Monday 9 May 2011

German quality goat’s cheeses on a mission to the UK

Andreas Ebert of Feinkaeserei Zimmermann visits the UK to check out the market for his “Altenburger”, a fine cheese that is a PDO (Product of Designated Origin). A commentary on our joint experience in business and in pleasure.

In the UK, the French are famous for their cheeses, we ourselves produce a wide variety of excellent British artisan cheeses – but Germany? Perhaps the politest comment that Andreas would encounter, when talking about his companies soft, medium hard and blue cheeses, was “I didn’t know the Germans made cheese!” The least complimentary phrase we heard was “German cheeses are imitations of the French”.

But the most positive comments we regularly heard from real cheese distributers in the UK was “We do not have any German cheeses and would like to extend our portfolio”.

Andreas is the fourth generation from Feinkaeserei Zimmermann to enter the family run business that recently ( in 2010) celebrated the centenary of continuous production of the regionally famous “Altenburger Ziegenkaese”, from the state of Saxony in Germany.

The cheese dairy survived two world wars and nationalisation in the communist East Germany, with the family present ever since Albert Zimmermann first worked for the founder, in 1910, Mr Kupfer and then took it over in 1930. Wrestling control back after reunification, The family and Feinkaeserei Zimmermann expanded the cheese dairy into making other goat’s cheeses with the glut of milk coming in as part of the “Altenburger” production.

Andreas’s visits to UK partners were scattered over three days. Arriving the day before the first, we met at Luton Airport and travelled into London. Once we had checked in his luggage in the reasonable and nicely located Park Grand Hotel at Devonshire Terrace near Paddington, it was off for some sight seeing.

Andreas had been a frequent visitor to London in the past, but had never toured HMS Belfast. We set off via the Underground to St Pauls. Walking around the Cathedral, we crossed the millennium bridge and made a short visit to the Weiwei Sunflower seed exhibition in the Tate Modern. From there, with a choral interlude at Southwark cathedral we finally arrived at HMS Belfast for a couple of hours delving through her decks.

The next three days were busy visiting the potential UK contacts that my collaborators at Europartnerships had found him. The key lesson that we learnt early on was the fascination with the century old history of the “Altenburger Ziegenkaese”. This was especially helped by the centenary, traditional round wooden box design which had been retained. This was the key for opening people’s willingness to look at the other soft and semi hard cheeses. There was certainly interest generated, with the caveat that the quality and taste had to match.

Fortunately, we had cheese samples. They had been sent to my colleague Audra Green , who had then driven them to me. I took them to London where Andreas had them safely stored in the Hotel’s fridge until required.

Perhaps the best memory was of the friendly reception “Up North”, where our hosts cracked open some artisan fruit juices and we had an end-of-trip tasting session of selected English and Zimmermann cheeses, with complimentary comments all round.

Devonshire Terrace was not far from three excellent pubs, The Victoria, The Swan and The Mitre, where Andreas became an honorary Englishman, at least in his appreciation of good quality pub food.

It was an intense, positive and entertaining visit with business opportunities to be chased. Hopefully we can soon find the “Altenburger Ziegenkaese” and its relatives gaining acceptance distribution in the UK.

Andreas Ebert, of Feinkaeserei Zimmermann’s visit to the UK, was part of:
The VHP Lebensmittelwirtschaft 2010
Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology
Project Management by Europartnerships Ltd
in cooperation with Milton Contact Ltd (UK)
And Come Across (DE)

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