U.S. specialty cheese community launches Victory Cheese to save troubled industry
WASHINGTON — Cheese organizations and entrepreneurs across the U.S. are banding together in an unprecedented effort to save small cheese companies from financial ruin and to prevent the collapse of a beloved staple of the American diet. Producers are reporting 30-80 percent revenue declines and see little chance of a turnaround anytime soon.
With restaurants still mostly shuttered and grocery stores focused on mass-produced products, the COVID-19 crisis is devastating the supply chain for specialty cheese. Small family dairy farms, artisan cheesemakers and the regional distributors and retailers who bring their products to market continue to be severely affected. Additionally, popular cheese festivals, events and farmer’s markets have been cancelled.
Under the banner Victory Cheese, several industry organizations, thought leaders and entrepreneurs have joined forces, including the Oldways Cheese Coalition, Culture Media, the Good Food Foundation, American Cheese Education Foundation and the Specialty Food Association. The task force also includes representatives of many leading producers, distributors and retailers as well as influential organizations from the largest cheese producer states, like the California Artisan Cheese Guild, Vermont Cheese Council, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and other state cheese guilds. This effort is in support of American Cheese Society activities as well. Chef Rick Bayless and Chef Art Smith are among the numerous culinary personalities also supporting the effort.
“Our members and others are working together to address this urgent problem and come up with a timely and meaningful response to save their businesses and keep specialty cheeses’ treasured place in American cuisine,” said Karen Lundquist, executive director of the American Cheese Society and Victory Cheese member. “With the launch of Victory Cheese, we’re working to boost sales and create resources, which will help carry them through, and preserve the incredible craft that feeds us all.”
In addition to a robust call to action campaign and a retail supply chain effort, Victory Cheese includes the launch of YourMaker.Direct which will launch in the coming weeks. YMD is an online cheese marketplace representing a wide range of specialty cheese from makers across the U.S. There are products from small producers who don’t have the resources to manage their own online sales, as well as cheeses from larger established creameries known for their award-winning favorites. YourMaker.Direct will continually add new features and offerings once it is launched.
“We see ourselves as a champion for cheese,” said Victory Cheese Co-Founder Greg O’Neill. “Cheese is by far the largest category in specialty food and it has taken decades to build the cornucopia that has now gained global accolades, including the current World Champion Cheese. We are determined to make sure we survive and thrive.”
Victory Gardens in World War II were designed to boost morale and feed families in troubled times. Victory Cheese is designed to boost the cheese industry and give cheese lovers a chance to do their part in saving it. The task force is rallying retailers, restaurateurs and organizations nationwide to curate and sell Victory Cheese Boxes, locally customized collections with a portion of proceeds benefiting cheese, food or agriculture non-profits.
Victory Cheese Boxes were launched during American Cheese Month, an annual celebration that benefits the American Cheese Education Foundation. The inaugural boxes are created by such well-known cheese and culinary personalities as James Beard Award-winning chef Dan Barber of New York’s renowned Blue Hill/Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Anne Saxelby of New York’s Saxelby Cheese and Mateo Kehler of Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm and represent a variety of cheese makers. Look for more Victory Cheese boxes to be sold from coast-to-coast by your favorite retailer, maker or food personality.
Call to action
Tell family, friends, neighbors and colleagues about the cheese crisis in America and the need to act now by purchasing your favorite U.S. produced specialty cheese.
In addition to stocking up on the basics, consider American specialty and artisan cheese to elevate your experience, whether you buy at independent cheese stores, supermarkets, club stores, online or direct from the cheesemaker.
Support American specialty cheese by purchasing a Victory Cheese Box.
Ask for American cheeses by name and try new ones. If you don’t find your favorites, ask retailers to stock them.
Show off your cheese purchases on social media and tag #VictoryCheese to raise awareness.
Can’t decide? Choose perishable cheeses over hard aged ones to avoid waste.
Join the American Cheese Society as an enthusiast member or a cheese guild to learn more about local cheeses and the people behind them. Most guilds welcome members from the public.
Visit YourMaker.Direct when it launches for consumer purchases and vote with your dollars. ❖