Developing new farmhouse cheeses with a strong local identity is one of the best opportunities for dairy farmers considering on-farm processing, milk producers were told in Carlisle this week.

With UK cheese consumption now running at about 10kg a head a year – compared with 18.5kg in the rest of the EU – the regional cheese market is ripe for expansion, said independent milk consultant John Taylerson.

At the first of a series of Milk Development Council meetings covering on-farm processing, he told Cumbrian farmers that soft cheese in particular was a “growth market”.

“UK consumption of imported soft cheeses is increasing, so there’s a good opportunity for UK dairy farmers to develop the home-produced market.

But, although there’s potential, farmers must devise a strong concept for any new product launch.

“As well as actually producing a high-quality food, farmers must ensure they create the correct identity and marketing strategy.

Where you are located and even the name of the farm will impact on the image of the product,” said Mr Taylerson, who has just been appointed marketing director for Milk Link.

He urged any farmer thinking about venturing into the hard or soft cheese market to waste no time in seeking expert advice.

“The Specialist Cheesemakers Association is a fantastic resource for farmers, especially for those needing advice on making and marketing cheese made from unpasteurised milk – products some retailers can shy away from, even though it can be one of the most valuable products created from on-farm milk processing.”

Mr Taylerson described tapping into grants as “tick-box lotto”, and added: “Farmers must be very careful about grants.

They are there to achieve local objectives and local consultants will know which boxes to tick to meet the criteria to access the cash.

“If you go to the right grant body with the right information at the right time, you can play tick-box lotto by meeting the required objectives.

And having a consultant on board makes the whole project look more professional in the eyes of those giving out the cash.”

Mr Taylerson said some grant aid would pay for up to 40% of equipment purchase – even second-hand equipment – and possibly cover up to 100% of market research costs.

But farmers considering marketing their own branded liquid milk could end up with a “heap of grief”, he said.

“Although some branded milk businesses have succeeded, consumers in general don’t see liquid milk as a product they need to pay a premium for.

The volume of milk that has to be produced under a branded milk business, the investment needed and cash flow situation are major issues with this type of venture.”

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com