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Sea change in attitudes to cheese, says Stilton boss

By Gary Scattergood , 08-Jan-2013
Last updated the 08-Jan-2013 at 11:28 GMT

Traditional cheese making skills have made a comeback in the last 10 years
Traditional cheese making skills have made a comeback in the last 10 years

Attitudes to cheese in the UK have been transformed in the past 10 years, with the 'traditional' cheese industry now in the best shape since the Second World War.

Billy Kevan, chairman of the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association and general manager at Colston Basset Dairy in Nottinghamshire, said there had been a sea change in attitudes to quality and tradition.

"If we went back 10 years, 60-70% of cheese in the UK was high volume and highly processed not very good cheese. Now it is the opposite with 60-70% of it high quality, handmade, artisan cheese that is really very good," he said.

'Big swing in quality'

"There has been a big swing in the quality of cheeses in the UK. People are taking more of an interest in the tradition of UK cheese making."

Kevan said it had taken a long time for the industry to recover after the Second World War and a period of increasing focus on mass-produced products.

"After the war, all that traditional cheese making was lost, because we lost a lot of the people and the skills. Now you can find good blue cheese, goats' cheese and sheep cheese," he said.

"People are more interested in what they are eating. It was convenience at one stage but now people are learning that eating a little good food is better than eating a lot of rubbish."

In 1999 Colston Bassett made 80 cheeses a day, he added a figure that now stands at 160.

Designation of origin

Kevan said the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association discusses quality and technical issues and, crucially, polices Stilton's protected designation of origin status. This only permits Stilton to be produced in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire not in Stilton itself, which is in Cambridgeshire.

"It is annoying when you get people trying to copy the product and sell something as Stilton without following our rules," said Kevan.

"People try to use the brand name when they shouldn't."

This year will mark the centenary of cheese production at Colston Bassett an event Kevan wants to use to promote the dairy's history and tradition. The firm is also organising events to thank the local community and receptions for clients in London and New York.

Don't miss the Me and My Factory interview with Kevan published in the January edition of our sister title Food Manufacture. Click here to reserve your copy.