So it's no surprise that any business with aspirations to be a significant force in the UK dairy market sees Cheddar as a 'must have' part of its product portfolio. Most recently, this has driven dairy co-op First Milk to acquire two large Cheddar creameries from Dairy Crest. First Milk recognises that Cheddar must play a key part in its strategy of becoming a major milk processor, alongside its more traditional role as a raw milk broker.
The move has also allowed First Milk to lay claim to being the largest UK-based cheese supplier. But it means the three large co-operatives in Britain are now the dominant force in supplying UK-produced Cheddar to the market. First Milk joins Dairy Farmers of Britain, which took over the former ACC cheese production plant at Llandyrnog, and Milk Link, which bought a 75% stake in The Cheese Company alongside Glanbia, both in 2004. In another move, French dairy giant Lactalis took over McLelland and the 'Seriously Strong' brand two years ago. This brings the tally of major domestic Cheddar businesses to six, including Dairy Crest, which boasts the leading Cathedral City brand, and the Irish Dairy Board, which focuses on commodity imports from Ireland and owns the manufacturer Pilgrims Choice.
On top of these big six, the farmhouse sector maintains its place in the premium-priced arena, alongside Canadian Mature Cheddar. Competitively priced commodity supplies from Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and Germany account for most of the remaining imports.
The fight for share in this market, worth around £1bn at first-hand level, looks set to continue as the newer entrants to the market try to improve their position.