Photography by Lizzie Patterson
Something is seriously wrong with the British artisan cheese industry.
Despite other artisan produce flourishing, our dairy industry is in a dire state. We have lost a dairy farm, on average, every day for the last ten years, herds have got bigger, cows are milked harder and they are living shorter lives, increasingly entirely indoors.
Other European countries have artisan cheese practices that enshrine healthy living conditions for dairy cows, helping them yield smaller quantities of higher quality milk for cheesemaking. France, for instance, has over 3500 artisan cheesemakers, Britain has fewer than 350.
I was asked if the decline in dairies was due to the prevalence of veganism. It isn’t. We are producing more milk than ten years ago and our hunger for cheese isn’t abating; it’s just not for British artisan cheese. Our supermarket and delicatessen shelves promote imported artisan cheese above British. Imagine a Burgundian Carrefour stocking no local cheese, and instead promoting Stilton, Caerphilly and Cheddar. So, from 20th December, 100 days prior to the date for Brexit, I am setting out on a 100-day quest to visit Britain's 100 finest cheesemakers; to discover whether a post-Brexit Britain can develop an artisan cheese industry – and culture – to compete with France, Italy and other cheese-loving European nations.
I was told this is madness by my business consultant (after seeing our latest accounts!) so, to keep costs down, I will be wild camping in the roof tent on my car. I hope you’ll follow my journey and help me to highlight what could be done to halt the decline, and help bring our cows out from the factories and back into our fields. Better for the cows, better for our farmers, better for our economy!
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