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U.K. gets big on cheese

Various types of cheese at the Great British Cheese Festival

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BILL RADKE: This week, the United Kingdom applauds one of its oldest industries by celebrating Cheese Week.

Reporter Christopher Werth tells us British Cheese has been booming and the country's artisans are challenging their European competitors.


CHRISTOPHER WERTH: If you're a fan of Wallace and Gromit movies, you know the British have a reputation for eating cheese...

WALLACE & GROMIT: I'll never sleep after all that cheese.

While the French and Italians have a reputation for making it. But Juliet Harbutt says Britain once had a cheese-making tradition that was just as vibrant as the rest of Europe's.

JULIET HARBUTT: They went from something like 2,500-3,000 cheese-makers at the beginning of the First World War to after the Second World War we were down to about 300 or 400.

Harbutt founded the British Cheese Awards 15 years ago. She's seen a big improvement in the industry since then. Today, there are over 700 different British cheeses, putting the U.K. ahead of France in the number of varieties per capita. Yes, someone actually measures that sort of thing. The market for artisinal British cheeses hit $300 million last year.

Harbutt says the revival is due mostly to rock bottom milk prices that have diary farmers looking for new ways to make a profit.

ANNE WIGMORE: What we need to do now is put the curd into the molds.

At her small creamery in a village about an hour outside London, Anne Wigmore stirs a vat of cheese curds the size of a bathtub. She brings in around $180,000 a year for the various cow and sheep's milk varieties she began developing nearly 25 years ago.

WIGMORE: It was called then a sort of "new wave" of cheese-makers coming through, actually producing a completely different cheese.

Instead of sticking with old traditional British cheeses, like standard cheddar, Wigmore says the new generation of British cheese-makers are incorporating different European styles to create innovative products -- many with equally innovative names.

Jason Hines is with Neal's Yard Dairy, a specialty cheese shop in London.

JASON HINES: A lot of the cheeses are actually taking the names of the location of the place that they're made. Ticklemore is one because the cheese-maker had a shop, and it was at One Ticklemore Street.

Other names are even more imaginative. How 'bout Wobbly Bottom, Cornish Yarg, and Stinking Bishop.

Stinking Bishop may not sound like the most appetizing cheese, but the artisan who makes it reported demand jumped 500 percent after Wallace and Gromit sampled it in one of their movies.

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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