(THE GUARDIAN) - A British cheese boom is under way, driven by changing tastes in Asia and soaring demand for UK-made mozzarella, cottage cheese and stilton as well as traditional cheddar.
The value of cheese exports soared 23 per cent to £615m in 2017, according to the latest HMRC data. Sales to the Philippines rose 27 per cent while the amount exported to China has rocketed from 49 tonnes in 2015 to 786 tonnes last year.
Cheddar makes up more than 4o per cent of exports, but mozzarella and fresh cheese, such as curds and cottage cheese, are faster growing, with both up 14 per cent last year in terms of volume.
The amount of British mozzarella sold to the US jumped 43 per cent last year while sales also soared in Hong Kong, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Pakistan according to the data.
Patty Clayton, a senior analyst at the agriculture and horticulture development board, said the growth was partly the result of a rise in cheese prices around the world because production has fallen in Europe while demand continued to rise. The decline in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote has made British cheese more competitive.
"There's domestic European demand but there's also growth in consumption in Asia as they start to get a taste for cheese and butter as well," she said.
However, Chinese buyers are not necessarily interested in our finest cheeses: more than half the cheese sent to China was powdered or grated cheese for use in ready meals, according to Clayton.
Jason Hinds, co-owner of Neal's Yard Dairy, which exports a wide range of British cheeses including Cornish yarg, stilton and cheddar to 15 markets around the world, said the fall in the value of the pound had helped make his product cheaper.
"The devaluation of the currency has allowed us to bring our prices down and that's had an effect, while in Europe there's an economic confidence that hasn't existed for most of the last 10 years," Hinds said.
He said a change in attitude in France, where buyers are now more interested in British and other quality foreign cheeses, had also helped make the continent Neal's Yard fastest growing market.
"As more shops become aware that there is great cheese in England we have become a destination for people," he said.
The group's fastest growing category is stilton with the blue cheese offering something not easy to find in France or elsewhere.
Former environment secretary Liz Truss may have declared the fact that the UK imports two-thirds of its cheese "a disgrace" in disarmingly passionate Tory party conference speech, but dramatic growth in new markets including China, the Philippines and Lebanon as well as a rise in ensured the country remains a big cheese worldwide.
A spokesman for Glanbia Cheese, one of Europe's biggest mozzarella makers with two factories based in Wales and Northern Ireland, said it was seeing growth in the Middle East but its biggest markets were still in Europe, especially Germany, France, Spain and even Italy.
He said sales were strongly linked to pizza eating: "Mozzarella is the most international of all cheeses. Most is consumed on a pizza, so growth is very much driven by the love of pizza."