Did you know the UK has over 800 named British cheeses to choose from? Over the last 10 years Artisanal cheese producers and sellers have flourished, but now the are under threat.
Across the United Kingdom, restaurants, hotels, even farmers markets are closed because of the Covid-19 lock down. So if you are a small cheese maker, where can you sell your cheeses?
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 restaurants were closed down. The situation has been compounded by shoppers using supermarkets to stock up on hard and grating cheeses, typically made by large food manufacturers.
Support Small Cheesemakers
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.
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 be thrown away.
“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, ” warned cheesemaker Catherine Mead, Chair of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.
The SCA has joined forces with the Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food, with support from cheese writer and campaign founder Patrick McGuigan, to highlight the plight of small cheesemakers.
What can you do to help?
Put simply, buy good cheese from small cheese makers and independent retailers. Britain’s artisan cheese industry has been quick to respond to the crisis with cheesemakers, cheesemongers, farm shops and delis rapidly pivoting their businesses to be able to sell cheese online to be delivered direct to people’s doors, as well as introducing strict social distancing systems at shops so people can buy safely.
Chairman of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) Catherine Mead said, “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.”
You can access a list of cheesemakers and independent retailers selling online or safely in shops here: Academy of Cheese
One such seller of Artisanal British Cheeses is Owen Davies who’s fledgling Cheese business Tŷ Caws is under threat because of the lockdown. A self-confessed foodie, Owen discovered his passion for cheese whilst working as part of the buying team for the London based speciality food distributor Harvey and Brockless. Inspired by being around great ingredients and talented producers from around the world .
Now having worked with cheese for around 20 years Owen has cultivated a network of the finest cheese producers from all corners of the UK. Owen also judges at various competitions including the British Cheese Awards; Artisan Cheese Awards; and is a team leader at the World Cheese Awards. an associate member of the Academy of Cheese.
During our interview I asked Owen………….
Kevin: How do you decide which cheeses to sell in your online shop?
Owen: To me when I select a cheese it has to be something that I enjoy eating and I appreciate that everyone has different tastes, which is why the selection I have tries to cover as many of those different tastes as I can. Really it’s about working with the produces themselves as well.
Kevin: So do you go to the producers location and have a tasting there? Or do you get sent the cheese and have a tasting at your shop?
Owen: Over the last 20 years I’ve managed to visit the vast majority of the dairies I work with. Often cheeses are sent to me but I prefer to visit where I can. I love to make cheese as well and would like to do that more. I would like to make cheese with different cheese makers because that’s when you get a really true understanding of the cheese itself and what goes into it. Every cheese is made differently and everyone has a different take on what makes a great cheese. I visit the different dairies and what still amazes me now is the transformation of milk into curd and then into cheese.
Kevin: How has Covid-19 effected your business?
Owen: My main market was farmers markets and a number of small restaurants which have now ceased to trade. So I had to quickly have an online platform and shop but this is in it’s developmental stages to make it an interactive and user friendly space for people to buy cheese. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support in Cardiff and it’s been great to have so many new customers in addition to my regular customer base.
Kevin: How often do you change your cheese selections?
Owen: At the moment I’m developing my selection as certain producers have stopped making cheese for the time being. Soft cheese in particular is becoming an issue to get hold of, so I’ve been looking for new soft cheeses. I have a new goats’ cheese coming in from Rosary Goats’ cheese and one from West Wales. The struggle to source these cheeses is due to the shut down of dairies, the restrictions on how many people can work in an area (which limits production capacity) but also some producers are not used to supplying directly to the likes of myself – they would normally supply companies that carry a larger stock of cheese.
Kevin: What are you hoping to achieve from the event?
Owen: Being from Wales, I am hoping to raise awareness of the variety and quality of the wonderful cheeses we make in Wales. It’s really to show that we have so many on our doorstep and we don’t really need to be going anywhere else. Examples include everything from Teifi Mature, a Gouda-style cheese made in West Wales to; Golden Canarth, a Welsh cider washed cheese which gives it that wonderful pinky / orange colour to; Perl Las, an award-winning Welsh blue.
Kevin: My final question is which platform is your broadcast on.
Owen: YouTube. My main focus has been on getting the cheese delivered to my customers and I’ve managed to find someone to help on the delivery side. He’s actually a customer of mine from the farmer’s market and he normally works in the music industry.
You can watch Owen on YouTube, his live broadcast goes out at 3.15pm GMT Friday 8th May.
British Cheese Weekender, Early May Bank Holiday, 8-10 May
To celebrate the amazing range of cheeses made by small producers in the UK and to highlight the crisis they face, the campaign will culminate in the British Cheese Weekender over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend (8-10 May). The three-day event will encourage the public to enjoy the country’s best cheeses with a series of free, online tastings by the country’s top cheese experts. Enjoy these free masterclasses, virtual farm tours, even cheese pub quizzes!
For a detailed program of this 3 day event please go to this link and check back often as the details of where the broadcasts will take place and how to access them.
Special thanks to Sophie Ashton for her transcribing and editing skills so I could meet my deadline.