Brexit starting to grate for UK cheese business
Juliet Mann

At Patricia Michelson's La Fromagerie in Marylebone, North London, care and attention has gone into curating a selection of cheeses from small producers across Europe over the course of nearly 30 years. 

She had never set out to own a cheese empire – there are now three stores in London and they supply to restaurants all over the country – but after accidentally buying a 38kg (84 pounds) wheel of cheese on a family skiing holiday in 1990, Michelson had her light bulb moment.

Having become separated from her ski party on the mountainside and feeling particularly sorry for herself, she stumbled into a village cheese shop for an edible pick-me-up. The bite of Beaufort Chalet d'Alpage tickled her taste buds so much she sought out the local farmer to buy more to take home. But her order was lost in translation and she ended up with a lot more cheese than she bargained for.  

After storing it in a shed at the end of her garden, she slowly gave away pieces to friends and family and hosted several fondue parties. When she took some to a couple of nearby high-end restaurants, they wanted more, and Michelson's cheese journey began.

"I don't think anybody now could quite start a business like that. For me it was all about the diversity of cheese in France, Italy, wherever, they have got the climate to have cold weather cheese, hot weather cheese, wet weather cheese like Camembert and I want to continue that," Michelson said.


Patricia Michelson, right, with one of her cheese boards (Pic: CGTN)

Patricia Michelson, right, with one of her cheese boards (Pic: CGTN)

Small food businesses like this rely on easy trade with Europe. However, Brexit uncertainly has weighed heavy on plans for the busy Christmas sales period and beyond.

"We have put in our orders and are keeping our fingers crossed. At Christmas we go through a couple of tons of cheese, just from Europe," she said.

Already, her team is coping with hold-ups of cheese in transit, reams of extra paperwork and confusion over delivery times. Regrettably, but inevitably, those extra costs will be passed on to customers.

A cheese board of European favorites sold in La Fromagerie that costs from around $20 could double in price, with import charges inching higher and new tariffs that could come in once the UK eventually leaves the European Union.

"Prices will go up. Or we just stop working with some of these wonderful cheese producers. They were rarities anyway and for me to find these small producers, these artisans, was part of the joy of starting the business and losing that connection, that is the sadness of it all."

With big questions over new export rules and tariffs, Michelson believes collective people power might be the ideal ingredient to minimize costs and forge ahead with the business in these tricky economic times.

"People like me will want to band together with other similar like-minded people so that we can work together and try to bring in collectively the goods we want, rather than some of them struggling to do it on their own."

Alas, for foodie entrepreneurs, Brexit uncertainty is beginning to grate.