How King Charles helped save British farm cheese

Cheshire cheese was traditionally made by the Prince of Wales in 1995

King Charles III is known for his support of environmental and social causes over the years, but did you know that he played a decisive role in the revival of traditional artisan cheese in the UK?

He is a great example of how he has used his position to support the issues he cares about.

It could also hint at what a modern Carolingian monarchy would look like.

The story begins back in the early 1990s when a series of food scares undermined confidence in British food.

A series of new hygiene rules designed for industrial cheese makers were being applied to dairies producing farmhouse cheeses – including a possible ban on the use of unpasteurised milk.

All over the country artisan cheese makers were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Randolph Hodgson was worried, as he had spent the previous decade trying to revive British cheese-making by promoting the best product through his cheese shop in London’s Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard Dairy.

“I really believed that it would be the end of the great tradition of cheesemaking in the United Kingdom once and for all,” he says.

Yellow cheeses on a shelf

Cheese ripens at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London.

Mr Hodgson founded the Specialist Cheese Makers Association (SCA) to lobby for the interests of artisan producers and the association’s work attracted the attention of the then Prince of Wales.

Cheese is only as good as the milk that goes into it and the prince was keen to support the high welfare and environmental standards on the dairy farms that produce artisanal cheese.

He was also interested in preserving traditional British farming and food production skills.

He was the patron of the GÉS in 1993 and got no attention to the troubles the industry was facing.

His response was typical of his approach to problems, former advisers say.

He decided to hold a meeting over lunch at Highgrove, his home in Gloucestershire.

The King likes to “connect people and organizations in ways that open up possibilities and create solutions”, explains his former press secretary Julian Payne.

King Charles doesn’t tell people what to do, but brings them together to see if they can work out a solution among themselves, he said.

Prince of Wales tasting cheese.

The Prince of Wales’ cheese tasting in Preston in 2017

Charles invited cheese makers and cheese sellers to his country estate along with civil servants from the Ministry of Agriculture and government ministers.

Mr Hodgson remembers the 1999 meeting well.

“Do we think it’s important to keep these cheeses and traditions going?” Charles asked.

Everyone agreed that it was.

“So what are you going to do about it?” his next question for the room.

The meeting ended with the civil servants agreeing to work with the cheese makers to draw up a code of practice to ensure good hygiene in small dairies.

It was, says Mr Hodgson, a “very important moment” in British cheese history.

“He didn’t want attention for his support, he brought everyone together and found a way through it all,” he remembers.

His intervention worked, says Tim Rowcliffe, former chairman of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association.

“From that day on, we had a dialogue with authority rather than going to war,” he says.

A man standing in the field with a cow in the background.

West Wales cheesemaker Patrick Holden says the efforts of King Charles III saved his farm

And the industry is thriving.

Up in the hills of west Wales I met Patrick Holden and his wife Becky who make a cheddar style cheese called Hafod using unpasteurised milk from their 75 cows in Ayrshire.

Patrick says that King Charles’ efforts saved his farm.

“He saw the need for farmers to add value to their milk,” explains Patrick, who says his farm is only viable because he can triple the value of his milk by turning it into artisanal cheese.

Patrick is not alone.

There are now more than 700 different farmhouse cheeses from Britain and Ireland on the market: “Probably more than the French, I dare say,” said Mr Rowcliffe.

Artisan cheese is a multi-million pound a year industry that supports hundreds of small farms, thousands of jobs and now exports British cheese all over the world.

King quietly helped push all kinds of other causes forward by holding meetings, building bridges, and just getting people talking.

The rules have changed, of course.

Now that he’s King, Charles must remain politically neutral, but it’s unclear whether that will prevent him from championing the causes he’s passionate about.

He is planning a low-carbon coronation, for example.

Royal sources have told the BBC that deciding who will attend will be a “balancing act” between adhering to royal protocol and keeping the carbon footprint down.

Buckingham Palace can tell Commonwealth leaders they don’t need to attend, to reduce the number of aircraft flying to London, for example.

The King is also expected to use a state visit to France next month – the first of his reign – to highlight a scheme to plant millions of trees in Africa.

We understand that he’s unlikely to be promoting British cheese talents during that tour, though.

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