Northern Ireland is very proud of it's famous North Coast- and it's no surprise as to why. It's got sun (not always guaranteed), sand and surf; coastlines, cliffs and castles; ‘Game of Thrones’, golf and...
Yep, 'Grilled Cheese'.
For our ‘Beyond Bailies’ blog post this month, we hit the road on a sunny July afternoon and traveled to visit a true gem of the North Coast: Mini Maegden. Maegden has been one of our valued Bailies customers since opening the hatch of their iconic and instagram favourite 1950s camper back in 2017- serving coffee, hot chocolates and mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwiches to the masses. Since then, the little van - powered by the passion and vision of owners Emma and Jo - has become a beloved spot on the North Coast.
Obviously, we couldn't stop by for an interview and not eat something! That would be rude... right? So, in the name of ‘good research’ we sampled two options from their menu board of grilled cheese greatness. And, after some tough decision making, we went for the classic ‘Maegden Mix’: a simple and glorious mixture of four Irish white farmhouse cheeses; and the ‘Nduja Mix’: an assortment of cheeses, Nduja spicy sausage with a delicious side of pickles, both served in Zac's Bakehouse sourdough bread. Once we had devoured our cheesy feast, we began our chat with Jo and Emma on what and how they make Maegden work so well, and why two English teachers packed in school timetables for making coffees and grilled cheeses in Emma's dad's field, just around the corner from the Giant’s Causeway.
First off, we decided to address - probably the most asked question, which is of course:
"What does the name ‘Maegden’ mean and how on earth is it pronounced!?"
There were many debates in the preparation for this interview regarding how to pronounce ‘Maegden’ properly- which, for all those curious, is to be pronounced "may-den" (I got it right, just saying). The story of the name came about by happening across the word for ‘maegd’- 'to make' in the Old English text: Beowulf. Many, many Old English texts later, and research into links to Danish translations- Jo and Emma came across the word ‘Maegden’ which translated to ‘maiden’ whilst also translating to ‘strength and boldness’. This combination of translations and links to their pastime as English teachers, all seemed rather fitting for the pair, and to sway them even further was the quaint coincidence that 'Mae’ is the name of Emma's mum, and Jo's as well! Guess that was decision 'maegd'! Get it? Anyway...on with the interview!
So, big question guys… are we coffee lovers?
Jo: Of course- as teachers we used to drink maybe up to 8-12 cups a day! You needed to! In-between classes, we would all top up on horrible coffee from the teacher’s lounge. The thing is, in the van the coffee is so much better but it's sadly not as convenient, especially in the summer months.
Emma: And most of the time it’s just too hot! And so many days we literally don’t have a minute, it can be a constant queue of people ordering and receiving their orders, we just don't get the chance sadly!
Jo: To be fair I’ll have some coffee in the morning, you're very good (Emma), and you'll make me a wee coffee when you’re dialing in- although it's usually one of the 30 odd dial ins that I get to 'try out'- I get the lovely dialing-in sludge!
Do you miss teaching? Or is it grilled cheese and coffee for the win?
Emma: Gosh, no! I mean, What I mean is...
Jo: We’ll happily take this!
Emma: It’s a huge difference really, and I would say it’s perhaps less mentally stressful!
Jo: Yes, I agree, but perhaps more physically arduous.
Emma: Definitely more physical! But the similarities would be that we’re still very much engaging with people everyday.
Jo: And sometimes, you can get caught up in that too…
Emma: Yes! Sometimes we can get over familiar! Just having a chat but if people have questions, some of us can get lost in giving way too much information…. (looks to Jo)
Jo: Yes, I mean, ok, sometimes I can get very excited about talking people through everything about this type of cheese or that ingredient, or the story of the name…
Emma: Another difference is that we drank more coffee! We maybe make it sound awful! But we’d been teachers for 13 years, and it was just not what either of us really felt like we wanted to do for the long term.
