Britain’s specialist cheesemakers and retailers have joined forces to urge the public to support small cheesemakers as the Coronavirus crisis threatens to wipe out the previously thriving industry.
Led by the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA), Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food, with support from cheese writer Patrick McGuigan, the initiative aims to raise awareness of the crisis and help shoppers connect with local cheesemakers and independent retailers by providing online directories of the companies that can deliver or are safely open for business.
This first-of-its-kind collaborative project will culminate in the British Cheese Weekender over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend (8-10 May), when the public will be encouraged to enjoy the country’s best cheeses with a series of free, online tastings.
Farmhouse and artisan cheesemakers are being forced to pour thousands of litres of milk down the drain and give away cheese for free after many lost up to 90% of their business overnight when the hospitality sector was forced to close.
The situation has been compounded by shoppers using supermarkets to stock up on hard and grating cheeses made by large food manufacturers.
The result is that small producers have been left with maturing rooms full of cheeses, which by their nature have limited shelf lives. The problem is particularly pronounced for soft and blue cheeses.
At the same time, cows, sheep and goats are now out at pasture and continue to produce milk every day that must be used or thrown away.
The industry has been quick to respond with cheesemakers, cheesemongers, farm shops and delis rapidly pivoting their businesses to be able to sell cheese online to be delivered to people’s doors, as well as introducing strict social distancing systems at shops so people can buy safely.
“The future of Britain’s farmhouse and specialist cheesemakers is in the balance – we could see many of the country’s best cheeses lost forever as family farms and small cheesemaking businesses are pushed to the wall,” said cheesemaker Catherine Mead, chair of the SCA, which represents over 200 small cheesemakers and is one of three organisations involved in the initiative.
“The national crisis has put untold pressure on our members. Restaurants, cafes and pubs, plus farmers markets and supermarket deli counters, closed overnight leaving cheese stores overfilled, an abundance of spring milk with nowhere to go and only a few orders forthcoming.”
She added: “The good news is that it’s never been easier to buy good cheese, either online or direct. The specialist cheese industry has mobilised almost overnight, often teaming up with other small food producers, to get good food to people in their local areas.”
Commenting on the British Cheese Weekender, Tracey Colley, director of the Academy of Cheese said: “We’re lining up a series of virtual masterclasses over the weekend hosted by top cheese experts so that people can tune in and learn more about cheese as they taste along at home. We’ll be covering topics from how to be a cheese judge to drinks pairings and storage tips.”
John Farrand, the Guild’s MD, praised the way indie retailers and small producers had mobilised in the crisis.
“It’s inspiring to see how food networks have risen to the challenge and adapted business models to provide good food during the crisis. Independent retailers are going to extraordinary lengths to keep the nation fed, while also providing a vital route to market for small producers, who would otherwise struggle to stay afloat. We urge shoppers to make use of these networks and support small family businesses. The local pound has never been so valuable.”
You can buy local cheese from Lyburn Cheesemakers who have been New Forest Marque members for 15 years.