Mild No More?
In a riposte to yesterday’s bad news cheese story, it was good to read recently that sales of quality cheese are up while the dreaded “mild” variety is seeing a slump in popularity. Yes craft cheese, just like craft beer, seems to be winning over a new generation of fans. Mild cheddar, that polythene-wrapped monstrosity of rubbery-blandness, has long been the cheese of choice for the casual buyer. But figures from Mintel show that it has seen a 6% fall in sales over the last year. It now accounts for just £161m of the total £2.6bn cheese market. Over the same period, sales of extra mature have risen an impressive 12% (hooray) while blue (14%) and continental (10%) have also seen impressive rises.
So what lies behind this switch of allegiance? It seems that customers are simply seeking more flavour. Just as Mexican is tipped to become the nation’s top cuisine of choice, cheese buyers are also becoming more adventurous. Fewer than one in five of those questioned by researchers said a mild flavour was important. Shoppers were found to be more daring when buying cheese than just about any other product and Mintel also found that a strong/mature flavour beat even price as the most important factor. John Spencer, of the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, explained it thus: “People want less quantity, but more quality and taste. It's not about filling bellies; it's about enjoying what they eat.”
Of course there are plenty of proper cheddar or cheddar-style cheeses around. Tickler can be found on the supermarket shelves and has a lovely nutty tang. Other ones to watch out for are Keen's Cheddar, Wookey Hole cave-aged (one of my favourites), Quickes Vintage and West Country Farmhouse from Barber's. These are all top-draw cheeses that can be found in discerning restaurants throughout the country and deserve-and hopefully will-to be on the discerning cheeseboards of the populace. Morrisons has responded to this demand by stocking a wider choice of British cheese while Tesco says sales of French cheeses such as Chaource, Comté and Langres have risen by 350%, 180% and 160% respectively.
But if you are a fan of the plastic-fantastic mild and shudder at the thought of craft cheese, do not despair. One of the best and well-known of its kind is Joseph Heller who are based neat Nantwich in Cheshire. Their mild is aged for around three months and even though they have seen a drop in sales, they don’t believe the end is nigh for mild just yet. They have been sending it to the Caribbean, where it is used in macaroni pies, and to restaurants in the Middle East. They also expect sales to develop in China. Manager David Wells said: “Children like it and lots of people like it for things like grating on a baked potato, where it creates a lovely creamy texture," he says. "There will always be a demand for mild cheese too."
My point is a simple one. Whatever your cheese of choice: relax and enjoy it.