A WELSH cheese maker is further establishing itself within the highly lucrative US market following Welsh Government funding which has allowed the Carmarthenshire firm the opportunity to research the maturation process of its artisanal cheeses, thereby extending its shelf life and export potential.
Carmarthenshire Cheese was founded in 2006 and specialises in the production of mould ripened blue and white cheeses. For the past nine years the company has operated out of its Llandysul factory, providing supermarkets, including Tesco, with a variety of soft, mould ripened and traditional cheeses, which draw heavily on their Welsh heritage, and utilise primarily local ingredients with provenance.
The core ranges have been designed for the UK market, with the main flagship brand being Pont Gâr. The company began exporting to the US, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe in 2009/2010. However, after significant research into dairy maturation processes following Welsh Government funding, the plan is to significantly increase the export potential of the Welsh cheeses, particularly to the US market.
A £22,000 innovation voucher from the Welsh Governments’ innovation support programme has allowed Carmarthenshire Cheese to engage the services of an external expert to focus specifically on the maturation processes of cheese. A large amount of research into how the maturation process actually works has allowed the firm to create cheeses that have a longer shelf life, making them more suitable for export, but which have remained true to their artisanal roots, meaning that no preservatives have been added.
This strategy has been bolstered by the acquisition of a new high specification dedicated cheese manufacturing unit in Llanllwch, which the company will be moving into in August 2015, which has been partly facilitated with the aid of the Welsh Economic Growth Fund, and which will be responsible for creating a number of new jobs in the local community.
Steve Peace, managing director of Carmarthenshire Cheese, said: “For us the main goal is to improve the shelf life of our cheeses so they are suitable for export without compromising on the integrity of our product. Previously exporting our products has presented issues in that the chilled food supply chain in distant markets may not be as robust as in the UK and as a result shelf life and product integrity may be compromised, shipment by sea for up to 6 weeks has introduced a significant lag in the distribution time. Both factors which may lead to high levels of spoilage. This was something we seriously needed to address at a factory level.
“It was a difficult technological challenge involving complex biochemical processes and being able to utilise the knowledge and skill of an external expert, and combining our joint scientific backgrounds, has been crucial in developing our understanding of maturation processes and microbiological spoilage, allowing us to reformulate recipes and improve product life.
“It has also gone a long way to limiting our waste outputs and improving our sustainability as a brand. Developing the US market is crucial to our future business plans but this was something we had to get right in order to be able to compete. In the US our products are regarded as premium products and it is imperative they could be regarded as such following exportation.”
Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, said: “Businesses in Wales that produce high quality food and drink products have huge international export potential. However, alongside the challenge of forging overseas commercial partnerships, one of the principal difficulties facing these companies has been delivering these products to international markets in peak condition, something that is particularly relevant to the dairy industry.”
Shoppers prefer to buy Welsh
EIGHT out of 10 Welsh shoppers believe food and drink from Wales is Great Quality, Great Tasting and they would always buy Welsh if the price is right.
These are some of the key findings of a new report by Food and Drink Wales on the ‘Value of Welshness’.
Shoppers outside of Wales believe Wales is known for good quality food and drink and would like to support Welsh food and drink. 29% would like to see more Welsh food and drink in their shops.
Wales is more associated with naturalness than GB.
The scope for growth in Welsh products is substantial and there is strong shopper support for food and drink from Wales. The evidence suggests Welsh branding sits well with, and enhances GB branding.
Promoting Welsh food and drink, both nationally and globally, is a top priority for the Welsh Government and increasing numbers of Welsh brands are being recognised around the world. This was highlighted by the recent BlasCymru / TasteWales event, which featured buyers from as far afield as Hong Kong, the UAE and the USA.
The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths welcomed the findings of the report. She said: “In recent years Welsh food and drink has gained a growing and well-deserved reputation for uniqueness and high quality. This is reflected in the fact 14 Welsh food and drink products have now been awarded coveted ‘Protected Food Name’ status.
