Our new cheese advent calendar created by food blogger Annem Hobson has been making headlines around the world. Here she explains how her brilliant idea made it onto the shelves at Asda...
I’ve been blogging for about three years – I started my blog Sowrongitsnom.com as a hobby. Since I was a little girl, my mum has involved me a lot with creating ideas for dinner as she's a fantastic cook. We’re the sort of family that plans lunch and dinner while we’re eating breakfast, so food is always on our minds!
I love writing about food with no rules attached to it which I think I also get from my mum. She loves to experiment with ingredients and cooks a lot of East meets West dishes, like putting Marmite in Pilau rice. It sounds wrong, but it’s pretty nom! While most kids enjoyed going to the sweet shop, my idea of a treat was going to the cheese counter at supermarkets and being allowed to try whatever I wanted.
The advent calendar idea first started in November 2015 when my husband Michael and I were thinking of blog post ideas. I recall asking him, “Should we get an advent calendar this year?” which started a conversation about whether a cheese one existed. We immediately Googled it and absolutely nothing came up. I then took to Twitter to search and while I still didn’t find one, what I did discover were hundreds of people asking, “Why doesn’t a cheese advent calendar exist!?” That was a real lightbulb moment.
As a bit of a laugh, the next day we went and bought some yellow paper and cutters to make shapes out of cheese and made our own calendar in our kitchen. I put a blog up about it with instructions on how to make your own and as soon as it went live it got a brilliant reaction. The Metro and Comedy Central wrote about it and it snowballed from there. People couldn’t believe it had never been made before! It was at Christmas 2016 that I decided to formally start a campaign. Although I don’t have any connections in the food industry, I had spent the previous year researching as much as I could, contacting friends who were in relevant jobs, putting together plans, early concepts and more. From there, I bought the URL cheeseadventcalendar.com and put a sign-up form on my website asking people to sign up if they would like their own Cheese Advent Calendar. This time round, because there was a real call to action, it really blew up on the internet! People just absolutely loved it.
It was trending on Facebook for two days. Emma Bunton shared it and Zooey Dechanel, who I love, was sharing it too. It even went international and got featured on Good Morning America and Fox News. We ended up with 11,000 signatures from cheese fans in the space of four days alone.
With So Wrong It’s Nom, I’d like to see cheese celebrated in the same way as chocolate is during key celebrations – whether it’s Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s or Mother’s Day.
As part of my “Cheese Not Choc” campaign I also trademarked the term “Cheester Egg” which I sold at Easter with an artisan producer called Wildes Cheese. They sold out within three days, prompting the Evening Standard to call me the “Queen of Cheese!”
I approached Ilchester Norseland at the beginning of the year after having researched cheese companies that sold small snackable cheeses. I’ve always been a fan of their Pick n’ Mix range and love their Applewood.
One day I just picked up the phone and rang their marketing department. Sometimes you just have to ask! It was my husband Michael who encouraged me to call them, followed by the wise words, “If you don’t ask you don’t get!” I’m very glad I did.
It was quite an amusing initial conversation after I introduced myself as the Cheese Advent Calendar girl. Kieran from Norseland, who I now work with, knew all about it already and was thrilled to hear from me. Right from the get go, Norseland have been fantastic and ran with the idea with the same amount of enthusiasm as I have.
I helped put together key stats and information from my campaign to help Norseland with their conversations with Asda. They’ve worked closely with me on product development and packaging design, and love the little details we’ve put forward to make the calendar brilliant.
Our range of packaging ideas span from a cube design, to a double-sided box and more! We knew we wanted to consider people’s fridge space around the time of Christmas so we landed on our final concept where the packaging can be torn down the middle after the first 12 days.
After it was confirmed that Asda were happy to stock the Cheese Advent Calendar, my family and I have been jumping with joy. What an unexpected business venture! Asda have always been one of my favourite retailers and have a big team of cheese experts on board who really understand what makes this product special.
It still doesn’t feel real, and I don’t think it will until I walk down the Asda aisle and see it for myself. The last few weeks have been madness after the media started reporting on the Cheese Advent Calendar. I’m getting an email a minute from people enquiring on when they can get their hands on one. I’ve even had cheese fans from all over Europe, Australia and America asking where they can buy one – or if they can get any shipped over. Although I posted a video on Facebook to try to answer the most common questions, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down!
I’m incredibly excited to see what people think. I’ve had emails from people asking if they can pre-order because they’re afraid they might sell out and others getting in touch to say they want to buy a couple because they can think of numerous people to give it to – they’ll say things like “My Dad would love this!” or “This is going to make my girlfriend’s Christmas!” I’ve even had a mum say she wants to get it for her son who’s diabetic because he’s never had an advent calendar before. I’ve realised there are a lot of people who are cutting down on sugar, so the Cheese Advent Calendar really caters for them.
There are 24 individually wrapped cheeses in the calendar coming in five different varieties. Behind each door there’s a cheesy joke, a cheese fact or a serving suggestion so it’s sure to put a smile on your face.
You could open it at breakfast and have the cheese as part of a continental breakfast, or you could have it as a treat when you get home from work. Each cheese is bite sized and around 20g, so it’s a good amount to have on a cracker… or maybe with a glass of wine in the evening. Christmas is for enjoying food and indulging after all!
The cheese advent calendar is available online and in stores nationwide from 9th November, priced at £8. Here's a list of the stores stocking it. It's proving really popular, so please call ahead if you're planning a special journey to get one.