The aim of the group is to raise the profile of Scottish cheese in the country, the rest of the UK and to find new export markets.
Jane Stewart, from the St. Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company, who is chair of the new group, told DairyReporter that the group represents most of the independent cheesemakers in the country.
Stewart said the group is, “Mainly all small-scale independent cheese producers, and most of us are farmers or farmers’ wives.”
She added that some members of the group have been in the cheese business since the 1970s or 1980s.
“Others, like ourselves, have started up within the last ten years – and then there are some who are aspiring cheesemakers who are looking at beginning within the next year to 18 months.”
Whole country represented through many cheeses
Stewart said that most of the group members – who come from all parts of the country – make, as well as sell, the wide variety of cheeses.
“Between us all, we make a massive range of cheeses, so there's everything from your traditional Cheddar, 'crumblies,' blue cheeses, soft cheese, flavor-added cheeses, and then there are also goats and sheep milk cheeses too,” she told DR.
The group has been given funding by the Community Food Fund, which is financed by the Scottish government.
Funds will be used to hold industry workshops for members to enhance business development through innovation and communication.
Group must be functional
“We're all very busy people, we're farming, we're making cheese; this group has to work for us. We don't want endless meetings and formalities, we want it to be for anyone with an interest in cheese,” Stewart said.
“Also we wanted this to be of help to us, so we wanted it to be a learning thing. Most of us are accidental cheesemakers. We want to learn from each other, and we want to have opportunities for our staff to get training."
"Most of us are accidental cheesemakers" - Jane Stewart, Fine Scottish Cheesemakers
Stewart said that making and selling the cheese locally is one thing, but it’s more of a challenge to grow the industry and reach new markets.
“We've got some wholesalers and retailers who are interested, and they are all part of the marketing, and they are our partners in this as well,” she added.
“We can have shed loads of cheese, of top quality maturing on our farms and in our premises, but if we don't have people out there on the ground saying how wonderful this is, we won't sell it.”
Stewart said that the funding will also help the group with marketing, and that having a group is better than trying to sell individually.
“Quite a few of us are now trying to get our cheeses out and about from beyond these shores. There are some of us who export a bit, but it's mainly sold within Britain. The newest ones mostly sell regionally close to where they are.
“If you go down into a big store in London, and say ‘please take my cheese,’ they might taste it and like it, but if you say, ‘look, why don't you take a range of Scottish cheeses, here is a range of six or eight to give you a nice spread and give you a Scottish cheese section on your counter,’ you're going to get much more interest.”
Group can still grow
Stewart said that the group is not a closed one, and other cheesemakers, or aspiring ones, are encouraged to join.
While the Fine Cheesemakers of Scotland will soon have a website linking to all of the individual cheesemakers’ websites, at the moment the group is being coordinated through the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), and any other Scottish cheese producers – or those interested in joining the group – can reach them via the SAOS.