COVID has been a brutal experience for all of us. Given this impact on human life, talking about the damage to livelihoods could be perceived as insignificant or missing the point. And our livelihood is specialty cheese, and our customers and businesses have been ravaged.
I have missed the joy of closeness with my cheese family: farmers, cheesemakers, vendors, people who love cheese. And yet, we’ve all been in this together. There is something about a shared experience, even in the darkest of times, that brings us together. We know we will all measure time by “That was before COVID… that was after COVID”, and we’ll all have the same clock.
There we were, stores full of cheese, our lovely cross-bred cows just coming into the spring flush of lush grass in our rich Devon valley, producing beautiful milk. Suddenly, so many of the ways cheese lovers get our cheese had disappeared. We were suddenly on our own, our sales not there. What were we to do with our cows, our milk, our people, a year’s worth and more of our lovely clothbound cheddar in store? And what was going to happen to all of those great colleagues in the chain whose livelihoods depended on great cheese, those we depended on to tell our story and sell our cheese, including the chefs, cheese sommeliers and the cheesemongers?
One of the most extraordinary and moving things about the crisis was the way our customers reached out to us:
“We love your cheese, but we are locked down, how can we get our hit of Quicke’s?”
“It’s my sister’s birthday, we always celebrate with a platter of your cheese, but the deli counter it was on has closed. Can you help us?”
“My son is self-isolating away at college, and he can’t come home. I know your cheese will cheer him up.”
It was miraculous to hear over and over that people love great cheese, they love our cheese, they wanted it for the precious family moments of life. I know people eat our cheese for that marketing category ‘occasions’. We heard and felt and were summoned by what that means in the warp and weft of peoples’ lives. They reached out and told us, and we were touched and pulled into action: get boxes, curate a cheeseboard of our cheese, cut cheese into home-sized pieces.
People called for them from all over the country, and we pulled people in to help with this who otherwise wouldn’t be working.
Get our website working so it’s easy to buy from. Work out how best to send it off though a courier to keep it in great shape.
And we could respond to all those people who reached out to us, and tell the story of our cheese, that our colleagues in cheese once told in restaurants, on menus and in delis. Cheese lovers let us into their homes and their hearts.
We also found that other cheesemakers, our deli and restaurant cousins in cheese family were also delivering cheese. We collaborate and make more interesting boxes. We connected in a way we hadn’t before. We play with flavors, recommend pairings and deliver those for people to enjoy together.
We have conversations, listen and talk, know how we connect across the world, for the love of cheese. That’s the opportunity for all of us making artisan cheese: we all have a great story to tell, and it’s so rewarding to be able to tell the story and hear from cheese lovers.
Cheese also became national, as cheese connoisseurs leapt to support their own struggling cheesemakers, cheesemongers and cheese sommeliers. The U.S. had ‘Victory Cheese’. The UK had ‘British Cheese Weekender’, an online cheese festival celebrating all things cheesey. That is how it should be. In a time of crisis, look to your own.
Now we are all looking to a time beyond the crisis and the sorrow and the emergency. We know more strongly than ever the power and strength of cheese family. I don’t want to lose the amazing connection we now feel.
Mary Quicke is the 14th generation of the Quicke family on Home Farm in the UK and has been running the cheese business since 1987.