Say Cheese is a widely used phrase to make one smile in front of a Camera. Unfortunately, however, cheesemakers of northern England are not to smile. The sudden rise of uneconomic realities from the blunders of policymakers and pandemic is threatening the great British heritage. To investigate the problem myself, and also to enjoy their eau de nil vision of loveliness, I spent my reading week in Wensleydale, Yorkshire.
I took up rooms at the Fox and Hounds Inn, a local pub situated in the remote outskirts of Wensleydale. Affordable rooms, cheap drinks, splendid chicken and leek pie, and superb hospitality made my stay beyond pleasant. Day after my arrival, I headed to the celebrated Wensleydale Creamery. As this old dale is far-off from the ideas of urbanisation, it took me about an hour to get to the creamery; half of which just waiting for the bloody bus. Yet this was a worthwhile tribulation, for I was not disappointed by my experience. Genuine Wensleydale’s Crumbly texture, with a gentle savour of yoghurt’s sweetness, was indeed a delight. Variations such as Wensleydale Blue have achieved the balance between the tang of the stilton and the mildness of Wensleydale. But I digress as I am starting to feel like a sodding food blogger. The gist is that I had a great time in a Cheese Connoisseur’s paradise and felt so bad that such cheese is in peril.
Then. What peril? Well, of course, political peril―like most of the great perils of the world. Throughout history, policymakers of England were not kind to North Yorkshire’s cheesemakers. For example, in the 1530s, England’s first Brexiteer, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Unfortunately, Wensleydale Cheese originates from French monks who came over in the twelfth century, id est, monasteries are the Creamery. But blessed are the cheese makers, as the divine deliverance spared the cheese from its eternal slumber; its secrets reputedly being passed on through a network of plucky local farmer’s wives. Then by the turn of the twentieth century, cheese manufactures had consolidated from numerous households into a few industrialised creameries.
Yet the story does not end here; The severed vein of Sarajevo and the rise of fascism led to two massive, and wholly inconvenient, wars. During the total war, it is necessary to allocate resources wisely. For cheese making, most of the milk produced in Britain was dedicated to dastardly Cheddar. Even after the war, this effect did not wear off amongst Britons, as most of them favoured Cheddar and Red-Leicester. So, Wensleydale was slowly fading away, only appreciated by a few who acknowledged its marvellous taste. But amid this shabbiness and decline, a saviour showed up in the form of clay; a saviour who needs no introduction, for we all know that Wallace loves not just cheese, but Wensleydale in particular. The Wallace and Gromit effect has indeed proved a massive success, raising sales and global recognition.
However, these recent years of glory may end very soon due to Brexit. Several reports show that cheese exports have plunged due to the disruption between Britain and our biggest export market, Europe. This is not only a matter of Wensleydale but of other great cheese such as Stilton and Cheshire. The reason for this is quite simple. Cheese as a dairy product has a life span. It has a risk of going bad, thus it is necessary to let it through customs and supply chains as quickly as possible. Yet Brexit has forced our Cheeses to go through extra steps, meaning extra red-tape, and at extra cost. For food products, time is a crucial factor in their survival in the market. So, the current situation is very unpleasant. Although the government have promised a smooth and swift deal―which will allow Cheesemakers to keep their Continental Business as it were―results were devastating. Creameries, Exporters and Retails have suffered virtual annihilation in Europe. A smooth and Swift deal was an utterly uncharitable mirage.
In response to such agonising loss of profit and prestige pointed out by the cheesemakers, ministers senselessly repeat saying look at the American market. Well, they are looking, and it certainly is not a land of milk and honey. After all, establishing a market is a lot like farming. It takes effort even when the land can be easily ploughed. America is more of barren land for British Cheese to survive. It is not to be ploughed; it is to be terraformed. This is because general American consumers are not used to British Cheese. They are used to mass-produced, factory cheese which is called ‘Cheddar’ for some godforsaken reason. Ergo, they are not aware of the presence of Wensleydale or Double Gloucester, and they can’t even pronounce them right, uttering Glow-ches-te’r’. To settle in the new world, it is necessary to break this barrier of incomprehension and inexperience, which cannot be done in a few days. It may take years. It may even take decades. For this reason, the minister’s advice regarding the Americans is not just unhelpful, it is more of an ignorant blasphemy. Of course, one may say it is good to look a long way ahead with a positive mindset. Well yes, but you don’t sing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ to a bunch of hostages about to be shot. Problems of today must be solved before planning the manoeuvres of tomorrow. Adding insult to injury, COVID steps in. This wretched micro-organism is adding tonnes of weight on both domestic and international trade, and we’re still not sure when that’ll be over. Such crisis after crisis has driven the future of Wensleydale and much other proud cheese of Britain at the brink of River Styx. Before it goes any further, desperate toils to pull them back to the coast is needed.
This brings me on to my battle cry. When defining the term Conservatism, we may think of many things, such as free markets, gradual progress, liberty, and smaller government. Nevertheless, the most important aspect of it is innated in the term Conserve. Conservatism is an ideology of conserving the physical and metaphysical values we hold most dear. In this case, Wensleydale cheese is the physical value, while the spirit succeeded through generation is metaphysical. These must be conserved. Now we are in the midst of sudden change. Brexit will draw new paths and futures for Britain. Just so the potential Brexiteer-reader should know, this piece is not written to denounce Brexit. It has been done, it has numerous potential benefits, but as every policy does, it’s got some predicaments to overcome; the matter of Cheese being one. And a bloody important one at that. The great tradition intertwined with a slice of cheese is something to be proud of, and something to retain in these roaring torrents of the new era.