Despite the tentative reopening of pubs and restaurants, small-scale cheesemakers remain in a highly precarious position. At Neal’s Yard Dairy we’re doing all we can to support our cheesemakers and we are excited to announce a new, six-month Buy British Cheese subscription which provides our customers with the opportunity to discover some spectacular cheeses while at the same time offering vital support to producers.
Every month subscribers will receive three outstanding cheeses delivered free of charge with tasting notes and serving suggestions by Jamie Oliver, so they can taste their way through some of the best cheeses that the UK has to offer. These are cheeses that we sell in our shops and which, pre-lockdown, were served at many of the UK's finest restaurants. Every cheese is hand-made, individually selected by us, and cut and wrapped to order.
As a Buy British Cheese subscriber, by the time you sit down to enjoy your cheese you will be doing so in the knowledge that your support has already made a difference. On receipt of your payment we will simultaneously pay the cheesemakers, helping their cashflow and freeing up space in their cheese stores so they can continue to make their delicious cheese.
Buy British Cheese Subscription
At the beginning of lockdown, Neal's Yard Dairy Director Jason Hinds spoke to Clare Finney about the business's response to the Covid-19 crisis, and why small-scale British cheesemakers are in desperate need of support. Read this in full here. Three months later, they speak again about our new initiative, the Buy British Cheese subscription.
On 4th July, after three long, anxious months, Britain’s pubs and restaurants began to open their doors again to customers. The move brought a glimmer of hope not just to the staff and owners of the restaurants, but to their suppliers who, when the shutters came down, were left facing vast piles of produce without a home to go to. For small farmhouse cheesemakers – the sort beloved by chefs for the quality and authenticity of their produce – these stockpiles presented a ticking time bomb: with little to no cheese being shifted from their storerooms and maturing arches, space for newly made cheese was dwindling. For those making soft or blue cheeses – highly perishable cheeses that need consuming in a few weeks or days – the problem was even more acute. Unable either to ‘furlough’ their animals or to redirect the milk toward retail, many farmers were facing the very real possibility of having to sell their herd and cease making cheese altogether: a bleak prospect for them and their families, not to mention the flourishing farmhouse cheese scene that Neal’s Yard Dairy has spent 40 years working to support and shape.
It was into this febrile environment that Neal’s Yard Dairy launched its Save British Cheese initiative: a selection box containing cheese from those small, family cheesemakers worst hit by the crisis. Sold to customers in their thousands, thanks in part to an extraordinary intervention on Instagram by Jamie Oliver, these cheese boxes helped with the pressing problem of shifting the backlog of cheeses that had been destined for food service and clearing storerooms and maturing arches so more cheese could be made. The scheme’s success made a huge difference, shifting over 14 tonnes of cheese otherwise at risk of becoming food waste.
But the crisis is by no means over, as Jason Hinds, director at Neal’s Yard Dairy describes: “making it to the end of the year is going to be a real challenge for some of our cheesemakers, because like many food businesses – like us – they lose money in some months of the year but offset that with sales at Christmas. But if they can make it through to Christmas, cheesemakers stand a better chance of reaching what we all hope will be greener pastures on the other side.” It is with this objective in mind that Neal’s Yard Dairy launched a new cheese subscription service that guarantees subscribers a monthly delivery of delicious, great-value cheese, whilst at the same time providing cheesemakers with much needed cashflow and emptying their cheese stores so they can continue to make cheese for the coming months.
“The moment a customer’s subscription payment comes in, we will pay the maker,” Jason explains – so by the time the subscriber receives their cheese they will already have contributed toward sustaining its producer, and – by extension – their farm and family. The cheeses featured will come from makers who need the support: makers like the Reade family, who have been making an exceptional raw milk cheddar on the Isle of Mull for 25 years and are close to running out of shelf space in their maturing rooms. “They have the same number of cows, the same volume of milk as they always have done,” Jason continues – “but they can’t make more cheese as they’ve nowhere to store it – and they can’t sell the milk because they’ve no contract to do so” and would likely sell it at a loss even if they could.
Jamie Oliver continues to champion the initiative, posting a film on Instagram, and providing tasting notes and recipes that will accompany each month’s selection of cheeses. First up is the July selection which features Hafod – a richly layered and supple cheddar-style cheese with a warm golden hue, made by the Holden family in West Wales; Ragstone, a dazzlingly pale goat’s cheese made by Charlie Westhead in Herefordshire, with a silky, creamy texture and fresh, clean, summery flavour; and Devon Blue, a sweet and mellow blue cheese from Totnes, with a pleasingly dense fudgy texture that even hardened blue cheese sceptics are likely to love.
A six-month subscription costs just £26.50 each month, with free delivery. “So it’s a great offer for some great cheese, either as a gift or for yourself – and one that will really support cheesemakers during this next critical period,” says Jason. You’ll be buying some extraordinary cheeses, something to really savour in the months to come, but at the same time you’ll also be investing in the cheesemakers who produced them, helping to ensure that we continue to savour them in the years that lie ahead.
Photo by Yuki Sugiura