Goat’s cheese starter in jeopardy as cheesemakers struggle to meet demand
Teagasc calls for more support for goat sector
Goats cheese “on every menu in the country”.
There was much hand-wringing in the UK last month when a shortage of goats’ cheese was threatened and now it looks like Irish tables will also be hit.
A combination of the fodder crisis earlier this year and the exit of farmers from the sector has led to a shortage of goats’ cheese in the State.
Demand for goats’ cheese has been rising in recent years and it is now a popular starter in restaurants.
Teagasc goat adviser Cian Condon said the sector was very small so when a few farmers stopped production, it had a serious impact on milk supply.
“There’s a shortage of goats, which is leading to a shortage of milk, and that’s resulting in a shortage of cheese,” he said.
“I know some of our very prominent cheese-makers haven’t been able to get a regular supply of goats’ milk, even though they have an award-winning cheese with buyers available.” He said the knock-on effects of the fodder scarcity were still being felt in reduced milk supply, even in summer.
Pallas Foods, one of the State’s main cheese distributors, also noticed this tightness in supply in the summer, according to Marian Cahill, its dairy, fine foods and beverage manager. She said it looked like supplies would be tight for the festive season too. Ms Cahill said it was a Europe-wide problem. Many farmers had left the sector in France due to bad prices. In the Netherlands 50,000 pregnant goats and sheep were culled a few years ago to tackle Q fever disease.
Siobhán Ní Gháirbhith of St Tola cheese said she believed there would be a scarcity of soft cheese in the coming months. “We didn’t even get to make our hard cheese this summer because our own milk production was down 30 per cent due to the bad winter because goats didn’t go into full milk production.”
Jane Murphy of Ardsallagh goat farm said the past two years “have been very much against us” because of the bad weather and subsequent lack of feed. “There’s going to be very little milk in the country this winter,” she said. “We’ve been constantly playing catch-up since last summer.”
Mr Condon said goat farming was underdeveloped with virtually no supports but it had “huge potential” for development. “Ten years ago you wouldn’t see goats’ cheese on a menu in Ireland. Now it’s on every menu in the country and there’s a massive focus on locally-produced food,” he said.
Mr Condon said there were about 25 large milk producers supplying Glenisk – the only major goats’ milk processor – and the large cheese-makers.
“There are probably at least as many with smaller numbers – a few dozen goats – producing milk for smaller-scale cheese production.”