The great mature Cheddar robbery gyh

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the few producers of Cheddar made in the traditional way has had almost his entire stock of gourmet cheeses, worth pounds 30,000, stolen.

Thieves broke into Jamie Montgomery's refrigerated stores at North Cadbury, Somerset, and stole the 275 muslin-covered, unpasteurised truckles weighing about five tons. To make matters worse, Mr Montgomery is not insured.

After the theft last week, Mr Montgomery, 37, was left with just a few samples, which were entered in the British Cheese Awards, being judged in London today. Mr Montgomery has won in the mature Cheddar category for the past two years.

Organisers 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?

"It is extraordinary that they have gone for the best. 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, 37, whose Cheddar matures for 12 months and is made to a 70-year-old recipe, which was perfected by his grandfather, was not convinced of that theory "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."

He admitted, however, that the thieves must have some contacts within the industry. "It's not the sort of thing you can just get rid of, is it?" he said.

Mr Montgomery hopes he might still win a third victor in the cheese awards. But even if he does again strike gold in the mature Cheddar category, he knows he will not be able to cash in on the extra sales.

Mr Montgomery's cheese, produced from the milk of his herd of 140 Friesians, is described as "strong, yet not aggressive, firm, but not hard, and quintessentially English".

It sells for between pounds 6 and pounds 8 a pound, mainly through specialist shops, and has few similarities with the plastic-packed, mass-produced fare sold in supermarkets.

A victory might bring him some comfort during the next 12 months as he waits for a new batch to mature, in time for the next competition.