IT HAS long been a staple of vegetarian menus, adding a much-welcomed tang to an otherwise dull salad or caramelised onion tart.
But restaurants and supermarkets have warned of a shortage of goats’ cheese, due to a growing gulf between supply and demand across Europe, and a leading Scottish chef has said this could force up prices.
Pizza Express, whose goats’ cheese and red onion pizza Padana is one of its best sellers, has struggled to supply it in a number of branches and has had to offer an “alternative cheese” to customers.
The Co-operative supermarket group has warned it expects supply problems next month as the crisis deepens.
Experts say the shortage could push costs higher, meaning customers could be forced to fork out inflated prices for goats’ cheese in both supermarkets and restaurants. Some chefs may even have to remove the product from their menus entirely.
A Pizza Express spokeswoman said: “The goats’ cheese dishes we serve are very popular with our guests and they’re still available in our restaurants but, due to the temporary industry-wide shortage across Europe, we have experienced a few pockets of limited availability of goats’ cheese on certain days in a handful of restaurants.
“In these cases, we are of course happy to offer an alternative cheese. We envisage this being a short-term issue and are continuing to work closely with our supplier to ensure full availability at all times.”
A Co-operative spokesman said: “Although there are no issues with the supply of goats’ cheese at present, we anticipate there may be some issues as we move into February. In order to minimise disruption, we work closely with our suppliers to plan ahead and communicate any changes to our customers.”
Chef Mark Greenaway, who runs two restaurants in Edinburgh and has appeared on TV show Great British Menu, said many restaurants could be forced to remove dishes from their menus. “It is still a massively widely used ingredient for a lot of restaurants,” he said. “Prices will have to go up or the use of it within restaurants will have to come down.”
The shortages stem from supply problems in western Europe, which accounts for the vast majority of production.
In France, the amount made and exported has dropped this year, as low goats’-milk prices force producers out of the industry, while in the Netherlands, 50,000 sheep and goats were slaughtered three years ago due to the outbreak of a disease carried by pregnant cattle that can affect humans.
Although affected farms will be able to restock from this year, it will take time for animals to grow and the effect to filter through to the supply chain.
Rising demand for goats’ cheese from restaurants and consumers, as well as from growing markets such as China, has put pressure on existing stocks.
One French distributor to the UK, Eurilait, said the price of goats’-milk products sold in stores had rocketed by more than 10 per cent in the past year.
“A few years ago, there was a massive oversupply and, as a result, prices dropped and people couldn’t afford to continue producing any more,” Eurilait managing director Howard Newmarch said. “Then there were fewer people producing, followed by the cull in the Netherlands.
“Another problem is a lot of people who farm goats in Europe are getting older and, when they retire, their children often aren’t keen to take it on, especially if it hasn’t been making much money.”
Mr Newmarch said UK consumers might find the product more difficult to get hold of in the coming months. “It has been very popular as an ingredient for starters and vegetarian dishes for some time, but we are just going to see less of that in the near future,” he added.