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The food frontline: Mary Quicke, cheesemaker

Published on May 21, 2020
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The South West food and drink industry has been severely hit by lockdown as restaurants have closed and producers have lost their customers. Yet some businesses are experiencing an unprecedented boom, while others are pivoting in new and creative directions.

We spoke to foodies on the frontline about what’s been going down

Mary Quicke of Quickes Cheese

Multi-award winning cheesemaker Mary Quicke has been crafting clothbound cheddar at her family farm in Devon since 1987. She received an MBE for her contribution to the industry in 2005.

How has the lockdown affected your business?

It’s like a truck has hit our food system as deli counters, smaller shops and restaurants have closed overnight.
Our sales are at about 40 per cent of what they were as a great deal of our cheese goes to food services [restaurants] and retail, where sales have dipped. We have seen a significant increase in online sales – around 20 times the usual level – however, this was previously only around one per cent of our total revenue.
One of the problems that this pandemic raises for our business is trying to predict the future. Most of our cheese is aged for around 15 months, so it’s like trying to look into a crystal ball to see what demand there will be over the horizon.
Unfortunately, some dairies have had to pour milk down the drain due to lack of demand; mercifully we’re part of the Arla co-operative so we’ve been able to send milk to them.

How have you adapted?

Before lockdown, only around 15 per cent of our cheese was sold in consumer-size portions – we usually sell whole wheels to restaurants and shops – so we’ve had to enlist some of our cheese makers for packaging and portioning duties to fulfil online orders.
Quite early on we decided to share more of our life on the farm during this time with followers on social media. Spring is flourishing, crops are growing and the cows are out to pasture. We want people to be inspired by food and farming, as well as being able to connect to the normality of the natural world.

What will the food and drink scene look like after lockdown?

Online shopping will definitely have a bigger presence, but who knows how long it will take the rest of the sector to recuperate?
Young people may be happy to go to a crowded bar or restaurant but a lot of people will be hesitant. I think it will be a long time before the older cohort will be comfortable being in a space in which they can’t control who they meet.
I’m scared that, as a global economy, we’ll face a humdinger of a recession. Although historically, when people can’t afford a new house or a holiday, they’ve tended to treat themselves to small joys such as good cheese …

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