Hard cheese shortages now being felt after early pandemic disruption
Disruption to hard cheese production when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year is only being felt now as cheeses reach maturity – with some producers running short of stock and others facing a surplus.
Soft cheesemakers were immediately thrown into crisis during the first lockdown because of the short shelf lives of their products, but there has been a delayed impact for producers of aged cheeses, who are only now feeling the effects of decisions taken a year ago.
Holden Farm Dairy in Wales stopped production of its Hafod cheddar in April and May last year when restaurants closed, but consequently has no cheese to sell now, just as it reopens.
“Here we are a year later in a ‘hungry gap’ with no cheese available as we wait for summer 2020 cheese to mature,” said the company on Instagram. “Our Hafod customers have shown positivity and resilience, and now we are also grateful for their patience and understanding.”
At Isle of Mull Cheese, co-owner Brendan Reade is facing the opposite problem. “We’re bulging at the seams in the cheese store,” he said. “There’s nowhere else for the milk to go on Mull, so it has gone into cheese.
“No-one was furloughed. We continued milking cows and making cheese even when orders have dropped significantly during lockdowns.
“Consequently, the age profile of our cheese is more like 18 months rather than 12 months. Cashflow has slowed down during this period. At a time when we had committed to major investment, we are starting to feel the pinch.
“Having cheese maturing in the cellar for longer is a strain, but the upside is that it is tasting great. With the lockdown being eased, we’re hopeful sales will pick up.”
Kent-based Winterdale Cheesemakers was forced to pour away 5,000 litres of milk during the first lockdown and significantly cut production of its raw milk cheddar, which owner Robin Betts said could lead to shortages.
“Lockdowns have made planning difficult when you are making a cheese that won’t be ready for a year. It’s really opened our eyes that we need more flexibility in the business”
To this end, the company has invested in a pasteuriser and bottling line to sell bottled milk, cream and butter under the new Kent Downs Dairy brand.