Big cheeses snatched from the jaws of victory

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IT IS admittedly terribly corny - but irresistible - to report that Jamie Montgomery is thoroughly cheesed off.

This morning the Somerset farmer was awakening to the prospect of his third consecutive victory in the British cheese awards in London. But even if he does again win gold medal in the mature Cheddar category, he knows he will not be able to cash in on the extra sales that would be created by again proving he is big cheese of the cheese world.

Under the cover of darkness, thieves have broken into Mr Montgomery's refrigerated stores at North Cadbury and stolen 275 unpasteurised, muslin- covered truckles weighing about five tons in total and worth pounds 30,000. He is not insured. Hard cheese, indeed.

Organisers of the British Cheese Awards have suggested the theft of the 50lb truckles might have been carried out by jealous rivals. Juliet Harbutt, founder of the awards, said: "You have to assume that it was someone from within the industry, otherwise how do you get rid of it? There is a strong possibility it is industrial espionage - of the highest order.

"The worst thing is that it might just get ground up and end up in someone's cheese and pickle sandwich. That would be terrible."

Mr Montgomery, whose 12-month-old Cheddar is made to a recipe perfected by his grandfather, is not convinced. "If there are people in the business who would do this I am very disappointed," he said. "It is possible, but it is not a theory I support." But he admits the thieves must have contacts in the industry. "It's not the sort of thing you can just get rid of, is it?" Mr Montgomery's cheese is produced from milk from his 140 Friesians. When not being stolen by cheese thieves it sells for pounds 6-pounds 8 a pound.

Not all the cheese was stolen. The samples for the awards were untouched and a third victory would provide some consolation at least.