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Cheese has been part of the northern hemisphere’s diet for thousands of years. It is proven that the neolithic people ate cheese as dairy fat has been found on teeth and potsherds.
Cheese could also have helped power the Neolithic people to move those giant bluestones that form part of Stonehenge. Cheese is a great form of calcium, fat, protein and vitamins. This godsent food has formed a staple part of our diet for many millennia and really deserves some respect.
You may recall an article that I wrote about a mass-produced cheese manufacturer. It was recently fined £1.52 million for multiple pollutants being emitted into the local river. The pollutants killed thousands of fish and put at risk the health of the local community. What makes this more outstanding is this industrial producer also has a royal warrant.
My column this month is to highlight the urgent need to educate people about where our food comes from. Manufactured cheese like the aforementioned has really had its day. Indeed, there are some great large producers that truly follow sustainable and ethical practices, but these are few and far between.
The goal of these dairy giants is to make huge profits and pay as little as possible to make their cheese. Cathedral City has made £21 million in profit, it was also given a £3.2 million government shovel-ready investment to extend its Cheddar and baby food production facilities. This truly beggars belief.
As a retailer do you not want to know where your products are coming from? We need to take inspiration from past cheesemongers and makers. For example Patrick Rance, who founded Wells Family Grocers as a cheese shop. Spend some time and have a look at what this man did for the artisan cheese world and how he, like me, felt about industrial practices.
Modern renaissance pioneers of real cheese are careful to ensure that the produce chosen is only from exceptional makers. You only have to look at Neals Yard Dairy, Paxton & Whitfield and of course, our little cheese emporium at No2 Pound Street to find true examples of considered and well-made cheese.
There are great ambassadors who are extremely vocal such as Emma Young (The Cheese Explorer). Their contribution to the cheese world is immeasurable as we all strive to educate the masses about real artisan produce.
Probably one of the most important examples of education in cheese is the Academy of Cheese, founded by Mary Quicke and carefully run by Tracey Colley. This has allowed people to really get to grips with how cheese is made on an artisan and industrial level.
It baffles me as to why HRH has allowed a Royal Warrant for Cheddar to go to an industrial producer. Perhaps an Academy of Cheese course is in order and would shed some light on how Cheddar cheese was made before the industrial revolution, and the production of block cheddars to feed the war effort.
The average lactation cycle for an industrial dairy cow in the UK is 2.5 years. Cows are generally all artificially inseminated at two-three years of age. They produce milk for an average of three lactations and are then exterminated at six years of age.
When we look at these stats versus artisan it is clear that the artisan/farmhouse cheesemaker wins hands down on several levels: livestock quality of life, low carbon emissions, delicious milk… Farmhouse dairy cows (artisan) have longer lactations due to the stress levels being diminished. The topic of stressed animals in the industrial dairy industry is huge.
I am pleased to report that the goal of the farmhouse cheesemaker is to reduce all stress and give the livestock the best comfort possible, in order to produce top-quality milk that truly shows the myriad of flavours born through natural, loved and cared for pastureland. Why do we need to import fertilisers and feeds when we should only take from the land what is given?
Deep-rooted grasses and herbal leys are what our landscape is truly made up of. The days of quick-growing short rooted grasses that benefit only from industrial fertilisers and imported feed are numbered. Too long has the population been misinformed about industrial production that scars the landscape and pollutes the natural world. Why would you want to eat cheese from an industrial producer that puts stress on the dairy cows reducing their life span?
Do you really want to eat cheese derivative of manmade fertilisers, stressed animals and feeds? Or do you want a product from a farmhouse that is carbon neutral ethical and completely sustainable whist employing a local workforce and paying a half decent wage?
I believe the Royal Warrant for Cheddar needs some serious consideration on so many levels. It is our government that needs to look closer at British farming and stop throwing our cash at industrialists who’s only goal is profit no matter the cost to livestock, humanity or the planet.
We need to applaud producers like the Ethical Dairy, Hafod and Stonebeck for their true connection with the land and being happy with subsistence.