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Overflow: Cashel Farmhouse Cheese is one of the country’s speciality cheesemakers

Overflow: Cashel Farmhouse Cheese is one of the country’s speciality cheesemakers

Overflow: Cashel Farmhouse Cheese is one of the country’s speciality cheesemakers

THE country's 68 farmhouse cheesemakers have lost 75pc of their usual sales and are struggling to manage an overflow of speciality milk from sheep, goats and buffalo.

Cáis, the association of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers, says most of their members' usual clients - chiefly food service operators and farmers markets - have shut down as part of the State's coronavirus-fighting efforts.

"We are devastated at how the Covid-19 public health emergency has impacted on the food service business and the economy in Ireland," said Louis Grubb, chairman of Cáis and founder of Cashel Farmhouse Cheese.

"Members of our association are typically very small, independent producers with few resources behind them. They are, however, very significant to the fabric of rural Ireland and to the food image of our country," he said.

"It is important that when this crisis has stabilised, and we return to a new normality, that we still have speciality cheesemakers in Ireland. The only way we can ensure the viability of our sector is by doing everything we can to encourage Irish retailers to stock, and promote, our products at this time."

Mr Grubb issued his appeal as Cáis launched a 'Buy Irish Farmhouse Cheese Online' campaign highlighting the option of direct home delivery.

He said many Cáis member farms faced a growing difficulty of "finding a home for excess milk produced on their own farms as well as speciality milk from sheep, goat and buffalo".

While cow milk "can be diverted into dairy cooperatives", he said, "it is more challenging to deal with a surplus of the specialist milks from goats, sheep and buffalo. However, cheesemakers will do what they can to avoid having to dump any milk."

He said: "Those producing milk from their own farms will have to innovate. Some will look to create new products, such as hard cheeses, which have a longer shelf life. But this too can bring challenges as they may not be set up for storage."

The association said before the Covid-19 crisis, farmhouse cheesemakers on average had forecast 15pc growth in sales this year.

Its 68 member farms normally employ around 300 people.

Combined sales last year totalled €27m involving more than 2,700 tonnes of cheese.

Irish Independent