Jo: Teaching English, it hurt my passion for it a little, you know? I found myself not wanting to read or write for pleasure anymore and that was sad. So, I think, we both felt that it was time to do something new and different.
Emma: And this works so well for us, we’re best friends and we work well together. We couldn’t physically fit anyone else in here!
Jo: Plus, you’re a control freak…
Emma: OK, yes… I like it being the two of us, because we know what we’re at and can work well together.
What made you choose to work with cheese as your main product?
Jo: Well, we both really like cheese as a start, but with the restrictions we had, with the venture, we then wanted something simple, yet different. We couldn’t have gas, so it had to work with electric, something we could then griddle.
Emma: We’re very lucky, we have Neal’s Yard in London, but then also producers from here like Mike’s Fancy Cheese (Belfast), Toonsbridge Dairy (Cork), Sheridan’s (Dublin) and others who send us amazing cheeses.
At Bailies, we’d regularly be tasting our products side-by-side, is this the case for cheese too?
Jo: Pretty much! We get sent samples of different cheeses suggested to us by our suppliers and it’s really exciting to try them and come up with ideas and you tend to know from a cheese profile you’re trying out what it would go well with. We have so many grilled cheese ideas written down we still haven’t gotten around to making!
So, you’re basically cheese connoisseurs…
Emma: Ha! If anything, we’ve been spoilt by it now!
Jo: The beauty of it is that none of what we’re putting out has been mass produced, it’s sourced and produced with care and attention and been so at a fair price, which also drew us to Bailies for our coffee as well. We wanted to work with producers who were not only experts, but local, with good relationships with farmers and growers like yourselves at Bailies who have those Direct Trade relationships.
Emma: Those relationships were so important and the reason why we are at the higher end of the scale for our food and drinks, because we’re paying for premium produce that has a transparency.
Jo: Exactly. For us, there is no such thing as ‘cheap food’. I always question it if it is. We didn’t want to do anything cheaply; we wanted to celebrate the craft of the producers and have great tasting food.
Ah you guys! You have our single origin Brazilian Natural- Sao Silvestre on espresso at Maegden, have you ever changed from this or plan to?
Emma: Yeah, you’re right we’ve had it on for a good while actually!
Jo: But I think we are going to change to Colombian single origin for a while in September which will switch things up.
Emma: The Brazilian is a great coffee for us, as it was important to have a coffee that can be a real crowd pleaser- one that everyone will love and will be great with milk - which is perfect for consistency too. For us, the Brazilian is that coffee; an all-rounder.
Jo: And we would love more coffees, but we just don’t have the time!
Emma: Or the space! I mean, even making one of these (bonfire hot chocolate), I don’t think I’d even be able to fit a bigger torch in here!
Jo: This is true, we had an American film crew in the van with us last week and let’s just say it was far from cosy!
(Emma is in the process making the infamous ‘Bonfire Hot Chocolate’ for a customer whilst we’re chatting, and, consequently drooling ever so slightly at the sight of melting marshmallow…)
Emma: A batch brew would be so nice as well, and could be so easy, but we would just have nowhere to put it. The intended layout of the van was to be much different to perhaps allow for something like that, but sure! The Bailies engineers did a great job to fit our machines in and it works.
Jo: Yeah! We love the Bailies engineers!
Emma: Ah yes, they're brilliant! I don't know how they fitted us out, but they did!
Oh, that won’t boost their egos at all… But we can safely say they love you guys too!
Emma: It’s because we always have a very clean machine!
Jo: Yes! Anytime we see the van, I’m like, quick Emma! Clean the machine, it’s Bailies!
And on that note, with customers finally beginning to disperse from the little car park, and in the fear that in similar fashion to 'Beetlejuice' the Bailies engineers may show up if we mentioned them one too many times- we bid farewell to Emma and Jo and their "femme-fuelled" powerhouse of grilled cheese gouda-ness (I mean, you can't not throw in a cheese pun)!