“We have an ambitious target to grow the industry by 30% to £7b by 2020. Although there are undoubtedly major challenges ahead, not least our impending exit from the European Union, I am confident we can overcome them if we continue to promote the unique, special nature of our produce.
“This report shows there is strong support for food and drink from Wales and there are definite benefits for Welsh brands by using ‘Welshness’ to enhance their proposition inside and outside of Wales.”
Andy Richardson, Chair of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board said: “It is very encouraging for us as an Industry Board to see that this research highlights the importance of Welsh provenance and underpins the confidence we have in our food and drink sector. We are proud of what our businesses produce and the research findings from the Value of Welshness is testimony that consumers feel the same.”
Success against ‘late blight’
A POTATO modified to resist the devastating disease ‘late blight’ has proven a brilliant success, says BBSRC-funded scientists based at Norwich Research Park.
The team, led by Professor Jonathan Jones and part of BBSRC’s Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI), have introduced a blight-resistant gene from a wild potato to its close relative, the popular Maris Piper.
Blight is a globally serious problem. It was a significant contributor to the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s and, in the 20th century, became the subject of biological weapons research owing to its ability to utterly decimate crops.
“The first year of the Maris Piper field trial has worked brilliantly,” said Professor Jones. “We’ve observed resistance to late blight in all the lines.”
Crop losses due to late blight are still significant, and with an increasing global population with complex nutritional needs, greater steps are needed to be taken in order to improve agricultural sustainability and food security.
“We have the technology to solve the problems that affect many people’s livelihoods,” said Professor Jones. “Crop diseases reduce yields and require application of agri-chemicals, and this field trial shows that a more sustainable agriculture is possible.”
This new blight-resistant gene introduced to the Maris Piper offers the promise of furthering its crop strength, and even the possibility of avoiding the use of chemical fungicides in its cultivation altogether.
First introduced in 1966, the Maris Piper was the result of a potato breeding programme based in Cambridge. The key benefit of this ‘new’ potato was its resistance to potato cyst nematodes. Now fairly common in UK supermarkets, the Maris Piper is considered a good ‘all-rounder’, and is particularly popular for making chips and crisps.
Field trials at Norwich are continuing, and next year the team will begin to explore the genetic traits that can improve tuber quality. The team hope to produce a crop that is less prone to bruise damaging – a problem that currently causes losses of around £200 per hectare – and help improve the quality and sustainability of the UK’s potato crop.
FUW reacts to shooting of Borth lynx
THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES says the authorities reacted appropriately in deciding to shoot an escaped lynx after a specialist veterinary surgeon advised that the risk to public well-being had increased from moderate to severe.
The escaped Eurasian lynx was already suspected of having killed seven sheep within a few hundred yards of the town of Borth, in Ceredigion, after escaping from Borth Wild Animal Kingdom, and had since strayed into a populated area.
“In an ideal world the lynx would have been quickly recaptured, but this did not happen,” said an FUW spokesman
“Given the risk to people and livestock, action to remove such a danger was long overdue. Had the animal not been allowed to escape in the first place, this situation would not have arisen, and it seems a number of our member’s livestock would not have been attacked and killed.”
Sheep have been found to make up more than a third of wild lynx diets in Norway, alongside bigger herbivores such as roe deer, reindeer and even moose. Attacks by lynxes on humans have also been recorded, but are rare.
“Despite being around the size of a sheepdog, an animal like this will routinely kill animals much bigger than itself, and the fact it was used to humans increased the risk it posed to the public,” said the FUW spokesman.
“Some have already expressed their outrage over the shooting, but the public reaction would have been far greater had the animal attacked an adult or child, as has happened elsewhere.”
Last week the the FUW wrote to the Welsh Government and the local Police Commissioner expressing concerns that the danger the animal posed was not being taken seriously.
With proposals to introduce lynx to the north of England, and even parts of Wales, the FUW says the incident should come as a stark warning.
“It is no coincidence that the places targeted for campaigns to release lynxes are remote rural areas, and claims their impacts on livestock are negligible are not borne out by the evidence from the continent.
“If they are really as harmless as some people say, why aren’t we considering their release in heavily populated areas such as Surrey?”
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