Monday, November 09, 2020

Warning of Christmas Stilton shortage

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Neal's Yard Dairy has written about the problems that 2020 has caused the makers of blue cheeses -  Joe Schneider, Jo Clarke and Stilton maker Billy Kevan of Leicestershire's Colston Bassett Dairy in particular:

The cut-off for making the Stilton-style blue cheeses produced by Joe, Billy and the Clarkes was roughly the middle of September. “Anything you make after that struggles to be ripe in time for Christmas,” says Joe. 

Yet back in July, when these producers would normally start their Christmas cheese production, predicting what December might hold was akin to gazing into a crystal ball. “It’s a chain of decisions you make based on what things look like at the time, and how you’re feeling,” says Joe. ...

In July, Billy and Joe were cautious – “high class restaurants weren’t open yet, delis had reduced hours, people’s shopping habits had changed,” says Billy – but come August and all of that eating out to help out, rising sales suggested things might be alright after all.   

So, they put their collective feet on the gas. “Towards the end of August, I started to make cheese seven days a week, for three weeks,” says Joe, “which took us up to the end of September. We’ll pierce those cheeses a week early, so I hope they’ll be ready – but there’s no guarantee.” It is, says David, the blessing and the curse of farmhouse cheese. “You can’t just press a button to make more – and that’s part of what makes it special.

If there is enough Stilton at Christmas it will be at the expense of other blue cheeses, as dairies have cut back production of them in the hope of producing enough of their biggest seller.

And if the cheesemakers do make it through Christmas successfully, a new danger threatens:

The other concern looming over both Joe and Billy, who send many of their cheeses to Europe, is Brexit. Come January, when those cheeses which weren’t quite ripe enough in December are ready to be sold, they have no idea what the situation will be with Europe – “or with America!” exclaims Billy. “Our tariffs on cheese sales there might change as a result of the election.  

The Stilton country can be a political powder keg, as Lord Bonkers recently recalled when discussing the Great Stilton Strike of 1919:

when the miners came out demanding better pay and Lloyd George sent the troops in. They were billeted in Cropwell Bishop, and I recall telling LG at the time that this was Going A Bit Far, but by then he only had ears for his new Conservative friends

I hope it doesn't come to that in 2021.

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