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Independent cheesemongers are having to adapt to new ways of ordering and stocking European cheese and reevaluate the types of cheese they order.
Costs are racking up
Importing cheese from outside the UK is no longer a simple or cheap feat. The new regulations have caused price increases on all aspects of supplying and delivery, making it more challenging than before.
Patricia Michelson, director and founder of La Fromagerie explained: “As we navigate the red tape and extra paperwork as well as all the costs to bring in goods from the EU, the amount of money is racking up.
“This week just for the French goods, we are bringing in cheese and wine which has amounted to £1,000 in transport/paperwork/customs. For a medium-sized business such as ourselves - or small in comparison to corporations/supermarkets - this is a lot to absorb. None of our suppliers in the EU are contributing to the paperwork and most of them can’t afford to anyway as they are small dairies and farms.
“With Italian produce, we experience more delays and paperwork problems which are affecting us on a weekly basis. Having to wait much longer for goods to be given the all-clear to be shipped, and worse still when one bit of the paperwork is not filled in properly - i.e., not ticking the box MADE IN ITALY for instance held up one whole shipment because one producer’s paperwork missed this out.”
Clare Jackson, director of Slate Cheese has experienced the same issues. She told Speciality Food: “Over the last year we’ve seen some pretty substantial price rises on a number of European favourites, for example the delicious aged Comté that we stock has increased in price by a hefty 18% since July 2021! This is likely a combination of increased production costs and the effects of Brexit, additional paperwork etc. adding costs to the supply chain.
“Last year we tried to develop a relationship with a Swiss supplier to bring in cheese directly but costs were too high with new paperwork such as vet certificates to make it work at our scale.”
Unreliability of deliveries
Jen Grimstone-Jones from Cheese Etc., The Pangbourne Cheese Shop has experienced unreliability of deliveries and longer waiting times for cheeses. She told Speciality Food: “The biggest headache we have experienced since Brexit has been the unpredictability of supply. Our suppliers think that a cheese is coming so we pass the information on to our customers, and then when the delivery arrives half of the order isn’t there. It’s frustrating all round.
“The other problem is time. We used to be able to order for same week delivery, we’re now operating on a two-week lead time, sometimes three. The cheeses come across in refrigerated containers so the delay isn’t causing a problem with quality but we’re now avoiding ordering fresh cheeses which have a shorter shelf life.”
Clare agreed, adding, “At times we have experienced shortages, particularly with fresh cheeses such as Delice de Bourgogne, although these gaps have been less recently.”
Promoting British cheese instead
While Brexit has caused a plethora of issues for both UK cheesemongers and European cheese suppliers, there are solutions to be found that makes the most of British cheesemaking.
When some cheesemakers have struggled to import certain European cheeses or found them too costly, they have turned to British products as delicious alternatives. This method of ‘plugging the gap’ with British cheese not only helps small cheesemongers save money and time, but also provides customers with world-class cheeses.
Clare explained: “When customers come in asking for a European cheese that they know, we love to suggest the British alternative, give them a taste and see how it measures up. For example, Ogleshield in place of Raclette is usually a wonderful new discovery!
Jen reflected this idea, “As a business we are always keen to offer a British alternative to our European cheeses and our sales reflect this in that 80% of our cheese sales are British. The Baron Bigod (an English Brie made in Suffolk) outsells the French Brie de Meaux PDO by three to one but there are some European cheeses that are just not replicated over here, such as Comté PDO or Roquefort PDO.
“We do stock great British alternatives such as the Cornish Kern and Lanark Blue but I think customers would really miss the European ones if they weren’t available. Nevertheless, British cheesemaking is world-class and most customers will predominately buy British. The British public like to know where their food is coming from and we have a connection with the farm or dairy where the British cheeses are produced in that we buy direct where we can.”