Surrey-based food and drink aficionado Francis Gimblett travelled around 100 British cheesemakers in 100 days last winter in a bid to learn more about the British cheese industry and its future.
While enduring sub-zero temperatures, battling through winter winds and even being rescued by the army from flash floods, as he traversed the country from the slopes of the South Downs to the rugged terrain of the Scottish Highlands, he had something of an epiphany.
“In my twenty-two years in the food and drink events industry, I have witnessed and supported the rise of England’s sparkling wines, micro-brewery real ales, and the recent boom in small-batch distilling,” says Francis, who runs the Taste of the Vine events company and Haslemere's Gimblett Cheese.
“We have always made a point of serving British cheeses at our tasting events, but I see little evidence of them on event venue cheeseboards, and when I do it is often mass-produced. This is the equivalent of serving bag-in-box supermarket wine at an important conference or networking event.
“Having met so many cheesemakers on my journey and learned about the trials they face day-to-day, I decided that the Campaign for British Cheese was a necessity in a bid to save this important part of Britain’s food heritage.”
Championing British cheese
Despite producing wonderful cheeses, every bit as good as their imported counterparts (as regularly proven at cheese competitions around the world these days), many British cheesemakers are struggling, often citing a lack of support from the UK buyer and a reduction in small scale, high quality dairies.
“In 1997, we had 27,000 dairies producing milk in the UK,” says Francis. “In 2017, we had less than 10,000; that’s a loss of more than two dairies a day, and it’s continuing to decline. Yet we’re producing more milk...
“The problem is that, while the surviving dairies are getting larger, cows are being milked harder, increasingly indoors, and producing milk that is difficult to make good cheese from.
“There are still small dairies out there and if they can be paired with new cheesemakers who will pay a premium for their milk, they can stay in business. It’s better for our cows, our economy and our heritage.”
With the events industry being an environment where new trends often begin, Francis is now running the Campaign for British Cheese in events (before launching it more broadly to the wider world) in a bid to generate more interest for our nation’s wonderful home-crafted creations.
- If you would like to share your British cheese champion credentials with Francis Gimblett, you can find his contact details via the Gimblett Cheese page here on Local Food Britain.