THE 2016 World Cheese Awards, run by the Guild of Fine Food, which is based in Gillingham, will be crossing the Bay of Biscay to take place in the Basque country, at San Sebastian during the city’s tenure as European Capital of Culture.
As the dairy industry continues to experience challenging times, this is a significant opportunity for British cheese to play a central role in front of a worldwide audience and should be a welcome lift for the dairy industry, which has suffered from falling farm-gate milk prices.
Cheese production has risen by 19 per cent in the UK over the past decade (DEFRA, Agriculture in the UK 2014), partly in response to falling milk prices, so the World Cheese Awards provides a powerful platform for British cheeses to be judged alongside cheeses from around the world, by international buyers, retailers and experts.
At a time when San Sebastián shines a spotlight on its cultural richness, including its world class cuisine, the World Cheese Awards will add a stage for cheese-making excellence. Forming part of the International Cheese Festival between 16th and 18th November, the 29th annual awards (the world’s largest cheese-only awards) will bring together 3,000 of the world’s finest artisan cheeses in the Kursaal Congress Centre, as 250 expert judges gather from every corner of the globe.
John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, says: “Artzai Gazta, the 116-member artisan cheese-makers’ co-operative, proposed the move to us back in 2014 after entering its Idiazabal raw sheep’s milk cheeses into the World Cheese Awards for over a decade.
“The competition attracts more cheeses and judges from more countries than any other awards, so we’re delighted to be heading to San Sebastián in 2016 to stage the event outside of the UK for only the third time in its history. In partnership with Artzai Gazta, the autonomous Basque Government and the local tourist board, we’re anticipating thousands of food professionals, buyers, retailers, consumers and tourists making their way to Europe’s unofficial culinary capital, raising international awareness of the Basque Country’s artisan cheese-making culture and products, alongside cheesemakers from all over the world.”
Central themes of San Sebastián’s term as European Capital of Culture include promoting stronger ties with the rest of Europe and fostering innovation in the cultural sector, with events ranging from participatory theatre and community dance to puppetry and music from international artists. With food so central to Basque Country culture, events celebrating gastronomy will play a key role in drawing these cultural activities together.