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THE TRADE IN FOREIGN CHEESE
IT is unnecessary to remark that our imports of cheese are very large; in a recent year, in accordance with a calculation which we made, no less than 57 lbs. of imported cheese were consumed per head of our population, as against 7.9 lbs. of home-made cheese, and the value of the cheese consumed in the same year per head of the people amounted to 6s., of which 2s. 4 1/2 d. went to the exporter. In 1892 we estimated the value of the cheese consumed in this country at eleven and three-quarter millions sterling, the home-produced article being valued at between six and a half and seven millions. The imports, however, have tended to increase, and if we take the month preceding that in which we write (1895) we find that the imports have reached 125,000 cwt., as against 71,000 cwt. in the same month of the previous year. Taking the average quality of milk, this import of cheese for a single month represents fourteen million gallons, or the produce of 35,000 cows, giving an average yield of 400 gallons each per annum. A simple calculation, based upon the average number of cows kept in any one district, will show how many of our farmers are displaced by the energy of the foreign producer, and the low prices he is willing to take.
The variety of cheese which is imported in the largest quantity into this country is made upon the Cheddar principle, although it comes from Canada, from Australasia, and from the United States, in each of which countries there is practically no rent to pay on the great majority of farms, while in very numerous instances the labour is performed by the occupiers themselves. Thus it is that we are under-sold, in spite of the cost of freight across the ocean. Next to Cheddar come the Dutch varieties, Edam, or round, and the Gouda, or flat Dutch. We have had the advantage of inspecting numerous farms in Holland, and of seeing the cheese manufactured, and we are in a position to understand how easy it is for the thrifty and industrious Netherlander to supply the British market, although he does so, to a large extent, with cheese of inferior quality.
Vast numbers of Dutch farmers are small owners, and live in the most frugal manner. Their cattle are deep milkers, and they feed upon extensive and luxuriant pastures, which are admirably managed, while the buildings forming the homestead are usually under one roof with the house proper, and are simplicity itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that Dutch cheese is sold at a low price. The Gouda variety is not unlike Cheddar when it is well manufactured, but in the majority of instances both Gouda and Edam are of second quality, whether it be as regards flavour or texture. Gorgonzola probably takes third place. This cheese, largely manufactured in Italy, is produced by very small as well as by larger owners of cows, who obtain their curd in a manner which is not altogether perfect, especially as regards cleanliness, and who work upon a system, if such it may be called, which is extremely crude and incomplete, although in the Italian schools a well-defined and perfect system is seriously taught by men of considerable attainments, as we have had opportunities of recognizing. As a rule, the Italian farmer does not complete the process of curing, and this applies equally to the large and costly Parmesan, which is manufactured so extensively in Emilia and Parma. There is a class of middle-men who are capitalists and who possess admirably arranged ripening cellars and caves, and these persons buy the white cheese — indeed it is often nothing more than green curd — the curing of which they complete. Among varieties of a still more tasty character, we have the Roquefort, produced from sheep's milk, although cows' milk is to some extent taking its place; Camembert, Brie, Bondon, Neufchâtel, and Port du Salut, all of which hail from France, the last-named being a partially pressed cheese, whilst the others are entirely unpressed and belong to the refined soft varieties.
At the market price of cheese, which has been very low for some time, the English farmer who makes a really good article probably obtains 5d. per gallon for his milk, net. There are, however, large numbers of makers who obtain less and who never make first-class cheese: there are some who obtain more and who have a reputation for a first-class article. In the Colonies and America it is probable that makers as a body do not receive more than 3d. per gallon for their milk, net. If, therefore, we take an average cow of moderate pretensions, giving 400 gallons of milk per annum (and it is an undoubted fact that the majority of the cows in the country do not exceed this modest quantity), we shall find that the returns per cow, taking 5d. as the basis, would amount to £8 6s. 8d., while the returns in the Cheddar-producing countries abroad would only amount to £5. In a 40-cow dairy, therefore, the gross returns in England would amount to £366 per annum, and in the other countries referred to, to £200. The question now arises, whether this difference represents the extra cost of rent, taxes, and labour: whether, in fact, the farmer is better off in this country with the higher receipts, or in other countries with the lower receipts. We venture to think that the British farmer holds the superior position, and that it is better worthwhile to pay a good rent for good land and an excellent equipment under a good landlord in England than to pay no rent at all — and we are speaking only of cheese-making — either on the prairie of America or in the Australian bush. We are quite aware of the fact that the figures we have taken do not absolutely represent the exact state of affairs in either country, inasmuch as cheese is not made throughout the entire season, but they are sufficient for our purpose, for in both countries farmers obtain somewhat higher receipts in the winter, either by the sale of milk in England, or by the manufacture of butter in America and the Colonies. Further, the cheese-making farmer adds to his returns by the production of pork, in the manufacture of which he daily employs the whey from the cheese.
