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Cheesy “castration” causes stir

The Oxford Cheese Company has found itself in a larger-than-life controversy, criticised for “emasculating” a Dorset landmark on its packaging.

The Cerne Abbas Giant, a hill figure and scheduled monument depicting a nude, club-wielding man with an erect penis, has long been an icon of the West Country, and is used as an emblem by the company on its ‘Cerne Abbas Man’ label of vintage cheddar. But there is one key difference: the variant on the label lacks the chalk giant’s notorious anatomical correctness, instead wearing a pair of trousers.

The change has sparked consternation among locals in Dorset, with Vic Irvine, head brewer at Cerne Abbas Brewery, describing it as a “castration”, and a county councillor decrying the company for “chopping his bits off”.

But Harley Fouget, son of the company’s founder, insists the change is not a defacement or emasculation, and that the modified figure is simply “wearing trousers for modesty’s sake”. 

Fouget says that the altered label was printed following a formal complaint from a member of staff at a retail outlet the company supplies, who argued that the Giant might potentially upset customers. This was deemed serious enough to remove the label from the company’s pre-packaged cheeses, but Fouget notes that the symbol is retained on the company’s larger cutting cheeses. 

Supplying supermarkets is a lucrative line of business for the company, and they thus take complaints from staff members at customer outlets seriously – no matter how small the matter in question. 

The altered label has now been in use for five years. Fouget is unsure why the change has come to the attention of the public and press now of all times, although he notes that branding and design changes by small START businesses often “take a while to filter through”.

In response to claims that an Oxford company has no right to exploit the image of a Dorset monument, Fouget cites his own personal history with the county; he was educated in Dorchester, and has many friends living and working in the surrounding countryside. The Oxford Cheese Company has produced and sold Cerne Abbas Man cheddar for over 20 years, always using milk sourced from Dorset farms.

The hill figure at Cerne Abbas, which is first attested in 17th-century records but may date back to the Neolithic era, is one of several across the UK, including the Long Man of Wilmington and Oxfordshire’s own ancient Uffington White Horse. 

This is not the first time its phallus has led to controversy. A Gillingham resident led a campaign to cover up the Giant in the 1920s, with the backing of local clergy, while in 2016, Cerne Abbas Brewery’s own logo was censored in a Parliamentary bar.

Fouget remains unfazed by the press furore, which he describes as “perfectly harmless”. The company would be entirely happy to restore the Giant to its unaltered state, he says, and may use the current spate of public interest as an opportunity to do just that.

The Oxford Cheese Company sees nothing malicious or ill-intentioned in the reporting on the logo. Fouget describes it as simply a “talking point over dinner”. 

Indeed, the publicity could even prove helpful for a local business always looking to spread the word about its products.

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