Preparations are under way for the distribution of free cheese to needy people starting on Monday week.

53 tonnes of cheese will be given to charitable organisations to distribute as part of an EU scheme.

Already this year, over 114 tonnes of free cheese have been given to people in need in this country.

The fresh cheddar is coming from production lines in manufacturing firms around the country.

For about two decades, butter was taken from EU intervention stores and given to needy people, especially around Christmas.

But in recent years, it was felt that cheese was easier to distribute than butter.

So this year, the Department of Agriculture has swapped 350 tonnes of butter in exchange for 167 tonnes of cheese.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food Brendan Smith said the EU-funded scheme is an important means of contributing towards the well-being of the most deprived citizens in the Community.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister Smith said the Government would purchase the cheese from the Irish Dairy Board and make it available to voluntary organisations, such as St Vincent de Paul.

He said the scheme would also promote the use, value and importance of nutritional dairy products.

He said it may be a small measure but it is helpful to those who are in need.

The cheese is available in 12 x 1kg boxes from stores in Clondalkin, Portlaoise, Kilmacthomas, Cobh and Togher with a minimum of one box per collection.

Permits are now being issued to applicants to facilitate collection.