North Yorkshire cheesemaker Shepherds Purse has fast-tracked the launch of its new feta-style cheese, to help support sheep milk farmers that are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sheep milk has been disproportionately affected by the closure of restaurants, which has caused considerable distress among sheep milk farmers, who lost 20 out of 22 processors over the course of a few days.
In response, Shepherds Purse has increased its weekly milk order by 75 per cent to help with the deficit, and has brought forward the release of its new-format cheese. The company was launched in 1989 by farmer’s wife Judy Bell and it has since grown on the family farm to a team of 30.
Shepherds Purse will launch its new-format product, Fettle, on 4th May, to coincide with the British Cheese Weekender – an initiative to raise awareness of the crisis facing the sector and to help shoppers connect with local cheesemakers. The first-of-its-kind project will showcase the nation’s top cheeses in a series of free virtual events.
Managing director Caroline Bell, Judy’s daughter, said: “From the beginning of the crisis, we have been acutely aware of our place in the food chain and our responsibility to support our suppliers and our customers as much as possible. We rely on them and they rely on us. Every change in the supply chain and every gap has significant knock-on effects.
“We’re working hard for our cow’s milk and water buffalo milk suppliers too, but with this project we are working hard to counter the market distress for our sheep milk farmers, and we will need the support of retailers, and ultimately customers, to ensure its success.”
Fettle is an adaptation of feta cheese, made with whole ewes’ milk.
Caroline continued: “It has taken a tremendous amount of work from our small team and our key partners to get this reformatted product ready for market so quickly. From making the extra cheese to designing and printing the labels and the outer case packaging, and extra design work for the campaign, it’s been incredible, I couldn’t be more proud of our team and our partners.”
“It’s been essential that we have invested in and continue to support our sheep milk farmers so that they can survive this crisis by making this amazing Fettle cheese, and now we really need our retailers’ and customers’ support to achieve that final step – to get it onto customers’ plates. The extent to which we can continue to buy extra milk from the farmers to help to ensure their survival through this crisis, will depend on how much of this new Fettle, and our other cheeses, customers can buy and enjoy.”
Simon Stott of Sheep Milk UK said: “Any help we can get at the moment is vital and this new Fettle product is a big lifeline for us. Some of our farmers have already had to dry off due to the massive drop in demand, so the future of the British Sheep milk industry is still far from secure.”