CHEESE PLEASE Canadians have a growing appetite for specialty brands or those made by artisanal methods
Swiss, Gruyere, goat cheese — just uttering these words will make most people hungry.
And pull out their wallets.
Growth of specialty cheeses is extremely strong, says Chris Panter, an Alberta Agriculture livestock market analyst who has researched specialty cheese in Alberta.
“Growth of cheddar consumption is positive but consumption of specialty cheese is up over seven kilograms per person per year,” Panter told attendees at a recent Alberta Agricultural Economists Association meeting.
He defines specialty cheese as a high-quality product with special characteristics and commanding a premium price. That rules out cheddar, which accounts for one-third of the 413,000 tonnes of cheese produced in Canada annually, as well as cottage cheese or processed cheese products. Top specialty cheeses are Swiss or Emmental, Parmesan, Ricotta and Gruyere. Artisan cheese is a subset of the specialty cheese market, and emphasizes traditional production practices.
Canadians are moderate consumers of cheese compared to most Europeans. We eat just under 13 kilograms each per year but meeting that demand means the country imports more cheese — about 16,000 tonnes in 2011 — than it exports (which are restricted because of a WTO ruling arising from supply management). And while there are over 1,000 specialty cheeses registered with the Canadian Cheese directory, the majority of them are made in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. All that creates opportunities for Alberta cheese makers, said Panter.
“Artisan cheese makers may not need to look beyond Alberta to find a market,” he said. “The Edmonton-Calgary corridor is a high-income zone with over two million consumers who enjoy a reasonably good standard of living.”
But price is still a big factor, he said.
“Specialty cheese producers can often price themselves out of a market if it gets too high,” he said.