Continental cheesemakers loosen laws to survive pandemic sales dip
Continental cheesemakers are being forced to change rules governing protected cheeses and rely on emergency aid from the EU as they battle for survival during the coronavirus crisis.
Like their British counterparts, cheesemakers across Europe saw sales plummet when foodservice, export and retail channels were closed by lockdown measures.
In France, sales of PDO and PGI protected-status cheeses have fallen by 60%, according to industry body France Terre de Lait, with around 5,000 tonnes of cheese at risk of being thrown away.
The organisation has launched a consumer campaign called Fromagissons (‘Let’s act for cheese’) to encourage people to buy traditional cheeses.
In Italy, the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO association, said sales fell by 50% in April, while Gorgonzola producers saw a 17% decline in the same period.
The dire situation facing European cheesemakers in their home markets has prompted changes to the terms of geographical indications.
In France, 19 cheese PDOs have been temporarily modified, including Roquefort, which can now be made with milk from a single milking, rather than two, while the time in which milk must be used was extended from 48 to 72 hours.
In Italy, temporary modifications have been introduced to several cheese PDOs, including Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, which now allows the use of frozen milk.
With supply outstripping demand in Europe, the EU has introduced a storage aid scheme that pays cheesemakers €15.57 per tonne of cheese they store. The idea is to encourage producers to hold back cheese rather than flood the market, which would see prices tumble.
Exports from Europe to the UK have been hit by the closure of the hospitality sector, while cheesemongers have been focusing on supporting British producers. Even so, sales through independent retailers have held up, according to shops contacted by FFD.
“People are loyal to Continentals,” said Jen Grimstone-Jones at Cheese Etc in Pangbourne. “We’ve sold a lot of Brie-de-Meaux and Camembert, especially when it was harder to get some British soft cheeses.”
La Fromagerie’s wholesale manager Michael Paradise said it had narrowed its range to “big name” Continentals, such as Comté, Brie de Meaux, Beaufort, Le Gruyère, Manchego and Parmesan, which were all in high demand. “It’s been a real struggle to sell some cheeses that would sell really well when you could sample them out.”