The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on one corner of global trade: the wholesale price for cheddar on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has fluctuated wildly. While mid-April saw a 40-pound block of cheddar hit a low of just $1 a pound, by June 9 the price had soared to $2.81 a pound – a record high.
Such volatility is extreme even for US cheddar, a commodity that has had its fair share of swings in the last two decades, and which is still traded in 10-minute daily bursts on the CME. But are these gyrations matched on the other side of the pond, and do they provide any hope for Britain’s army of cheesemakers?
In the UK, cheese prices overall have remained relatively stable, but some sectors of the market have seen sharp swings as the disruption began. With schools closed and people staying at home, supermarket sales have surged.
“Sales of cheddar and territorial cheeses – ‘family cheese’ as opposed to ‘cheeseboard cheese’ – saw really significant levels of growth in that time,” says Nigel Murray, chief operating officer of Booths Country supermarkets.
Makers of artisan cheese, however, were hard hit by the closure of the hospitality sector that they had supplied through wholesalers. This left them with large quantities of perishable stock that needed moving.
“From the middle of March to the end of April, makers of cheeses with a relatively short shelf life – like soft or blue cheeses – were reducing their prices, in some cases significantly,” says Jason Hinds, sales director and co-owner of cheese retailer Neal’s Yard Dairy.