Coronavirus crisis means tonnes of British cheese is being thrown away

Up in the green foothills of Bodmin Moor, near the parlour where farmer Philip Stansfield milks a herd of 240 dairy cows, is a refrigerated warehouse in which he keeps the other great love of his professional life. 

The building, known in the trade as a ‘cave’, contains row after row of long wooden shelves, each piled high with rounds of Cornish Blue, the creamy blue cheese he and his wife, Carol, have been making for almost 20 years. 

As it slowly matures over eight weeks, it gives off a smell of ‘damp socks and mushrooms’. By the time it reaches top hotels, restaurants and delicatessens, the cheese has turned rich and buttery, with a sweet tang that has helped it win countless plaudits. 

Catherine Mead normally sells a couple of hundred tonnes of cheese a year, but since the lockdown, sales have dropped by 60 per cent, forcing her to f­urlough ten staff

Catherine Mead normally sells a couple of hundred tonnes of cheese a year, but since the lockdown, sales have dropped by 60 per cent, forcing her to f­urlough ten staff

In Gloucestershire, David Jowett, maker of Rollright, a Brie-like cow¿s cheese wrapped in spruce bark, was left with two tonnes of unsold cheese.

In Gloucestershire, David Jowett, maker of Rollright, a Brie-like cow’s cheese wrapped in spruce bark, was left with two tonnes of unsold cheese.

A few years back, Cornish Blue won top prize in the World Cheese Awards, with Philip and Carol beating an astonishing 2,600 rivals, including Europe’s best cheesemakers. mead

Where to sniff out the finest 

Paxton and Whitfield St James’s, London 

One of London’s oldest cheesemongers, it boasts the Royal Household as a customer. Its new Weekend Box costs £30 (paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk). 

Hanson Fine Foods Truro, Cornwall 

Supplier of artisan cheese to some of Cornwall’s top chefs, Hanson offers ‘lucky dip’ boxes from £15 (hansonfinefoods.co.uk). 

THE ETHICAL DAIRY Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway 

This sustainable cheese-maker produces traditional offerings, including the awardwinning Fleet Valley Blue and Laganory (from £7.50, theethicaldairy.co.uk). 

The Cheese Shed Newton Abbot, Devon 

Try local specialities Beenleigh Blue or Ogleshield with a range of chutneys (from £18.99, thecheeseshed.com). 

House of Cheese Tetbury, Gloucestershire 

With praise from chef Rick Stein, you can’t go wrong with this family business. For £34, you could try its Vintage Cheese Selection, an assortment of mature cheeses, oatcakes and chutneys (houseofcheese.co.uk). 

The Cheese Geek Bendon Valley, London 

Known as the ‘ of fromage’, a monthly subscription includes four or five cheeses (from £30, thecheesegeek.com). 

Pong Cheese Bath 

This company boasts selections from Alex James, rock star turned farmer, along with The Ultimate Pong Box — a selection of its smelliest cheeses (£34, pongcheese.co.uk). 

‘It changed our business overnight,’ says Philip. Today, those hotels, restaurants and delicatessens which offer the Stansfields’ famous cheese are shut, and export sales have halted. 

‘When the lockdown started, it was like a light switch being turned off,’ says Philip. ‘We normally sell between 2,000 and 3,000 cheeses a week. Overnight, it reduced to about 300.’ 

Therein lies a big problem. For Philip’s cows are still producing milk. And while he’s temporarily stopped producing new cheese, and furloughed six members of staff, very little money is coming in. 

More worryingly, he still has roughly 30 tonnes of mature Cornish Blue sitting unsold. 

‘The last lot was made on March 24,’ he says. ‘It’s edible between eight and 14 weeks after that date, so if we haven’t sold it by June 24 then it will have to be thrown away. 

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