Giel Spierings was just 19 when he diversified his family’s Cornish dairy farm into making Gouda cheese; a move which saved the farm from being sold.
Having come from the Netherlands in the 1990s, his parents faced years of bad milk prices and unaffordable repairs, leading to ongoing challenges and frustrations.
But when he suggested they diversify into Gouda, the family put the farm sale on hold while Giel learned cheesemaking in the Netherlands.
Returning, he experimented in pots and pans, tested out his cheese with local chefs, and formed a business plan.
Eight years later, he’s buying milk at 40ppl from his parents, has won ‘Best Hard Cheese’ at the Great British Cheese Awards and is supplying eight Morrisons stores in the south west of England.
But with 60 per cent of his trade normally going to the hospitality sector, his main market closed overnight with lockdown.
Giel says: “The first three weeks I didn’t sell a single bit of cheese.
The same time last year I was selling 1.5 tonnes a week and growing at 30 per cent a month.” Fortunately, he had attended a Morrisons Local Foodmakers Programme two years ago and, although he was not in a position to begin supplying, he went on to establish and, as a perennial crop, is in the ground for eight to 10 years.
Andy, who started growing asparagus on 1ha (2.5 acres) in 1987, says he would like to continue being part of the Local Foodmakers Programme going forward.
He says: “Morrisons pays me a fair price and pays on time.
The retailer did what it said it would do.”
When lockdown hit, Giel was about to call Morrisons to ask if he could supply local stores, but Darren was already a step ahead.
Giel says: “He called me to say he knew cheesemakers were having a hard time and there was an opportunity to temporarily list some of our stock.” Within two weeks, he was supplying the retailer with 60-80 wedges, each weighing 200g.
He says: “If we were still selling to hospitality, I would be really happy with the volume we’re selling through Morrisons.
But right now, that volume is crucial to our cashflow and keeping the business going.” The family’s 100-strong Holstein Friesian pedigree herd is fed entirely with home-grown forage on a zerograzing system from 73 hectares (180 acres), while a biomass boiler and solar panels supply 100 per cent of the energy used for cheesemaking.
Looking ahead, Giel is practical about the challenges which lie ahead, but is confident in consumer choices and the opportunities it can bring.
He says: “I can see a recession coming, so people might not go to restaurants as much, but they will want good cheese to have at home. I think it will go crazy at Christmas. No-one else makes Gouda in England.”
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