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 following the shutdown of the hospitality sector.
The situation has been compounded by shoppers using supermarkets to stock up on hard and grating cheeses made by large food manufacturers.
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 be thrown away.
The cheese community has come together to urge British public to buy direct from cheesemakers and independent retailers, and is asking restaurants to help by using British artisan cheeses in online cooking demos and adding artisan cheese to their delivery options.
“The future of Britain’s farmhouse and specialist cheesemakers is in the balance - we could see many of the country’s best cheeses lost for ever as family farms and small cheesemaking businesses are pushed to the wall,” warns cheesemaker Catherine Mead, chair of the SCA, which represents more than 200 small cheesemakers and is one of three organisations involved in the initiative along with the Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food.
“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 over filled, an abundance of spring milk with nowhere to go and only a few orders forthcoming.”
The industry has been quick to respond with cheesemakers, cheesemongers, farm shops and delis pivoting their businesses to be able to sell cheese online to be delivered direct to people’s doors, as well as introducing social distancing systems at shops so people can buy safely.
John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, which represents the country’s cheese shops, delis and farm shops, has praised the way indie retailers and small producers had mobilised in the crisis.
“It’s inspiring to see how local food networks have risen to the challenge and adapted business models to provide good food to local communities 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.”
To further support the industry, the SCA, Academy of Cheese, Guild of Fine Food and cheese writer Patrick McGuigan have teamed up 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.
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