Every age throws up its own unique challenges but cheesemakers have weathered the storms of war, industrialisation, and reaching back further into the past, the Black Death, from which British cheesemaking emerged not only unscathed but with a whole new family of cheeses unique to Britain, the Territorials of which the buttery, crumbly Kirkhams Lancashire and juicily mineral Appleby’s Cheshire are fine examples. Today we are all facing a new pandemic in the form of Covid-19.
In March of this year the effects of Covid fell heavily on cheese, in particular the closure of restaurants, which caused a 90% drop in sales, and some of our finest and most well-loved cheeses seemed to be facing extinction.
With characteristic gumption and resolve the cheesemakers of Britain and Ireland dug in, and pivoted to online markets, direct sales at the farm gate, even changing their recipes to make longer keeping cheese that could ride out the fall in trade. The cheesemongers have done their bit too, by carrying on courageously during lockdown, working in their masks in socially distanced shops, and wrapping and packing like heroes to serve the explosion in online sales.
There is another group whose actions during the pandemic have been inspiring, and that is the cheese fanciers of Britain and Ireland. The plight of the cheesemakers caught the people’s imagination and commanded their sympathy, and they responded by buying so much cheese that for many cheesemakers and shops, sales have returned to pre-Covid levels, and, amazingly, in some cases have even grown.
This may be the end of the beginning, but cheese is not out of the woods yet. Setting aside the current pandemic, the world is changing rapidly and if our cheeses are to survive the challenges to come there will need to be considerable resilience in the artisan and farmhouse cheese industry. Happily for cheese fans, the best thing we can do is to buy, and of course to eat more delicious cheese, and to celebrate the traditions and innovations of cheesemaking in these isles in events like Fortnum’s Festival of Great British and Irish Cheese.
Starting from 14th September, we'll be highlighting a different cheese - and cheesemonger for you to discover every week until Christmas. Visit us our Piccadilly Cheese Counter to enjoy 10% off a different cheese every week, and keep an eye on our social channels or sign up to our newsletter for your weekly cheese fix.