EU ban threatens UK specialist cheese

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, Uk

Time is running out for producers of specialist, cloth-bound cheese
in the UK as efforts stall in their bid to continue using a
chemical that is banned across the EU.

The handful of cloth-bound, cheddar cheesemakers in the UK have so far failed to remain exempt from a EU ban on methyl bromide, a chemical they say is vital for its abililty to destroy cheese mites during maturation.

Producers say their survival is threatened because no viable alternative to methyl bromide has yet been found.

"Other member states are not convinced by the need for it, which I find very annoying,"​ Clare Cheney, of the Specialist Cheesemakers' Association, told DairyReporter.com.

"This is a premium farmhouse cheese that matures for up to two years. If you cannot control the mites it would not last 10 months. They would eat through into the cheese."

Methyl bromide was phased out across all sectors in the EU from January 2004 because of its harmful effect on the planet's ozone layer.

A critical use exception (CUE) was granted to cloth-bound cheese producers, who are exclusive to the UK.

That order was due to expire at the end of this year. An extension into 2007 was proposed by the European Commission, on producers' request, but the UK government failed to secure a separate exemption required under different legislation.

That has left producers in a real tight spot, despite ongoing support from the UK government's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Cheney said producers had so far struggled to find an alternative to methyl bromide. "Much more research is needed. The Commission has suggested all sorts of things, but none of them are any good."

One suggestion was the use of an inert powder that would literally dry out the mites and kill them off. But producers say this method does not work well in the humid conditions needed to store their cheese.

Another suggestion has been to remove the cloth from the cheese at a certain point, in theory also removing the mites' breeding ground.

Cheney, however, saw no benefit in this either. "If you remove the cloth you immediately remove all of this fantastic flavour."

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