A cheesemaker has fast-tracked the launch of its new feta-style cheese in a bid to help support struggling sheep milk farmers affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
Sheep milk has been disproportionately affected by the closure of foodservice and restaurants, resulting in producers losing 20 out of their 22 processors.
To offer a lifeline to its suppliers, Shepherds Purse has increased its weekly milk order by 75% to help with the deficit and brought forward the launch of its new format 'Fettle' cheese as a result.
Caroline Bell, MD of the North Yorkshire-based artisan cheesemaker, said they were 'acutely aware' of their responsibility to support suppliers and customers.
"We rely on them and they rely on us," she said, "Every change in the supply chain and every gap has significant knock-on effects.
"We’re working hard for our cow’s milk and water buffalo milk suppliers too, but with this project we are working hard to counter the market distress for our sheep milk farmers.
"We will need the support of retailers, and ultimately customers, to ensure its success."
Fettle is Yorkshire’s version of feta, a Mediterranean salad style cheese handmade with whole ewes’ milk to give a piquant, lemony flavour and slightly crumbly texture.
“It has taken a tremendous amount of work from our small team and our key partners to get this reformatted product ready for market so quickly," Ms Bell said.
"From making the extra cheese to designing and printing the labels and the outer case packaging, and extra design work for the campaign, it’s been incredible."
She added that it was 'essential' that the firm invested in and supported its sheep milk farmers so that they can survive the coronavirus crisis.
"The extent to which we can continue to buy extra milk from the farmers to help to ensure their survival through this crisis, will depend on how much of this new Fettle, and our other cheeses, customers can buy and enjoy," she said.
Simon Stott, of industry body Sheep Milk UK, said that while the new Fettle product was a 'big lifeline' for producers, the future of British sheep milk is still 'far from secure'.
"Some of our farmers have already had to dry off due to the massive drop in demand," Mr Stott said.
It comes as British cheesemakers warned they are facing a crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic as many have lost up to 90% of business overnight.
A new campaign led by the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA), Academy of Cheese and the Guild of Fine Food aims to provide an online directory of firms that can deliver or are safely open for business.