all their flavours but my current favourite is the Apricot one.

These are the basics, but you could also add local apples and cherries, our famous Italian watermelon, our butcher’s famous Roy’s Rolls… the possibilities are endless when it comes to picking a spread of food from Macknade!

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