The Dutch farmer does very little better than the Colonial farmer. As a small owner of land, he has no rent to pay, and as the labour upon his farm is confined to the management of the cows and a few pigs and the production of cheese, in which the wife of the farmer assists materially, there is little out of pocket paid in the year. The Italian farmers are not so fortunate as the Dutch; they are extremely poor, and the bulk of the profit of the cheese industry, which is very extensive, finds its way into the hands of the curers and middle-men. In France, however, at all events so far as the leading varieties are concerned, the farmers do much better, and in the past they have obtained golden success in the production of their finest cheeses, hundreds of men having bought the farms they occupy out of the profits they have made. It has been no uncommon thing, and it is not uncommon to-day, to find French cheese-makers realizing from 10d. to 1s. a gallon for all the milk they produce, through the medium of cheese. As we have urged for years, there are many varieties, some of which are well known in this country, which would have by this time enabled scores of English farmers to have followed their example. But, in spite of agricultural depression, in spite of the means of education which exist, and of the fact that we have introduced into this country the system of manufacture of a number of these varieties, systems which have been taught for some years now, we are not acquainted with a single practical farmer who has attempted to build up a business in any one variety, although there is an important market at his very door.
We have referred to a number of the varieties of cheese which are imported. Naturally, Cheddar stands at the head of the list as a British cheese. A pound of Cheddar is usually represented by about 10 lbs. — or a gallon — of milk; but the quantity of cheese made from a given quantity of milk depends upon the quality of the milk, and this varies both with the cow and with the month of the year. In the Somerset Experiments and the New York State Experiments at forty-eight factories, the following quantities of milk, in pounds, were required in the various months named to produce each pound of cheese —
Thus we see that in Somerset, our great Cheddar county, the milk was richest in October, the month in which it was also richest in New York; but while it took considerably more than a gallon, on the average, to produce a pound of cheese in Somerset, it took less than a gallon in America; and in five sets of experiments carried out upon an enormous scale in the States, the milk was always richer than in the experiments in Somerset, which were carried out upon actual cheese-making farms. As regards Cheshire cheese, which comes next to Cheddar in this country, we have not the same exact data; no work upon the same extensive and well-considered scale having been carried out in the successful county of Chester. These varieties are pressed cheeses, and in the same category come the Derby, the Gloucester, and the Leicester cheeses, all of which are but variations of the great Cheddar type, having nothing really typical or characteristic about them when considered apart from their prototype. The unpressed firm cheeses made in this country are known as Stilton, Wensleydale, and Cotherstone, all of which are mellow and ripened by the aid of the blue mould which grows iii veins within them. In making these varieties, slightly more milk is required to produce a pound of ripened cheese than is the case with Cheddar or Cheshire, and consequently the value is higher; but, owing to the extension of the system of dairy teaching, the two first-named of these varieties have been manufactured of late upon a much larger scale; so much so in the last year that if production is further extended, the new makers will have reason to regret their entrance upon the industry. They will find at the end of the season, when their harvest should arrive, that they have no market at any price; and I, therefore, venture to caution milk producers against entering carelessly upon an industry which is now overdone. Far wiser would it be to commence the manufacture of the Swiss Gruyére, the Italian Parmesan, or the French Brie, Camembert, or Port du Salut, for each of which the market is still supplied by foreign producers. Broadly speaking, the cost of producing Cheddar or Cheshire, Derby or Leicester, Dutch or Gruyere, all of which are pressed cheeses, is similar in amount; but immediately we handle the soft cheeses we reduce the cost of the milk required and increase the cost of labour. Abroad, old women are largely employed in the work, and are paid very small wages, these persons assisting the female members of the farmer's family. A Camembert cheese sells readily for 6d., and weighs about 11 ozs. A Brie, weighing 1 1/2 lbs., or a little more, sells for is. 6d., also by retail. The quantity of milk required to make a Brie varies from two to two and a half gallons, and it may generally be taken as a standard that half a gallon of milk of a little more than average quality will produce about 14 ozs. of white or unripened salable cheese, or 12 ozs. of ripened cheese, these figures being liable to increase or decrease in accordance with the quality of the milk. There is a sale in London for Camembert and Port du Salut as well as for Bondon, Neufchâtel, and Gervais, all of which are very small cheeses, weighing a few ounces only, the first two being produced from new milk alone, and the last-named from a mixture of new milk and cream. The possibility of success depends upon the maker, for the London merchant is amenable to reason, and will buy in the English market if he can obtain a satisfactory article at a price which is at least not in excess of that charged by the Frenchman.