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.”
Industry-wide review for meat processing
THE FOOD Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland are publishing details of a major review into the sites where meat products are processed and stored in the UK.
The review includes a comprehensive review of hygiene controls and unannounced inspections and audit regimes.
Jason Feeney and Geoff Ogle, Chief Executives of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland respectively, jointly commented: “We are concerned about recent instances of companies breaching hygiene rules. People rightly expect food businesses to keep to the rules, rules designed to keep consumers safe and to sustain public trust in food – and food businesses have a duty to follow the regulations. Our review will be far reaching and thorough and we will announce our initial findings in June.”
“We are pleased that the meat industry representatives who we met with have pledged their full and effective engagement with the review.”
The review being launched today will aim to:
- Increase public and stakeholder confidence in the meat industry and its regulation
- Improve the ability to identify non-compliance and take prompt action to minimise the risk to public health and food safety
- Assess how the industry currently operates across the whole supply chain.
- Increase awareness of circumstances and factors which can lead to non-compliance
The scope of the review will incorporate:
- All types of cutting plants (red meat, white meat and game)
- How the current legislation works and the guidance supporting it
- How the ‘official controls’ are carried out which must be followed to ensure compliance with hygiene legislative requirements (this includes audits, inspections, sampling and surveillance)
- The roles and responsibilities of food businesses, regulators and assurance bodies
- How incidents are managed and responded to
The recent investigation into 2 Sisters Food Group has been extensive and thorough and looked across their poultry sites.
500 hours of CCTV from the site were examined along with audit information from major retailers. The company voluntarily ceased production at one site whilst changes were made and staff re-trained. The FSA have had a permanent presence at their cutting plants for the last four months.
Jason Feeney, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency said: “Our investigation found some areas for improvement but the issues were resolved promptly by the company, who co-operated fully, and at no point did we find it necessary to take formal enforcement action.”
“The business has made a wide range of improvements across all their sites to improve processes. They are already publishing the outcomes of all their audits and are in the process of installing high quality CCTV across their estate that we will have full access to. These are measures we would like the whole industry to adopt.”
Sheep’s importance to countryside highlighted
CARMARTHEN sheep farmer and Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Ian Rickman, whose hill farm Gurnos, near Bethlehem, Llandeilo, lies at over 1000 feet in places, has highlighted the important role sheep play in maintaining the countryside.
500 Llandovery white faced ewes, which are due to lamb during the next two months, call these lands their home. Ian fears that the consequences of not grazing the mountains would have a devastating impact on the environment and tourism.
The farm extends to 220 acres with Common Grazing Rights on the Black Mountain, and he is a member of the Management Committee of the Black Mountain West Graziers Association.
To showcase just how much #FarmingMatters and to discuss wider issues of concern, he held an open day in February, welcoming Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM, Dafydd Llewelyn Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Gareth Thomas, various business representatives and many local farmers.
Ian explained the importance of grazing the mountains: “I move the ewe lambs annually to the mountains and common land with their mothers where they are taught where to graze. It has been an important part of grazing the mountains for many generations.
“If lamb prices dropped drastically, we lost our market or farm support was to diminish, it could mean less or no sheep on the mountains. That in turn could have a detrimental effect on the landscape of the mountains in years to come and therefore also on tourism, the communities that are intrinsic to our rural economy, and our way of life here in the uplands would change – and possibly not for the better.”
The FUW further used the opportunity to discuss wider #FarmingMatters such as the lack of broadband, telephone signal, worries about lamb prices, rural crime, and bank closures, as well as the urgent need to secure fair farm funding for Wales.
Nerys Edwards, the FUW’s assistant CEO in Carmarthen highlighted the need for urgent funding security. She said: “We know that the UK Government has said that it will match the current EU budget that supports farming and our rural economies, but how that money gets to Wales and how it is managed has not been determined. That of course is a real problem for our farmers like Ian, because they can’t plan for the future.
“It is encouraging to hear First Minister Carwyn Jones backing the industry and we recently heard him say that “agricultural funding will have to be held in a separate pot and dealt with in a different way”.
“However, there is a risk that it could go through the Barnett Formula, which will reduce the £260 m to circa £150 million and spell disaster for our rural economy.
“The FUW is now actively lobbying for the money to be assigned from the UK Government to Wales, for agriculture and we really appreciated being able to raise this with our local elected politicians here on farm.”
When East meets West
THERE may be over 5,000 miles between a livestock farm in the Welsh Valleys and a coffee and spice farm in Kerala, India, but the challenges they face are not such a world apart.
Welcoming spice and coffee farmer Father John Joseph from Wayanad in the state of Kerala, India, to Pencoedcae Farm, Princetown, near Tredegar, was Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Brian Bowen.
The farm is a mixed suckler cow and sheep hill unit. It consists of 150 acres of owned land with a further 1,000 rented acres and 1,200 acres of common rights on three separate commons. He runs the farm, along with his father, mother and his son.
Father John Joseph is visiting Wales as a guest of Fair Trade Wales as part of the annual celebration of Fairtrade Fortnight.
He grew up on a farm and studied at his local university before moving to Bangalore to complete his law degree. The area he farms is hilly and forested, which brings challenges. John decided to set up the WSSS Organic Farmers Fair Trade Association (WOFFA) in 2008 as a way of organising farming families to gain knowledge and tackle the challenges they’re facing, such as cycles of debt and over-use of chemicals and pesticides.
Speaking about the need for fair prices for farmers, Brian Bowen said: “In 2008 Wales became the first ever “Fair Trade Nation” and the FUW announced its support for Fairtrade at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in December that year.
“Since then we have been working closely with Fair Trade Wales to highlight the need for farmers all over the world to get paid a fair price so that food security can be achieved across the globe.
“While our produce and farming methods are on the one hand extremely different, there are many similarities between major issues of concern.
“Despite our differences, the principle that a farmer should receive a fair price for his produce transcends international boundaries, and is one that we should all support, whether as individuals or as organisations – and this principle should also extend to procurement by public bodies.”
Talking about the benefits of the Fairtrade movement, Father John Joseph said: “Being part of a Fairtrade organization has helped farmers like myself to create a positive cycle of investment. The communities are also able to invest in better farming practices, training and workshops, which in turn increases production and efficiency. Almost 20% of the members are women.
“Using Fairtrade Premiums WOFFA has been able to grant the financial support for making the compost for farmer groups, which provides higher yields. This makes the farm more productive, and ensures a higher return to the farmer.”
Julian Rosser, National Co-ordinator of Fair Trade Wales commented: “All around the world, farmers are working hard to produce food and other products we consume every day. Wherever they are in the world we believe that they should get a fair deal and a decent price for their products. As the UK considers future trade deals with other countries we will be campaigning to make trade justice a central part of government policy.”
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