Cheesemakers need more support from the public as the coronavirus crisis threatens the future of many firms, small-scale producers have warned.
Independent British cheesemakers are facing a crisis as many have lost up to 90 percent of business overnight due to the spread of Covid-19.
A new initiative now aims to raise awareness of the issue and help consumers connect with local producers and indie retailers.
Led by the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA), Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food, the groups want to provide an online directory of firms that can deliver or are safely open for business.
This collaborative project will culminate in the British Cheese Weekender over the Early May Bank Holiday weekend (8-10 May), when the public will be encouraged to enjoy British cheese.
It comes as some cheesemakers were forced to dump thousands of litres of milk and give away cheese for free after losing custom when the hospitality sector closed down.
The situation has been compounded by consumers using supermarkets to stock up on hard and grating cheeses made by large food manufacturers.
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, the groups said.
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 industry has been quick to respond with cheesemakers and farm shops rapidly pivoting their businesses to be able to sell online to be delivered direct to people, as well as introducing social distancing systems so people can buy safely.
“The future of Britain's farmhouse and specialist cheesemakers is in the balance,” warned Catherine Mead, chair of the SCA, which represents over 200 small cheesemakers.
"We could see many of the country's best cheeses lost for ever as family farms and small cheesemaking businesses are pushed to the wall.
“The national crisis has put untold pressure on our members. Restaurants, cafes and pubs closed overnight leaving cheese stores over filled, an abundance of spring milk with nowhere to go and only a few orders forthcoming.”
She added that the good news is that it's 'never been easier' to buy good British 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,” Ms Mead said.
John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, praised the way indie retailers and small producers had mobilised in the crisis.
He said it is 'inspiring' to see how local food networks have risen to the challenge and adapted business models to provide food during the crisis.
"Independent retailers are going to extraordinary lengths to keep the nation fed, while also providing a vital route to market for small producers, who would otherwise struggle to stay afloat," he said.
"We urge shoppers to make use of these networks and support small family businesses. The local pound has never been so valuable.”