A joke for our times (anon)
A bus, half full of bishops and half full of economists, is travelling along a windy road in some very high mountains.
Suddenly the driver misjudges, disaster strikes and the bus plunges off the road, and starts its long, thundering descent over the edge of the cliff.
The bishops are terrified. They are by turns panicking and praying desperately. Then they notice that the economists are sitting calmly in their seats.
“Why on earth are you so calm? We’re plunging to certain death at the bottom of this cliff!” the bishops say to the economists.
“Well, it’s obvious” say the economists, “there’s such a clear need for parachutes right now that surely the market will provide them”.
We found this article in the Financial Times and liked the idea of a cheese innovation score as a measure of local economic renaissance…
“Britain is now the big cheese in Europe
By Peter Marsh
Published: Financial Times December 18 2009 23:03
“How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” General Charles de Gaulle famously asked.
But a burst of innovation among Britain’s cheesemakers in the past 15 years means Gordon Brown might now have grounds to ask the question even more plaintively than France’s postwar leader.
A new cadre of artisan cheese producers and a middle-class obsession with the provenance of produce have helped propel Britain to the top of an international league table that measures varieties of cheese produced per head of population.
Britain’s “innovation score” of 11.4 cheese variants for every million people puts it ahead of Switzerland with 9.6 types of cheese per 1m people, and France with 9.2.
According to Juliet Harbutt, a global authority on cheese who organises the British Cheese Awards, about 700 varieties now boast a Made in Britain label – 100 more varieties than France produces, and twice as many as Italy.
The story of Britain’s cheese-making renaissance began 20 years ago when many of the nation’s 200 specialist cheese companies started operations. The big reduction, 15 years ago, in the powers of the Milk Marketing Board, which had bought up most milk from producers, and the introduction of European Union milk quotas in the 1980s, both proved the spur for dairy farmers to look for other ways of using their core product.
Ms Harbutt said: “In recent years, the UK has experienced a wave of innovation in cheese-making as new businesses have been set up, while farmers have tried to develop new variants as a way of diversifying out of purely producing milk.”
Specialist UK cheese often sells in the shops at more than £15 a kilogramme – at least three times more than “commodity” cheese such as standard Cheddar. But far from seeing sales fall during the recession, many cheesemakers have thrived as consumers opt to cut back elsewhere rather than take luxury cheese off the family menu.
Most of the cheeses produced fall within about 10 main families – such as Cheshire, Stilton and Double Gloucester. But British manufacturers have shown a rare skill at coming up with new recipes – especially in the past few years.
Examples include Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, made by E.W. Read & Sons at their farm in Alford, Lincolnshire, and Stinking Bishop, produced by Charles Martell, who runs a dairy in Gloucestershire.
Just like any other kind of bespoke product, they are normally produced in small production runs of just a few tonnes a year, often using craft-based production methods, as opposed to ultra-modern food processing systems.
Joe Schneider, a US-born cheese expert who is a director of Nottinghamshire-based Stichelton Dairy, a cheesemaker started three years ago, singles out the “strand of individualism” that runs through much of UK society as a key factor behind the expansion in cheese making.
“In the UK there’s a spirit of people wanting to be self-sufficient and produce something that others will remember,” said Mr Schneider.
In keeping with the individualism of their output, many of the specialist cheesemakers are extremely small, employing fewer than 10 people and with annual sales of a few million pounds or less. This year, their products are estimated to be worth £200m at farm-gate prices, and to contribute about a fifth of UK total cheese output.
Vanessa Williams, partner in Loosehanger Cheeses, a company she set up with her husband eight years ago near Salisbury, Wiltshire, says a “huge help” to companies such as hers has been the growth of farmers’ markets and other new outlets for food produced on a small scale and using traditional methods.”
From the Financial Times, December 18 2009 23:03