The lockdown is severely affecting the sale of French cheeses–it’s a problem that restaurants and bars remain closed just as French calving season and milk production reaches its peak.
The government is trying to help small cheese manufacturers increase sales by relaxing strict regulations in how cheese can be produced.
Local French cheeses follow very strict guidelines in production (called AOP for Appellation d’Origine Protégée)–for example, on the quality of milk used, and how the milk and cheese is stored. According to rfi, there are 45 AOP cheese in France, some more well known than others –the first was Roquefort cheese in 1925. Annual sales of AOP cheeses total €1.2 billion ($1.73 billion) which accounts for a quarter of all French annual cheese sales and 45,000 jobs on French dairy farms.
A particular problem for AOP cheese, such as Cantal and Comté, is that consumers have been increasingly buying processed cheese in lockdown, which is more easily available and lasts longer. The world’s biggest dairy producer, a French company called Lactalis, has reported a surge in demand for packaged Emmental.
Another problem is that there is too much milk in French dairies at the moment, due to a reduction in demand from AOP cheese makers, because of low sales. For example, Comté producers are forecasting a reduction in production by 8% over the next 3 months.
In the rural region of Auvergne in central France, cheese producers have sounded the alarm of low sales and they’ve asked dairies to reduce milk production by 30%. In response, Le Monde reported that the government has relaxed strict regulations for 5 AOP cheeses to help reduce the possibility of milk waste.
Saint Nectaire, for instance, is allowed to be frozen if produced between 1 April and 31 July to be thawed the next year and aged. Now, this includes cheese made in March 2020 too. Dairy farmers who provide milk to Comté cheese producers can now store their milk for longer before it has to be used. And dairy farmers supplying producers of Bleu d’Auvergne and Fourme d’Ambert cheese can now store milk for up to 60 hours after milking (it used to be 48).
There are other strategies in place. Small cheese producers are trying to set up direct sales, and encouraging supermarkets to pre-package cheeses that are normally sold at the cheese counter. Nursing homes and schools are also being asked to order AOP cheeses when the lockdown finishes.