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Britain’s cheese retailers work hard to champion the best artisan, farmhouse cheeses produced here in the UK and further afield, but by not discussing the sustainability angle with their customers, Clare Jackson of Slate Cheese believes cheesemongers are missing a trick.
“Cheesemakers are at the heart of what we do. We couldn’t sell delicious cheese without them doing the amazing job they do making it,” Clare told Speciality Food. “It’s absolutely the centre of what we do – sharing those stories and sharing how those businesses are developing and changing over time as well.”
But recently, Clare has been expanding the story outside of just the cheesemaking process to include how producers are addressing concerns around their environmental impact.
“Increasingly, a lot of our customers know the stories of the farms behind the cheese that we’re selling, so updating them on how those farms are working to manage the impact of their cheesemaking process is a really interesting aspect that we can share, and remain topical,” Clare said.
For instance, one maker near her Suffolk-based shops is Fen Farm Dairy. “They’ve got innovative energy sources,” she explained. “They have heating pipes under the cowsheds, so the actual warmth of the cows is warming water in pipes, and then it goes to a heat exchanger to be used in the cheese rooms,” Clarie said. “They’re also experimenting with cow feed to reduce their methane gas emissions. Really innovative and exciting things.” Westcombe Cheddar is also tackling the environmental issue by working to boost biodiversity and manage how its cows graze.
Dairy farming is an easy target thanks to the sustainability issues with large-scale, industrial farming. With shoppers no doubt hearing of these problems in the headlines, it’s important for cheesemongers to add to the narrative. “People can pick up on it as an easy one to say, ‘We shouldn’t be doing dairy farming’,” Clare said. “They see that in dairy farming, the cows emit methane and gas and damage soil structure with their hooves.”
But that’s not the whole story – especially with small, artisan farmhouse cheesemakers. “There are really exciting stories. It comes as part of our role to share those so that people don’t just see the dairy industry as a negative drain on the environment,” Clare explained.
With customers more interested than ever in their food and where it comes from, and with more Brits exploring different diets and looking into the environmental impact of the food they eat, speaking about sustainability in the cheese sector also becomes a crucial sales tool. “It’s important for us to start communicating that story as part of our discussion about where the cheeses come from,” Clare said. “It’s an innovative industry, and people are coming up some great ideas so it’s an exciting space.”