Producers are warning of possible shortages of Cheddar cheese following a significant tightening of supplies.

Falling levels of Cheddar production combined with lower imports in the past year have led to supplies only just meeting demand.

Increasingly attractive prices for milk for butter and SMP have led to processors both in the UK and abroad switching away from Cheddar production, notably mature.

A combination of domestic cheese production falling 4% in the past year and Cheddar sales rising 3% had put pressure on supplies, confirmed British Cheese Board secretary Nigel White.

"If there are going to be any shortages, they would be on Cheddar. It is extremely difficult to predict, but it'll be a very interesting and demanding time for the industry," he added.

Defra figures for the year to October 2007 show that the volume of milk used for cheese production fell 11.2% compared with the year before to slightly more than three billion litres of milk. About 30% of milk goes to produce cheese, with most going into Cheddar.

While wholesale prices for mature Cheddar increased significantly over the past year, the retail price only went up slightly, according to a spokesman for the Milk Development Council. With the increase in input costs across the dairy industry, this made mature Cheddar a less attractive proposition for processors, he added.

Total Cheddar imports fell 10% in the year to October last year to 83,000 tonnes, MDC figures show. Ireland accounts for more than half of all imported Cheddar, with much of the rest coming from Australia and New Zealand.

Wyke Farms' MD Richard Clothier said tighter supply was "a worry for the industry going forward", but added Wyke had no concerns over its own supply.

Chris Swire, sales director at Fayrefield Foods, said the company had no supply problems, having planned well ahead.

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